More so than any other female character, Sansa Stark exemplifies the vulnerability of women in her society. Her narrative drive has always been dominated by marriage alliances of political convenience. First, King Robert and her father decided to marry her off to Westeros’s top Caligula tribute act, Joffrey. Then she was married against her wishes to Tyrion to prevent further dissent from the North. Her point of view has always been surplus to requirements, and this is something that she has accepted with timid compliance. She was prepared to have sex with Tyrion despite her fear and physical revulsion. His father had told him explicitly to do so for the purpose of getting her pregnant but he refused out of sympathy for his teenage bride.
That Sansa not only knows her place but is willing to accept it as part of the natural order of things has made her an anathema to a modern feminist audience. She exists within the patriarchal system, and she is compliant and complicit with it. She suffers because of it, but that does not drive her to work outside of it.
Therefore it was completely natural that this character would marry Ramsey Bolton at the behest of her ward, Petyr Baelish. What makes this different from her betrothal to Joffrey is that she goes in this time with her eyes wide open. She knows that the Boltons were responsible for her family’s death, and thanks to Myranda, she is aware of Ramsey’s break-up exit strategy involving crossbows and a pack of dogs. Presumably Sansa assumes that she will be immune from this harsh treatment, rightly or wrongly. Her status is different from his former fuck puppets, she is not primarily a pair of tits, she is primarily a pair of ovaries.
It seems that Ramsey has the same idea. His sex scenes with Myranda are a bitey, rough and tumble parade with an enthusiastic partner. With Sansa, he favours the jackhammer, wham-bam, thank you, ma’am technique. Sex with Sansa is a tedious chore he has to do to consummate the marriage and secure the family lineage. His silence during the act implies that the only fun he can derive from it is his favourite torture toy, Theon, watching helplessly on. It’s not that he wants to hurt Sansa, he just doesn’t care if he does. It’s not that he wants to take her against her will, it’s just that her consent is beside the point.
Lots of experts on medieval sexual ethics have come crawling out of the woodwork to highlight how this would have been considered perfectly acceptable behaviour ‘at the time’ which is ridiculous on at least two levels mainly because it’s entirely irrelevant. Prevalent orthodox medical and legal opinion in the late medieval period emphasised that consent must be granted in order for procreation to occur and it was believed that a woman would not be able to conceive without an orgasm. Ramsey Bolton, himself the product of rape, presumably has more up-to-date medical knowledge this lot (and indeed, 21st law maker Todd Aitken) and is working on the assumption of; put sperm in woman, make baby, baby come out of woman.
Most of the commentary around this particular scene has come from all of the usual suspects, and has ended in the consensus of; “A rape was on TV. Rape is wrong. TV is wrong. Not watching TV.” This is entirely unsurprising coming from the fourth wave feminism which has collapsed into an echo chamber of simplistic ideological diktat. Acceptance of received wisdom, furious and hysterical quashing of dissent and an inability to examine concepts clearly and thoroughly make this particular group of feminists incapable of commenting with credibility on any serious issue, so thank God that they have never shown any intention of doing so.
The wave of hysteria prompted by these neurotics has meant that this scene’s truly dark message has been completely missed. Sansa consented to pain and humiliation willingly and of her own volition and this is the logical conclusion of being engrained in a society which denies women any control whatsoever over their reproductive rights.
Women’s control over their reproductive abilities has not been given a great deal of attention when it comes to Game of Thrones but it is an interesting running thread. After all, Cersei aborting her babies with Robert and only choosing to give birth to her brother Jamie’s is the season’s greatest coup. She has installed her chosen heir on the throne through control over her own body. Cersei, like Sansa exists and conforms within the unjust apparatus of her society, unlike Sansa she is prepared to twist the rules to suit her ends.
Sansa does not see it as her place to challenge her subjugation because she lives in a culture where the concept of meaningful consent for a woman is automatically void and she accepts the terms of this arrangement. She consents because her subjugation is so internalised that it does not occur to her that she can resist. This is what makes this scene so disturbing – not that it was rape, but that it was consensual.