Lost in Translation

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Kathleen Wilbur

For months now, my boyfriend has been trying to drag me into his addiction. An addiction that has taken over his life and every thought. An addiction that millions of people also suffer from.

That’s right, you guessed it: Game of Thrones.

But as someone who isn’t often into fantasy or medieval story lines—like, ever—I’ve resisted his pleas to watch and read the popular series…until last weekend.

After a lot of begging, I finally caved. I agreed to watch an episode and now, approximately 20 episodes and a 20-hour marathon later, I can finally say that I get it. Game of Thrones rocks.

Even though I’ve forsaken my hate for all things fantasy and medieval with my recent “Team Stark” declaration, I still have to hold true to the women’s-studies-minor part of my soul: Game of Thrones definitely rocks, but its treatment of women does not.

Admittedly, the portrayal of women in the show is complicated and not entirely misogynistic, but there are still a few bones I have to pick with George R. R. Martin and the show’s producers. In every episode, the female characters are objectified, abused and even raped. Daenerys Targaryen, a main character who eventually becomes a strong female lead, is at first given away by her brother to be married, leaving her no say in the matter and no protection from her husband.

And in almost every episode, there’s always a scene in a brothel or with prostitutes.

As I was watching one of these moments in a recent episode, that women’s-studies-minor part of my brain couldn’t help but think of Amnesty International’s recent announcement in support of legalizing prostitution.

Yes, you read that right: ‘Amnesty International,’ ‘support’ and ‘legalizing prostitution’ in the same sentence.

When I first heard the news, I was actually in disbelief; Amnesty would never endorse such a thing…right?

Wrong.

For years now, I have been classified as an Amnesty-junkie of sorts. I usually worship everything they do, and I was heavily involved in my high school’s chapter. This May, I’m even headed to Washington D.C. to lobby congressional staff members on behalf of Amnesty’s policies on capital punishment and drone warfare. So you can imagine how their recent stance on prostitution has left me reeling and wondering one thing and one thing only: why?

Just a few days ago, Amnesty defended themselves, saying that there’s evidence that criminalization leads to the marginalization and abuse of sex workers. But what they’re apparently failing to remember is that legalizing sex work will not necessarily make abuse and marginalization decrease. If anything, some would argue that it would only increase such issues.

Sure, legalizing sex work—in an ideal and perfect world—would mean police protection, the option for unionizing and maybe even cutting pimps out of the equation entirely. But what it also creates is a rhetoric that allows the exchange of money to make all things prostitution “legal.” And what we must look to are countries where it is already legal—are conditions there really so much better?

In Germany, flat-rate, legal brothels allow men to pay a single entrance fee and force women to service them with any sex act they so desire. Additionally, in places where prostitution is legal, human trafficking is increasing. Is this what Amnesty considers a decrease in abuse and marginalization?

Writer Robin Morgan said it best in her recent piece for CNN: money does not equal consent. Legalizing prostitution will not make maltreatment and rape disappear; if anything, it will give offenders more wiggle room to defend themselves. So while I continue to watch Game of Thrones and wish for its treatment and portrayal of women to improve, I’ll continue to wait for Amnesty to wake up and smell the truth.

Money does not equal consent. Legalization does not equal improvement. Calling yourself a human rights organization does not give you permission to abandon human rights.

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