Feminine Strength, Masculine Strength, and The Stark Sisters

9:43 PM

Through season 4, episodes 5-8, I could not help but pay particular attention to Arya and Sansa and the very different ways in which they are learning to "play the game." In these episodes we continue to see the Stark girls' tales unfold as they are molded/mentored by their male travel companions, each of whom have vastly different techniques to maneuver through the twisted political landscape that exists within Westeros. What I find most interesting about this is that the methods each of the Stark women are being taught could be construed as either primarily masculine or primarily feminine and both Arya and Sansa are with a male figure that is able to teach them the method that aligns most fully with their respective gendered leanings. As a result of the time that Arya spends with the Hound and Sansa spends with Littlefinger, each will pick up valuable tools that will allow them to play to their own gender-oriented strengths and, potentially, survive the game of thrones.


Successful masculinity in Westeros is largely understood through the expression of physical prowess and the successful bettering of another in battle. Arya has often been portrayed as more masculine in the show (regardless of her biological sex). She is physical, rough, short-tempered, and interested in battle. Her pairing with The Hound over the course of the last several episodes is really introducing her to what it means to survive as a warrior in the hostile climate of Westeros. The Hound is teaching Arya to use her battle-wits to actively take charge of her situation. Methods of survival, as taught by Hound:


In a nutshell, Sandor Clegane is teaching Arya not only to use her sword for revenge, but also to choose her battles and movements wisely so that she might use her instincts to survive the tumultuous social climate that infests her world.

Of course, we saw The Hound with Sansa in earlier seasons, but he was merely a figure that repeatedly saved her. The Hounds strengths (battle instincts and physical prowess) were not compatible with Sansa's talents. However, in Sansa's time with Littlefinger, she begins to learn how to use her own abilities to her advantage.


Now before I get too into the relationship between Sansa and Littlefinger, I want to clarify the gendered nature of their relationship. Whereas Arya and The Hound are active and direct in their exercising of power and manipulating their circumstances (traits associated with masculinity), Littlefinger (and later Sansa) are not as assertive and thus their passive aggression is more feminine.

Sansa and Littlefinger use social subterfuge, misdirection, and dishonesty to achieve their ends, essentially leaving others to perform the more active (i.e. dirty) work that is involved in their scheming. For example, Baelish is involved in the plot to poison Joffrey but does not actually drop the poison himself. The Hound himself even tells Arya that poison is a weapon of women in episode 4.8.

Littlefinger also lies to Lysa Arryn regarding his feelings for her so that she will poison her own husband and frame the Lannisters for the deed.


Although I would be remiss to suggest that Littlefinger intentionally leads Sansa to understand his methods and passes on his methodology to her, Sansa's time around him seems to resonate with her and finally allows her to fully understand the way that she will will be able to survive the political game in which she has found herself enmeshed. Although we have not seen much subterfuge from her yet, when Sansa reveals her true identity to the council at the Vale but still protects Baelish, it seems clear that she is going against Littlefinger's will. He would rather her identity remain secret but she understands that this gives him leverage (not her), so she seems to flip the script on Baelish and use storytelling and manipulation to her own advantage. The end of this episode clearly suggests that Sansa finally understands her strength and is finally and officially "in the game."

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9 comments

  1. This is a very interesting framework through which to view Sansa/Littlefinger and Arya/The Hound. This post also reminded me that, perhaps, the show argues that the feminine weapons and power tactics are stronger. While Arya and The Hound certainly have a love/hate sort of relationship, that Sansa begins to trust Littlefinger is horrifying when we realize he played a key role in the events that led to her father's death. Those who are only good with the sword would likely be unable to make such an ally.

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  2. I'm intrigued by the argument that feminine tactics may be portrayed as stronger in the show. Practically speaking, this may be because it allows one the power to use both (since feminine power might be owned but masculine power can be "borrowed" from others).
    In a side note: I wish we got to see more of Littlefinger's strategy. We see so much of everyone else's -- but he is left a mystery. For instance: with so many people helping him in some way, how is it that not one of them ever accidentally lets it slip that he's a conniver? Everyone else in the show has relational liabilities. Everyone. Even powerful Tywin, who disregards his sons' potential destructive power (Jaime releasing Tyrion, Tyrion succeeding at murder). But Littlefinger -- have we seen even one setback? What is making him so invincible? We can say its exceptional cunning - but that's really just assumption because we're left to fill in so many blanks on our own.

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  3. House Lorch, this was an interesting analysis of the Stark sisters and how they play the game. I didn't take the time to compare these two sisters. Your investigation was illuminating and touched on the issues mentioned in our 'nature vs. nurture discussion.'

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  4. I am intrigued with the dynamic you lay out but I have some problems with it. Towards Kate's points about Little Finger, I think he is genuinely in danger after actively pushing Lysa through the moonhole--he only gets away with it when Sansa decides to deceive for him (and herself). That seems like a relational liability to me. But if as you assert, Little Finger's manipulative style is stererotypically gendered "female," then maybe it explains why Martin gave him the absurd nickname "little finger," as opposed to "large phallus." "The Hound"'s name connotes bestiality--definitely a more male connotation, although I suppose there are foxes and vixens.
    Let's turn it on another dynamic. What do Clegane and Baelish need from the female partner? I think as much as Clegane seems to be this solitary figure who can say "Fuck the King," he secretly yearns for some sort of feminine appreciation and emotion. Sansa is better at expressing gratitude to him than is Arya, in fact she is better at calling him out on his demeanor. Arya is so hostile to him that I wonder how he has someone allowed her to substitute for her sister--although he clearly wants to be her protector, even though he wants to claim he only wants the bounty reward.
    Now let's go over to Baelish. Does he or does he not lust for Sansa? Is she part of his grand game of thrones, or is she an Achilles Heal in his Machievalian strategy? Here, I confess, I am again disgruntled with where the writers are going with Sansa in Season Five. But in the interests of avoiding spoilers, let's postpone that analysis for a couple weeks.

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  5. I am intrigued with the dynamic you lay out but I have some problems with it. Towards Kate's points about Little Finger, I think he is genuinely in danger after actively pushing Lysa through the moonhole--he only gets away with it when Sansa decides to deceive for him (and herself). That seems like a relational liability to me. But if as you assert, Little Finger's manipulative style is stererotypically gendered "female," then maybe it explains why Martin gave him the absurd nickname "little finger," as opposed to "large phallus." "The Hound"'s name connotes bestiality--definitely a more male connotation, although I suppose there are foxes and vixens.
    Let's turn it on another dynamic. What do Clegane and Baelish need from the female partner? I think as much as Clegane seems to be this solitary figure who can say "Fuck the King," he secretly yearns for some sort of feminine appreciation and emotion. Sansa is better at expressing gratitude to him than is Arya, in fact she is better at calling him out on his demeanor. Arya is so hostile to him that I wonder how he has someone allowed her to substitute for her sister--although he clearly wants to be her protector, even though he wants to claim he only wants the bounty reward.
    Now let's go over to Baelish. Does he or does he not lust for Sansa? Is she part of his grand game of thrones, or is she an Achilles Heal in his Machievalian strategy? Here, I confess, I am again disgruntled with where the writers are going with Sansa in Season Five. But in the interests of avoiding spoilers, let's postpone that analysis for a couple weeks.

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  6. I really like the side by side picture you posted of the Hound with Arya, and Baelish with Sansa. It really does demonstrate how the older characters are molding them to be who they are in the game. However, I wonder how true Sansa will hold Baelish's word as he lies so much. He can't be trusted, but he has been the person who has been "looking" out for her. It's an interesting dichotomy and I'm curious as to how it will play out in the future.

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  7. The one thing about Sansa that perplexed me was her decision to dye her hair. I can't decide if she wants to look differently FOR Baelish or if she is doing it on her own accord. If the former is true, the creep factor escalates for me.

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  8. I never really noticed how much Arya and Sansa’s storylines are paralleled right now. It is interesting to note how much they will learn from their captors. They are both skilled. Littlefinger is the master of deception and the Hound is a masterful murderer. Despite any awful out comings, these relationships will serve the Stark girls well.

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  9. I love this comparison! I definitely noticed how the Hound works well for Arya, but never thought to compare that of Baelish and Sansa. Cool analysis.

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