That Is Not A Bookmark

Loranne's Adventures in Librarying

A Song of Gender Politics

For my final project in Info Vis this semester, I decided to revisit one of my favorite subjects: George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Below is the text that accompanied my poster, as well as a link to the bulk of the graphic I created. It’s still rough and needs some work. Once I’ve settled where I’m headed next, I hope to have some time to polish this up!

The Inspiration

The premiere of the TV show Game of Thrones in 2011 quickly cemented George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series – A Song of Ice and Fire – into the pop culture consciousness. Being both a fan of the show, and interested in gender issues myself, I gravitated toward articles and op-ed pieces discussing the variously dated, subverted, and always complicated themes of gender roles in the show. It’s no secret that, being set in ye olde times, it is often expected and readily accepted that female characters living in such universes are left holding the short end of the stick. Rather than allow myself to become embroiled in arguing on the Internet about whether the copious nude scenes are warranted, or Cersei Lannister can be considered a feminist icon, I decided to go back to the source material – the text of the written series.

The data I’ve collected has many stories to tell; about the kind of language that writers use, and what we, as readers, find appealing. However, I chose to examine something different. I gathered this data myself, and will use it to explore questions as to whether or not, statistically, women in the Song of Ice and Fire novels are given the same voice and page-time as their male counterparts, and whether women chiefly discuss men – and vice versa – or  not.

About My Data

Using my digital copies of the Song of Ice and Fire novels one through five (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons, respectively); I asked a friend to help me pull the text from my Kindle copies into a plain text file. I then wrote a Python module that allowed me to collect every instance of a set list of gendered words, in pairs, each with a corresponding male and female term. Here is my list:

he/she
him/her
his/hers
himself/herself
man/woman
men/women
boy/girl
boys/girls
lad/lass
lads/lasses
husband/wife
husbands/wives
father/mother
fathers/mothers
brother/sister
brothers/sisters
son/daughter
sons/daughters

I was then able to count the occurrences of these words, sorting by chapter. This series typically allots each chapter to one of 31 point-of-view (POV) characters. Thus, sorting by chapter also made it easy for me to see not only the number of instances of each word, but also which character’s voice was using them. I decided not to include character names in  my gendered terms, both for the sake of being as general as possible, and due to the overwhelming number of characters for whom I’d need to account – some of which are aliases.

Once I’d generated the initial CSV file listing totals for each of the words on my list (as well as a total word count for each chapter and book), I went through the novels chapter by chapter, to verify I had successfully matched them up with the correct character. It was then easy for me to manipulate the data through creating additional spreadsheets, which I filtered and saved as other CSV files.

I would like to revisit this topic at some point in the future, such that I might be able to consider words that aren’t necessarily attached to a certain gender, but have connotations that specify gender in context: words like “arms,” “weapons,” or “birth,” or “marriage.” Given the time that I had in front of me, and the fact that I haven’t finished reading the books yet, that was unfortunately outside my grasp for this go-round.

Intended Audience

Naturally, I hope that anyone with an interest in the Song of Ice and Fire series (or even the TV show) will find this interesting. Gender is a fraught issue in such a sweeping tale of epic proportions – especially given that it resonates with so many different people.

I anticipate readers who, like me, are invested or interested in gender issues or gender studies (particularly as it relates to popular culture or language) will find some of the statistics I’ve shared here surprising, as well as informative. It is not often that we examine the written word in such minute detail.

I believe writers – especially authors of fiction and fantasy works – will find this data illuminating, as well. Much consideration is given to each turn of phrase in the writing process. However, my approach to this examination of the language used within these stories is almost clinical in nature, providing an unusual perspective on word choice.

Below, you can click on the image to view the poster:

A Song of Gender Politics

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This entry was posted on July 21, 2013 by in portfolio, Uncategorized and tagged .

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