HBO’s Game of Thrones has just concluded another highly lauded season. I’m a fan of the show, so last week I began to break down some of the aspects of it that I’ve found most appealing and informative. This week I want to discuss another aspect of the show: its depiction of “girl power” and its engagement with feminism.
On my way to dinner on my campus a couple of weeks back I heard two girls talking about television shows that were worth watching. One then began trying to convince the other to start getting into Game of Thrones. Her reasoning?
“You’ll LOVE Daenerys so much! She’s, like, quite the feminist!”
My school is crawling with the kind of gender feminists whose reasoning we frequently question here and elsewhere in the manosphere. They all love to make specious arguments about patriarchal constructs in the show and/or misogyny, but at the same time they love the “empowered” feminist aspects of it. There is absolutely no question in my mind that the show’s producers are aware of the “girl power” potential certain characters have in the show and no question in my mind that they’re playing it up.
With that being said, I got to thinking about that particular girl’s statement and began to see its validity. George R.R. Martin’s Daenerys Targaryen is, in many ways, the archetypical Western feminist, and her depiction in the HBO series only enhances this image. Her connection to the modern feminist narrative is embodied in three primary ways:
1. She’s extremely privileged.
Feminism is a product of privilege. Not all feminists are rich and not all feminists can be called privileged, but the movement itself was clearly born of prosperity and, to this day, remains dominated by the daughters of such prosperity (white, upper-middle class females concentrated primarily in or around major urban areas, especially on the East Coast). They are entirely the products of success built long before them, and it is that same success (wealth, safety, etc) that allows them to wield the influence they do now. Feminism as we know it much less visible outside of the prosperous “developed” western world, and this isn’t a coincidence.
Daenerys is a princess, heir to a vast noble legacy founded hundreds of years before her. It is this privilege that provides her with the power (and the respect for it) that she wields in the show, and allows her to act as “empowered” as she does. She is entirely the product of successes built long before her, and it is that same success that allows her to wield the influence she does now. It is her privilege that allowed her to gain the assistance she needed to become the leader she is.
2. She’s bad-boy property.
You want to talk about pretty girls (particularly those of the Western variety) in love with “bad boys”? Meet the love of Daenerys Targaryen’s life:
3. Her persistence is due primarily to the actions of the men who support her.
Feminism’s persistence and success depends on male acquiescence. Without men to build and maintain the society in which they live while also protecting its inhabitants and creating the tools and technology they use, feminism as we know it cannot begin to develop, much less actually gain influence.
Daenerys is similarly reliant on men, who lay the foundation for her power and for her continued existence.
Her status as the wife of Khal Drogo provided her first taste of credibility as a leader and allowed her to gain her first subjects. It was also through her marriage with the Khal that she was able to acquire her dragons—they were a wedding gift.
Jorah Mormont, the exiled Westerosi knight who has advised her since her wedding with the Khal, has saved her life more than once. Though originally contracted to betray Daenerys in return for social and monetary gain, he goes back on this and continues to protect her. His advice not only facilitates her growth as a leader, but also keeps her alive on more than one occasion. She would be lost and likely dead without him.
Ser Barristan Selmy, also an exiled Westerosi knight, provides another example of a man without whom Daenerys would probably be dead.
In Season 3 following her proposal to trade a dragon for an army, both of these men question their queen in front of her trading partner. Their advise is sound, as is their worry—it does appear to all the world that she’s about to make a silly deal. She responds by threatening them with dismissal.
Though one can see where that threat is coming from, it is difficult to imagine her actually going through with it. Her threats, like those feminist calls for the “end of men” and claims of male irrelevance, are impractical. As mentioned earlier, feminists can’t persist without male labor and acquiescence. The entire ideology is the product of prosperity produced primarily by men, and it will die in the absence of that. Again, modern feminism’s general confinement to the prosperous developing world is not a coincidence.
Daenerys, similarly, can’t persist without men, particularly the two advisers she has threatened with redundancy. She would not be alive now without them and she wouldn’t last long in their absence.
It isn’t hard to see the appeal of this particular scene or of Daenerys in general to female viewers. They’re anxious to see signs of female power, and Daenerys seems to offer them. She wields tremendous influence and she scolds grown men like children. Her threat against Mormont and Selmy conveyed this quite well: two experienced, powerful fighting men left browbeaten by a dainty little girl who then goes off with a female slave by her side and tells her this as those men follow along sheepishly in the background:
She taps into the wannabe “badass” fantasies of many a Western woman. She is the ultimate feminist fantasy girl.
Like most such displays of feminist “empowerment”, however, there is much more to the story. Regardless of the desire for “girl power”, Daenerys (like her real-life feminist counterparts) will always owe a significant debt to men. The “End of Men” is not near, no matter how many “feminists badasses” try to indicate otherwise.