Game of Thrones ‘S Us

Daenerys Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen

Set in some mythical time and place reminiscent of Paganism meets Christianity here on Earth, the mirror that is Game of Thrones reflects both our gender bias and our rising equality.

In this patriarchal world the virtuous Daenerys Targaryen and her evil brother, Viserys, march to take back the Iron Throne they were born to, but are now exiled from. While Daenerys is clearly the wiser of the two, she has no right to rule — at least not while her brother lives. Instead, she is used as a pawn —  sold off as a slave, really, to buy her brother an army. 

But at his death, Daenerys takes over the march for power. Yet the “bitch” word flows freely from disgusting men who are clearly beneath her, trying desperately to debase her and women, as a class. But as her true nature is revealed she gets the best of them. Last we saw of her, she had become a Savior, freeing the masses from slavery.

Daenerys Targaryen freeing slaves

Daenerys Targaryen freeing slaves

Daenerys grows from a sense of feeling entitled to rule to feeling called to make a difference. Her evolution mirrors modern politics, with women more likely to enter public life from a desire to make people’s lives better. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to enter politics to raise their status.

Are women just better than men? Doubtful. Because of their historical roles, women’s self-esteem has been more closely tied to their looks and the well-being of their families. Men’s self-esteem has been more tied to career success. Meanwhile, women are more likely to have faced oppression and gained empathy for others who are subjugated. That is something that Daenerys and modern female politicians often share.

Feminism also warns against being misled by appearances. Beautiful, sexy women may also be strong and wise.

The dwarf, Tyrion Lannister

The dwarf, Tyrion Lannister

And a dwarf whose body is near useless in battle is hardly a useless human being. Tyrion Lannister compensates by developing his brain and his cunning. And through his struggles he gains a penetrating discernment (amidst strong doses of foolery).

In GoT we see patriarchy damaging men. Robb Stark, heir to the Northern Throne, died because his goodness was at odds with his job, says Rowan Kaiser at American Prospect. Robb married for love, not strategic gain. He failed to punish his mother when she worked against him. In sum, his humanity overrode his power obligations.

But he also sought to enjoy privilege without accepting its costs, says Amanda Marcotte. The outcome? A red wedding, with himself, his family, and guests bathed in blood.

Ms. Marcotte draws a parallel to modern patriarchy:

Robb Stark at the Red Wedding

Robb Stark at the Red Wedding

Men are harmed in countless ways by stifling male gender roles. They are cut off from their emotions and have to expend a serious amount of energy always maintaining the image of masculinity, and that energy drain appears to lead to higher levels of stress for straight men than for out gay and bi men. However, many straight men appear to believe that in exchange for constantly policing the boundaries of masculinity, they get a number of pretty significant male privileges, including economic opportunities, fewer domestic responsibilities, and, most importantly of all, being treated with gravitas and respect that is not generally extended to women. They get, in other words, to matter, and that is worth quite a bit of sacrifice.

Seeing ourselves through the GoT mirror we find powerful women. But they are typically less powerful, more demeaned, objectified, sadistically tortured, more often treated like slaves, and more underestimated, compared with men.

GoT: New season premieres this Sunday.

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Frozen Hearts Thaw, Grow Empowered

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 4, 2014, in feminism, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Pierre.O_FhWS5

    The old society of which GoT belongs to, had some beliefs such as siblings having sex together to keep blood purity of high class family. You said that women in GoT were objectified but in my opinion they objectify themselves for the sake of power because at that time they had a certain power other than being a high born which was to use their body as an exchange currency to get what they wanted or even be the key to win the game of thrones.I agree with the fact that they were somehow objectify but that’s how the old society was functioning other than that in many situation they objectify themselves ,not because they want to please any men but because they saw it as their power and they made good use of it. Nowadays its badly portrayed but as a matter of fact being a prostitute is a choice made by a person willing to use what she consider as her power in order to get more than she has. Facility over hard work. No men can be blamed.

    • On Game of Thrones women are objectified and you said that no man can be blamed for that.

      1) the writers and directors of the show are men. They are the ones you decided to portray women this way.

      2) Women do sometimes objectify themselves, too. The actresses agreed to take on these roles.

      3) the point isn’t to blame men or women. The point is that this is a reflection of our society. Both men and women internalize the idea that women are to be objectified and both re-create the situation.

  2. Game of thrones.. twins..a brother and sister enjoying having sex with each other .. really!?!????that’s way beyond my understanding… Tho the political aspects in the whole tv shows are quite genius

    • I get your point. I quit watching for a while after the first episode. But tried it again when everyone kept raving about it.

      When I learned more about early mythology I learned that the first supreme being was thought to be a goddess who gave birth to a son who grew up to become her lover — A common theme across cultures. Maybe that’s where the idea came from?

  3. JansenEstrada

    As an avid fan of the Game of Thrones, it wasn’t until recently that I started contemplating how the show (or I guess the books for that matter) display gender roles. Reflecting medieval royalty, blood lines, and kingdoms, it follows the well-known historical path of a male-dominated world. Daenerys, however, is one of the many lights in the dark tunnel for women in this show. While there is no shortage of sparing nude shots of both men and women in the show, more often than not, it is women being shown, mostly for the sex appeal. That said, the strongest characters that have gained some of the strongest fan base behind them are women characters, with Arya, Ygritt, and a few others alongside Daenerys. They are treated harshly when captured or in conflicts, and that is heavily influenced by the fact that they are women. Rape and other sexual abuse is prominent when it comes to male characters trying to gain power of others (and not just women).

    I think the women on the show that are portrayed as being strong and above the stereotype of the meek and submissive woman are fantastic. They idea behind them and what they stand for does justice for what women have suffered in most of today’s pop culture. Despite women being subject to the sex appeal anyway, I think the characters have large influences on their female fans of what it means to be a women this day in age. Gender roles are slowly switching, and an independent, strong-minded woman is what is being more encouraged.

  4. “Are women just better than men? Doubtful. Because of their historical roles, women’s self-esteem has been more closely tied to their looks and the well-being of their families. Men’s self-esteem has been more tied to career success.”

    Perhaps men are more competitive? Part conditioning and part conditioning, afterall, men have competed with each other for the best resources since beginning of mankind. A man who has resources of the best among men was best to provide for his family during ancient times or even earliest times of mankind. The alpha male. There seems to be the biological value for a man to be the best hunter, the strongest, fastest, best resources as he was looked as highly suitable to women and the mating strategy there. A lot of it is passed down through the ages that is sub conscious in men now. This conditioning may have come from the biological imperative for a man to be more successful than other men. I think conditioning can play a role, but I have doubts that I’d not desired success so bad if it wasn’t conditioned into me. After all, it seems like there must be biology to this, because it seems like many people, as in men and women are competitive or very competitive on earth.

    And women can be just as bad and put others down or being successful and holding it agaisnt other women in the fashion and beauty or popularity contest department. All I know is a lot of this self esteem being tied to career success seems a lot to do with personality traits too. Sure people want to succeed, but I have male friends and all want to succeed in life, but some get more hell bent than others about. Why? Because some men are more ego driven, while others are humble or are proud but not that much. It seems that an ego driven person, and A type personalities, male or female seem to be more likely to try to succeed at all costs or really focus on being the best. Perhaps I’m tied to being the most successful person because I’m a man and it’s conditioned into me, but I also think it’s a lot to do with my A type personality and big ego/highly compeititive nature. If I didn’t have such personality trait, I don’t think I’d be that way even though I’m a man, as my male cousin is like the complete opposite of me and other men I’ve seen.

    • I was going to say that men and women are both competitive but they learn to compete in different arenas. Men compete more in terms of career success and women compete more in terms of looks– Which gets to your second paragraph. They compete in terms of what they are most judged on.

      And who we are is always a mix of the personalities we’re born with + culture + social interaction. Imagine twins separated at birth and both are raised in the American culture, but one might be raised by Christian fundamentalists and the other by feminist atheists, for example. Or, imagine twins separated at birth and one is raised in Berkeley and the other in Saudi Arabia.

  5. So fascinating to see the type of misogyny that went on back in the day–one of the reasons I find Mad Men so interesting aside from the great acting and storytelling. I love that this character you describe despite the atmosphere manages to rise and be in her power. I am pretty convinced that even when the feminist movement didn’t exist there have been “feminists” for centuries…perhaps the true foremothers we will never know the names of.

    • Yes. One real-world example is Joan of Arc. (But look what happened to her.)

      • True! I think to this day a lot of women have internalized that lesson and kept themselves in check so that won’t happen again even if not in the same way. Then again, I just realized- maybe JoA would have been burned regardless since she was a “witch”- perhaps better that she went out fighting.

      • If you’re going to burn anyway, that’s the way to go alright.

  6. What do you think about the nudity in GoT – does it reflect the negotiations of gender and power that you discuss? N.B. I haven’t watched any of it, but I’ve heard a lot about the nudity 😉

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