Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author and editor-in-chief Iva Kopraleva.
A number of IR scholars have analysed the popular book series A Song of Ice and Fire and, respectively, the TV adaptation Game of Thrones (GoT), from different angles and through different theoretical lenses. While realists focus on the problems of state sovereignty, border issues and economy, constructivists emphasize the role of norms, traditions and social relations between the characters. This scholarly interest is completely understandable when we consider the importance of politics for the story line of the series. George R. R. Martin managed to create a fictional but, at the same time, extremely complex world which provokes people passionate about international relations to ask questions. So here is mine: What is the role of women in the politics of Game of Thrones?
Warning: the text below contains spoilers.
At first glance the women in the book/TV series are clearly inferior men. Females are supposed to be weak and in need of protection from the opposite sex, their duty is to be obedient and to follow men’s orders without question. Even a powerful female character such as Cersei suffers from being a woman in an environment dominated by males. In the beginning of the story Daenerys is completely dependent on her brother. Brienne is constantly mocked for not being feminine enough and the fact that she can swing a sword better than most men does not win her the respect a male with her skills would enjoy. At Winterfell septa Mordane pressures Arya into being more lady-like even though the girl is clearly more interested in weapons than in gowns. Sansa lives in a dream world filled with knights and songs. She actually enjoys the thought of having a man by her side to protect her. Even Catelyn, whose husband loves and respects her enormously, has a clearly inferior position in Winterfell, the lord is the one who makes the decision, the most she can do is advise him. To sum up, women have very little room for independent action in the beginning of the story which limits their participation in the political life of Westeros.
As the story progresses, however, almost all female characters evolve in a way which emancipates them from men and allows them to become active decision-makers and to play the Game of Thrones themselves. Daernerys is freed both from her brother and from the khal she was forced to marry. In addition she is fortunate enough to have her dragons, which makes her one of the most powerful actors in the political scene of GoT. Cersei’s husband also dies which increases her power in the court enormously. Subsequently, when Jofrey and lord Tywin are killed as well, she becomes even more independent in her actions. Arya overcomes a series of challenges after she runs away from King’s Landing. She learns to take care of herself and not to rely on male protection. Even lady Lysa rules her castle singlehandedly after the death of her husband.
Some new characters, introduced later on in the story, confirm this tendency of females becoming more and more emancipated. Melisandre, for example, has an enormous influence over Stannis and often his actions depend on what she sees in the flames. Ygritte is not dependent on any male authority whatsoever. Even when she falls in love with John Snow she is still convinced that he “know[s] nothing”. Asha Greyjoy seems to be better than her brother Theon in both war and politics and this is largely recognized in the Iron Islands.
Interestingly enough, the increased independence of women from the story is often accompanied by the death or at least the disappearance of their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons. It seems that the female characters in GoT become emancipated only when there is no male standing in their way. This is, of course, a conclusion based solely on fictional events which occur in a fantasy world. One could hardly argue that such a claim reflects reality in any conceivable way. And yet, both realist and constructivist scholars find the story compelling enough to serve as a testing ground for their theories. On the other hand, men still hold 80% of the elected and appointed political positions in the real world today. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to ask: Are women becoming political leaders only when there are no men standing in their way?
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