Politics, Gender, and Dragons

Spoiler Alert – do not read this if you haven’t watched Game of Thrones through season 6,episode 4. You’ve been warned.

It’s mused that life imitates art and vice versa, but sometimes our reactions to real life events and fictional ones can mirror each other in surprising ways. I have to preface this with the note that the following observation was not mine originally. That credit goes entirely to my wife.

The central question that Game of Thrones revolves around is, in the end, who will sit on the Iron Throne?

God love fan art. Click the image for credit.

God love fan art. Click the image for credit.

One favorite is Daenerys Targaryen. Dany is actually the rightful ruler and has shown prowess in attracting followers and raising an army. Her detour in Meereen the last few seasons, and the political quagmire she became stuck in, cast some doubt on that. In the most recent episode, she took a big step towards reclaiming her mantle as preeminent badass by burning some detractors alive and uniting their barbarian hordes in fell swoop.

The other leading candidate for Iron Throne seat-warmer is Jon Snow, bastard son of Lord Stark and friend to overgrown, albino wolves. Jon’s actual lineage is somewhat murky and conceivably he has a few different paths to the throne. Jon has proven himself to be a capable warrior and leader; he was elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and recently he even told death to go shove it. He’s got a lot going for him.

Now, if you visit certain corners of the Internet, you’ll find a debate over Dany and Jon eerily similar to that over Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

At first you might think, “Yeah, I could see that, Dany is a populist hero, a champion of the little guy, who wants to ‘break the wheel’ and the overthrow corrupt governments. Plus, Jon is pragmatic leader, making tough, unpopular decisions, and facing harsh criticism from his actions.” You’d be right for seeing that parallel, but of course, that isn’t what I meant.

This is the Internet after all, so clearly I’m talking about sexism.

round of applaus, tumblr. click for link.

round of applause, tumblr. click for link.

My wife pointed me to a few Reddit threads she found discussing preference for Jon Snow over Dany as the potential savior of Westeros. “Discussing” is a generous term.

Jon is described thusly:

“Jon started out with nothing, stuck with the Watch, a bunch of murderers and rapists who saw him as less because he was a bastard. He proved himself at every chance he got, through pain and blood, earning the respect and admiration of both crows and wildlings. He never sought power, but when his own brothers chose him to be their leader, he found out that he was good at carrying that weight, and used that power to power to pursue his goal: Save the realm from the white walkers.”

That’s a generous depiction of someone who, even the show recognizes, was born into extreme privilege and essentially handed everything his entire life. Yes, being a bastard gave him a slightly lower status than his siblings, but his father was still one of the most influential people in the entire country. Jon proves himself as a soldier and leader during his time in the Night’s Watch, but the real hardships he endured were: not getting the exact job he wanted, some of his coworkers being kind of mean to him, and then… I guess having to eventually do the job that he originally wanted. If you think about it, for someone who isn’t a Ranger, Jon does a whole lot of ranging.

Dany on the other hand is described:

“She proved herself by listing all her titles until people gave up to her wishes, and if that didn’t work, she had three dragons to bully her way to success. She makes good deeds here and there, but everything is a step in the ladder of getting her iron throne. A throne she’s convinced is owed to her, because of who she is, instead of how she is. She wants power for the sake of having it.”

Let’s quickly run through a list of hardships and accomplishments that have marked Dany’s life. We will also recognize that yes, she is a member of a royal family and that name recognition does afford her a certain amount of privilege (though I’d argue it brings plenty of baggage with it):

  • She’s an orphan, constantly on the run from people trying to kill her for her father’s crimes.
  • Her only relative, her brother, constantly physically, emotionally, and sexually abused her.
  • She was sold to a warlord, who didn’t speak her language, and routinely raped her.
  • She earned influence over her husband using nothing but her wits and her will.
  • Once she had some degree of power, she used it to try to help the most powerless in her society.
  • She refused to accept society’s demands of her after her husband died. The result: dragons!
  • She led her followers on a harrowing journey through the desert and negotiated them sanctuary in a foreign city.
  • Again and again she proved adept at navigating the political realities of the world around her and repeatedly thwarted society’s expectations of her.
  • Through her actions, she managed to acquire a powerful army, and immediately used to free slaves and try to end the systematic oppression of thousands.

She hasn’t had it easy and hasn’t taken her power for granted. I’m not saying it isn’t possible or legitimate to have a preference for one character over another. Certainly, you could make a valid argument for Jon Snow being just as qualified a leader as Dany. The problem is that people aren’t making that argument, they’re just dismissing her.

This type of dismissal mirrors the current state of the race for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. Just as Bernie Sanders has his Bernie Bros, Jon Snow has his Snow Bros.*

Many of critiques I’ve read about Dany seem to be interchangeable with those that are lobbed against Hillary Clinton. People seem to reach for anything they can possibly say against her, even if the same qualities they dislike in her, they praise in a male character. “She is a bloodthirsty character.” She’s “constantly failing upward.” She’s “bland” and “arrogant.” And of course, “she’s power hungry.”

you know. this.

you know. this.

A woman, with the best of intentions for seeking power, is completely dismissed for a hodgepodge of often contradictory reasons. Both Dany and Hillary are forced to fight twice as hard for half as much, yet their efforts are routinely maligned. It’s disturbing to find that the sexism that pervades our political discourse has seeped its way into our fictional works as well.

Though, that’s probably a naive thought on my part. Sadly, I think it’s more likely that sexism was already there.



*My wife prefers the term Snow Blowers.

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