Daenerys Targaryen: Empowerment, Depatriarchalisation and Demonisation
Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it. You will support my claim as queen of the Seven Kingdoms and respect the integrity of the Seven Kingdoms. No more reaving, roving, raiding or raping.
Daenerys Targaryen to Yara Greyjoy, Season 6, Episode 9
Daenerys: You know that I’m taking you to war. You may go hungry, you may fall sick, you may be killed.
Missandei: Valar Morghulis.
Daenerys: Yes, “all men must die”, but we are not men.
Season 3, Episode 3
I can hardly be mistaken if I claim that Game of Thrones has been the show with more empowered female characters one could find. Equally, I can hardly be wrong if I say that the figure of Daenerys Targaryen, the famous Khaleesi and Mother of Dragons, has stood out in this respect due to her fierceness, cunning, strength of will, faith in herself and love for justice.
It is undisputable that she’s gone beyond the realm of mere fiction, becoming a very prominent icon of female empowerment, perhaps only comparable with Princess Leia and Arya Stark, another GoT character. Have you seen those T-shirts with the “I’m not a princess, I’m a Khaleesi” motto printed on? Do you know about the impressive amount of people who has named their daughters after her?
Furthermore, some of my loyal allies and I have discussed for years the possible functioning of the Mother of Dragons as a depiction of at least part of what in the Spanish political culture is known as feminisation of politics, a trait that can’t be attributed to Arya, who has never been interested in the political game.
Due to the feminine leadership and feminist orientation present in the democratising movement called municipalism, the concept feminisation of politics has acquired in Spain a more transcendent meaning than that of the increase of women’s presence in institutional politics and the inclusion of women’s specific problems and interests in political discussion, legislation and policy-making.
Feminisation, as posed by these activists, implies taking the behaviours and abilities promoted in girls and women by culture and education out of the private/personal sphere (where they have traditionally been supposed to belong) and into the public sphere. It also implies the introduction of women’s experiences, which include first-hand knowledge of oppression, voicelessness and subalternity, in political practice.
This approach implies deep changes in the way our societies are organised and even the mainstream understanding of politics itself. Feminisation is based on empathy and care, and consists in practically and need-oriented projects, the recognition of one’s mistakes and ignorance regarding specific issues, learning by trial and error, attention to local and particular circumstances, an understanding of the private/personal as political, horizontality and the guidance of civil organisations and local assemblies.
They would be good changes, if you ask me. But, in my opinion, calling this alternative paradigm feminisation entails the risk of reinforcing damaging stereotypes about women and men. I would use depatriarchalisation instead, due to the fact that these practices challenge both the logic of hierarchy and the model of the independent, self-interested, public man that lie behind patriarchy and our current (patriarchal) conception of citizenship. This way, the concept wouldn’t conflict with the presence of patriarchal women such as Margaret Thatcher or Cersei Lannister (please note her short hair and martial-like dresses), nor with the involvement of men in the movement.
Coming back to the Dragon Queen, for almost eight seasons we have been induced to believe she was the best option to reign over the Seven Kingdoms: she empathised with the oppressed, cared about people, listened to them and encouraged their empowerment (for example, she gave the slaves of Mereen the power to reclaim the city for themselves), she rejected over and over to hurt innocents in war (including the systematic rape of women) in a context where that’s the usual practice, she was smart enough not to be fooled by enemies, and harsh where it was needed. She wanted to be a loved queen (or mother…), not a feared one, and accepted the fact that knowing how to rule demanded a learning process.
By the way, her first victory happened in the private realm, changing the power dynamics between her and her first husband.
Indeed, for quite some time I used to interpret all this as an attempt of displaying part of what, as explained above, is understood by feminisation in Spain. Daenerys seemed to act from her experience as a woman who’d suffered subjugation, mistreatment, battering, rape, marriage against her will and repression of her true self, a woman who now refused to tolerate similar treatments to others. Obviously, hers was not a democratising movement, but her capability for seeing things from the side of the oppressed and her willingness to foster people’s self-worth and solidarity made it one of the nearest positions we can find in a medieval context, and it was distinctly depatriarchalizing to a certain extent.
And no, she never stopped being angry with the kind of those who had made her life miserable in the beginning, something to which she was entirely entitled. But the fire of the Targaryen ran in her blood and, when it got inflamed, she could get on the verge of becoming extremely ruthless, but only with the bad guys.
From episode 8x04, it has been pretty clear that the writers wanted a Mad Queen in the series’ final episodes and, truth be told, I’ve been looking at such possibility with fear. I must confess that the slide from strong benevolent convictions to harsh, vengeful authoritarianism is something I personally find interesting, but between that and a queen that surrenders completely to terrorist impulses and burns a city full of civilians there’s a big step that needs a great and very careful planning if it has to make sense.
I can see now how Daenerys’s transformation has been sown for seasons. Clumsily and insufficiently sown, though. From the time when, trapped again by the Dothraki in season 6, she constantly behaved in the most irrational way, showing only anger and absolute confidence that she would get out of the situation, I started defending that she had become a parody of herself. Her attitude did indeed seem detached from reality, but I attributed such nonsense to the evident decline in quality of the scripts.
The reality was, however, that the main representation of both depatriarchalisation and female empowerment for the last nine years, theicon for several generations, the role model, was turning into a “hysterical” dictator, precisely the image of feminists that many detractors want to impose. All her past deeds up to now can, since the airing of last episode, be interpreted as a result of growing madness instead of righteousness. Once more in the history of narrative, ambition and power in women are linked to madness and evil, and all simply for a last firework. Honestly, I have serious doubts that this is the right thing to do.
If at least the final transformation hadn’t felt as forced and rushed, if an effort had been made in favour of comprehensibility and consistency with the character and her circumstances, the far-reaching meaning of the previous good stuff could have been spared from the wrecking, perhaps even made more fascinatingly complex.
Now there’s only one opportunity for the redemption of character and writers, and it will probably end with a replacement in terms of representation by Sansa Stark, who, no matter what, will never be as iconic as the Mother of Dragons has been.
May the Old Gods or the New fix this somehow, but, for the time being, rest in peace, Breaker of Chains.