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Stop What You’re Doing and Read This Article About Game of Thrones and Why Men Fear Powerful Women

Daenerys Targaryen and powerful women in Game of Thrones

Do you ever read something and feel a transcendent understanding of the social order click into place? That was my experience with writer Sady Doyle’s take on what Game of Thrones is doing with Daenerys and its womenfolk as the series draws to a close.

Doyle, the author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear … and Why, and the forthcoming Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power, produced an absolutely devastating and enlightening essay, “Who Wins, Who Dies: Game of Thrones (2011-2019)”. Part a recounting of her own rocky history with the books and TV show, part stunning analysis of what has happened (especially with Daenerys) and why we shouldn’t be stunned, Doyle lays bare truths about our own world via the fantasy series’ direction.

I was bowled over by Doyle’s deep dive into the Daenerys-as-Mad Queen development. She zeroes in on how the men who create the show (and the books, for that matter) and the female audience have interpreted Game of Thrones‘ relentless rape, trauma, and subsequent character arcs quite differently. These varied perspectives were perhaps always destined to collide and go down in dragon-flames, but it’s still exhausting that this is what came about.

Women who expected Daenerys to become a benevolent feminist ruler, to break the wheel and end the cycle of oppression, were not stupid; they were following basic story logic. Their expectations didn’t spring from delusion or narcissism, they sprang from Star Wars.

Yet those of us hoping for a lasting message of female empowerment, especially where Daenerys was concerned, have been dreaming of another text entirely. Game of Thrones‘ male creatives had a different idea about a fully-empowered Daenerys—she would, of course, snap and go war-crimes mad with it. And the implications of that ascent and descent are damning. “What you are telling me, when you make Daenerys a power-mad despot, is that it was better for her to be powerless,” Doyle writes. “It was better for her to be on her knees, with a stranger’s dick forced inside her, than it was for her to be a queen.”

You really, really should read the whole thing. I’m pull-quoting the part that made my jaw drop as I read this on a subway ride home:

But here is what I know about women and power: Men fear powerful women, because they know that women have always had cause to fear powerful men. Men fear that women’s power will be violent, because they use their power to rape, assault, and beat us. Men fear that women’s power will be temperamental and despotic — that they will be forced to fear our every mood swing and obey our every irrational whim — because men have been raised to believe that their women should tend to them, cater to their whims, hang on the thread of their good graces. Men don’t fear “female power,” in the abstract. They fear being treated like women; they’re afraid that, when we win, they die. That when get the power, we’ll do the shoving, and it will hurt.

Why are you still here? Go on, get reading.

(via Sady Doyle on Twitter, images: HBO)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.