** slight spoiler*
So people are getting upset that the GoT writers took a major female character who they were building up as the great white hope for the Seven Kingdoms and turned her into a demonic fire bitch mad queen. Bree Newsome said this was typical of white feminism — saving oppressed brown folk, letting the Black woman die in her place, destroying everything when she couldn’t get what she wanted (I avoid using the term white feminism, I find it unhelpful).
However, throughout history, female leaders of any color have been ruthless and often burned everything down to the ground. Catherine the Great is the best example. She wanted to be “defender of oppressed innocence” but was opposed to educating commoners. She put down a Cossack rebellion and crushed a Polish one. She drove her army on a bloody war against the Ottomans. She annexed Crimea. Thousands died under her reign.
How about Elizabeth I who beheaded Mary Queen of Scots? Or, in modern times, Indira Gandhi who ordered the storming of the Golden Temple which caused the deaths of 3000 people, including Sikh pilgrims? Golda Meir, who was derogatory towards feminists and promoted the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians? Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the world’s biggest disappointment?
So Daenerys Targaryen’s turn into madness, cruelty and insanity is only a slight exaggeration of what has already happened when women are at the reigns of power. History bears us out on this one, and I think the GoT writers made the right choice in allowing Daenerys to be human, rather than a woman on a pedestal.
To hold women to some sort of ideal, to expect them to remain moral and just simply because of their gender is as much an idealized vision of women as it is contrary to human nature.
I think the Mother of Dragons’s lesson is this: she wants love and she wants power, but she cannot have both, because ruling people absolutely means crushing dissent. And this is something that gender cannot allay; it is the way of the world.
The last paragraph of this short essay by Josie Glausiuz on the nature of women and power says it all: “It is, indeed, a stereotype to dismiss women as inherently peaceable. As Swanwick wrote in The Future of the Women’s Movement (1913): ‘I wish to disclaim altogether the kind of assumption … in feminist talk of the present day.’ That is, ‘the assumption that men have been the barbarians who loved physical force, and that women alone were civilised and civilising. There are no signs of this in literature or history’.”
(Recommended reading: Women and Power by Mary Beard)