You can say one thing for HBO’s epic fantasy adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, the ever-controversial Game of Thrones. It certainly has spurred political debate about gender roles.
I’ve addressed how insidious gender stereotypes can be, particularly in regard to how the Damsel Bias has corrupted so much debate about fiction like Game of Thrones. Since I’ve griped about sexist bias in the criticism of the show, I feel I should congratulate the show on how the final episode of season six portrayed complementary male and female power.
BEHIND EVERY KING IN THE NORTH
One thing Martin (or the showrunners) got right in that “King in the North” scene of the final episode was how a precocious girl can have more social power than a room-full of martially powerful men. Lyanna Mormont played the men in that room like an expert, with the master male player Baelish watching in astonishment.
Remember how he predicted that Jon Snow would be rejected as the leader of House Stark? Boy (joke intended), was he wrong!
I didn’t see a girl outmaneuvering a room of grown men as an expression of misandry, but rather as an honest portrayal of how gender equity really works: each sex having their own general strengths that, working together, make the whole community stronger as a result. Yes, Brienne of Tarth and Tyrion Lannister are honorable outliers to those gender heuristics, with her martial prowess and his social instincts. And I applaud Martin for including those exceptions to the rule.
But, outliers are outliers and trends are trends.
Most of us accept that men are, on average, physically stronger than women and better at spatial reasoning, but fewer are aware of the scientifically established superiority women enjoy, on average, at creating and maintaining social rapport. Despite desperate and dishonest attempts by politically motivated researchers to explain away these trends as artifacts of culture, these are gender distinctions that begin in infant girls, and boys, long before they can succumb to the pressures of socialization that activist propaganda loves to blame for all gender distinctions.
Sansa and Jon sitting side-by-side in that pivotal scene, are perfect archetypes of the gender heuristic. He has become a formidable man just as she has become a formidable woman, each in their own way. Yes, there are outliers and exceptions to the tropes those two epitomize, and we should not only accommodate but celebrate those exceptions.
But exceptions are exceptions. We should also recognize and celebrate the general realities.
And, before anyone accuses me of celebrating too much the victory of a young lady over a gaggle of confused men, let me also applaud the earlier scene in that episode where Ser Davos exposes Melisandre’s murder of Shireen Baratheon. The Red Priestess’s blustering attempts to socially sidestep her aggressive primary agency in that atrocity—”Shireen’s parents went along with it! The Lord of Light made me do it!”—are a perfect mirror for the martial blustering of the northern lords as they growled about their long animosity with the Wildlings and huffed mistakenly that the war was over.
Whether the showrunners intended it this way or not, Melisandre’s comeuppance scene is a perfect counterpoint to the “King in the North” scene. Ser Davos’s brutal, warrior’s code honesty laid bare Melisandre’s failed social manipulations, just as Lyanna Mormont’s relational shaming laid bare the failed martial calculations of the lords of the North. Davos and Lyanna showed the strengths of their sexes. Melisandre and the northern lords showed the weaknesses.
We are equals, men and women. But that doesn’t mean we are the same underneath our skins. And, we work better when our virtues are partnered, as a check and a buttress to each other, not when they are set at odds.