My insomnia ensues and my sleep is so shattered. I am up hours each night and I am certain it is unidentified worry, because my nails are getting chewed, and that is something I do when I am nervous. I think it is mostly money worries. I am sure I am also just worried about how I will do as I take on the new challenges that are merely three months away (or less). I want this final phase of pregnancy to go well. I continue to pray and meditate positive, hopeful thoughts. But in those early morning sleepless hours, I also read.
I have been reading Game of Thrones while pregnant with you. It has a strong feminist undercurrent. This series is an extensively developed fantasy universe populated with dozens and dozens of characters – just thumb the appendices of the various family lineages for proof of the author’s creations. At the head of those lists are the fathers’ names, but in this series, the women play a major role in shaping the plot…much more so than the men who seem to constantly botch things up. As I read this male author’s take on these various female characters I found myself analyzing the various types of strong women they each represent.
I will start with one of my favorite characters: Brienne of Tarth. She is the square peg that doesn’t fit in a round hole. Brienne does not want to be transgender, she owns being female, but she wants access to the male world of knighthood. She is all about that glass ceiling. She is strong, adept, brave, honorable, well-trained and proven as a knight. She is on par with the best knights throughout the land, yet because she is a woman she is teased, rejected, and constantly told to go home. In a passage from my reading last night she did consider how if she had made some different, more traditional choices, she would be sitting in a castle married to a lord and nursing a child. But she feels more alive on her knightly quest. She reflects on being bullied and the butt of men’s jokes. She is aware that she is not physically attractive and she feels the burning stares of judgment from both men and women who encounter her large frame garbed in armor. She is a noble character because she vulnerable, genuine, resilient, and both physically and mentally strong.
Another female character who also rejects the cultural norms for being a “lady” is Arya Stark. Arya is the epitome of a tom boy. She hates the mundane training of singing, sewing, and learning courtly etiquette. Rather, she enjoys horse play, learning sword fighting, and as of lately enacting her revenge on people who have crossed her. She has gone down a dark road, but she still remains strong in terms of knowing who she is at her core and not letting people push her around. She has endured loss and has watched different males in her life leave her, whether by their own choice or from tragedy. She makes her way all over the world surviving on her keen observation and innate survival skills. She is street smart and super tough.
Her sister, Sansa Stark, is the complete opposite. At first she is enthralled by the courtly life that all of her “lady in training” had prepared her for. She is beautiful and dreams of a grand wedding, enjoys being dressed in regal gowns, and wants to make her mom and dad proud of how well she can play her role. However, when tragedy strikes, she goes inside herself and taps into strength that helps her remain composed as she is tormented day in and day out as a prisoner of sorts trapped in the world she had so wanted to be a part of. In turn, she sees the courtly life with new wisdom and learns to keep her mouth shut so as to survive, as she believes she is the last heir to her family lineage, and must endure. There is a scene where she is able to escape her strife by building a snow fort in the likeness of her home. For a short-lived moment she experiences happiness. However, she is thrown back into her perilous role as a valuable surviving Stark and she has to continue to bide her time patiently as the various plots unfold. Her strength is patience and a quiet resolution to endure.
By stark contrast, Cersei Lannister, the evil queen, as all good fantasy stories need an evil queen, represents the gender stereotype of a B. She has moments when one can not help but feel a little sorry for her. Like Sansa, she was a valuable family asset whom her powerful father brokered for influence in the realm. She was negotiated into a loveless marriage. Her whole world became her children and ensuring their successful rise to positions of power. She is a master manipulator and uses her sexuality as a powerful control over men whom she bends to her will. Her frustration is that her father holds to gender beliefs in which she can not be valued by him the way he cherishes her twin brother. She does not want to be his chess piece and feels absolutely confident in her capability to rule, even though the culture has only recognized a rightful king. Her ambition boils over and twists her into a power hungry, conniving, bitch. Yes, I used that word, because sometimes women can go there. When her manipulations were originally motivated with by that Mama Bear instinct, it was somewhat justifiable. However, when she crosses into becoming a self-absorbed narcissist, that is another thing and there is where a reader casts her into the staunch antagonist role.
Another woman bent on total control of the entire realm is Daenerys Stormborn, the Mother of Dragons. Like Cersei, she doesn’t want to be a man’s pawn in being married off to a family in order to broker power and peace for the patriarchs. Her story begins with such a ploy. She, and her wicked brother, are the sole remaining heirs to the recently defeated and dethroned King Targaryen. Her brother is determined to reclaim the Iron Throne and needs an army to back him, so he arranges for his sweet sister to be married to a barbaric war lord in exchange for troops. Daenerys blossoms with the newly gained power of becoming this war lord’s queen and when her strong husband dies, she is not left empty but rises in strength and assumes his place of power as a leader. Her followers recognize her power and she overcomes gender stereotypes because of her natural leadership skills and continues to accumulate loyal subjects and devoted warriors to her cause. Daenerys suffers loss and struggles like the other female characters, but her drive is more of a grand world-changing socio-political cause than seeking the throne for pure power or revenge. She wants to break molds and upend the inequities she has witnesses in her travels.
Another woman who demonstrates a quiet, but deadly power, is Lady Olenna Tyrell. She is the matriarch of a rich and powerful family that rescues Queen Cersei’s family from certain doom. She is one of the eldest females in the stories and her success lies in her ability to have weathered the storms of war and politics while remaining steadfastly in control of the men who claim to manage her family’s land and wealth. She is equally as manipulative as Cersei, but rather than having to abide by political correctness, as Cersei always attempts to do, Lady Olenna speaks her mind very frankly. There is something more socially acceptable about an elder woman being able to spout her opinions and truths without the limitations of social niceties that constrain her younger female counterparts. She recognizes all of the various schemes and calls the various players out for them. She is strong because she is one move ahead of everyone, pulling strings behind the scenes, while also managing to keep her hands clean of her dirty trickery.
Yara (Asha) Greyjoy is another powerful warrior woman. She is from the ruling family of the Iron Islands and when her father passes away, leaving just her brother for an heir, both he and she know she would be the better ruler. She is battle tested and respected by the men under her command. She has the warrior bravery of Brienne and the loyalty of her followers like Daenerys, but she is driven toward her goal of leadership because she knows she would be a truly strong queen to secure her family line. She acts boldly and often with a male machismo kind of cockiness that is far from ladylike. She is a female leader who is also “one of the guys” and not put off by the less than savory behavior of her rowdy sailors. She is a devoted sister to a brother who most siblings may have more easily washed their hands of. He is an egotistical, chauvinistic, screw up whom no one in his homeland respects. Yet, she fights to save him and for her rightful claim to rule a land she deserves.
All fantasy stories need the genre role fulfilling sorceress, and Melisandre, or the red woman, fits that trope perfectly. She serves as an “advisor” to the remaining Baratheon brother, Stannis, who taps her magical abilities in his attempt to reclaim the throne from Cersei’s bastard sons. Melisandre is highly sexual and manipulates men by convincing them she can see visions of the one true god’s savior whom she has been sent to help. She is not the only red priest/priestess in this fantasy world, but she seems to be the best thriving one. That is until her predictions and advice backfire when she comes to realize she has failed to have properly pegged Stannis as the mythical, world saving Azor Ahai. Her methods are extreme and cost dearly. She pushes for her king to commit human sacrifice of the most innocent of characters. She uses her magic for dark murders which camouflages with her so-called divine world-saving mission. And when she fails her magic is peeled away revealing a shell of an extremely old, frail, decrepit woman, again her power has extreme costs. Yet, even after a fall from her strong-held beliefs, she does seem to be onto something as far as being connected to a prophetic hero. We shall see how her character shifts after her fall.
While many of the females have been from high born families, Ellaria Sand, a base born bastard, eventually assumes leadership of Dorne. Dorne is the southern most kingdom in Westeros, and unlike other regions, the Dornish consider women and men more equally. The lands are ancient and were unified under the powerful warrior Princess Nymeria, who used her marriage to the House Martell to secure the region. Ellaria is base born, but rose to power by aligning herself with Prince Oberyn Martell. Her last name, Sand, is given to bastards, but because Dorne is more relaxed about social customs, Ellaria is still able to rise in rank by being such a valuable partner for Oberyn. When Oberyn dies and his brother fails to act with swift revenge, Ellaria enlists the Sand Snakes, the eight bastard daughters of Oberyn who are also powerful Dornish women warriors, to help her take control. She is fierce, lusty, and a clever.
Finally, there is Catelyn Stark. She is the wife to Lord Stark, a man who became a powerful advisor to King Robert, the sovereign in charge of the realm when the story opens. Catelyn sacrifices of herself in order to be the best wife and mother possible in situations that require immense inner strength. We witness her weather incredible loss and continue on despite feeling herself dying of heartache. She makes mistakes and is plagued by witnessing how the errors of her ways unfold to the misfortune of those she loves. Catelyn is a different representation of a mother figure than Cersei and Lady Olenna. Catelyn attempts a noble path in a world that rewards clever cunning and game playing. As such, she suffers more. As I reflect on all of the various facets of the feminine represented by these different characters I can’t help by look for myself in these women.
I believe that my female identity has shifted across time. I started as a bold, self-confident tom boy. Maybe I was a little like Arya then, although I have never acted out deadly revenge plans. I spent most of my years as Brienne, feeling unattractive and like I didn’t fit in. I was picked on and had to be strong and brave as I fought my way through some tough times. Now as I move into motherhood I need to be the best of the good traits of the mother figures. None of the women really excel in their relationships with the men in their worlds. Catelyn and Eddard had the best marriage, but it was cut short and they sacrificed their marriage in order to be honorable rulers for their kingdom. I know I hold my marriage very high on my priorities, and I am sure I will place parenthood right along side of it. I attempt to always make mindful and thoughtful choices with regard to what is best for my husband and family. I am certain I will make mistakes, but what I have found is that I am capable of a lot of strength when tested. When I have considered powerful female role models, there are many. Some are in literature and art. Some are sports stars and some are political leaders. However, lately, I find these obscure examples of extremely strong women through the sharing power of social media that has revealed their stories when they might have otherwise been very easily overshadowed. One woman turned the tragic loss of her only son into an amazing gift of life for several people who received organ transplants. When I consider what women attempt to achieve despite the pressures of everything else weighing on them, whether they are mothers or not, it is impressive. It perplexes me when I witness women being especially critical of other women. I don’t understand how that can be the case when we have so many common issues to unite us. In the animal kingdom, often females unite for shared success.
There are plenty of reasons why I wrote about the feminine. I do not want you to ever take a woman for granted or think of her as an object. That can be hard to do as you get older and may fall prey to the trappings of media that does just that. Women are beautiful…but for many reasons beyond physical appearance. I want you to see your world with an eye for beauty, but a deep and pure beauty at a soul essence. That is not easily achieved, but something that we can all strive for. Embodying a deep respect that bridges the gender divide is an important step to witnessing your world with just such a vision. I am hopeful for you that you will be surrounded by strong people, men and women, who will encourage you to grow into a strong and sound man.
Keep kicking baby boy. You are super low and I think you may be laying sideways. I have not ever felt your movements above my belly button. I was hoping that you would move up some by now so that my bladder could get a break. But I am so seriously happy to feel your activity. A couple of nights ago we visited our friends who gave us a whole bunch of baby hand-me-downs. That was a huge kindness. We need to work more on the nursery so that we can clean and start to store all of that away. I want to wash your clothes in baby smelling laundry detergent too. It all feels like it is moving so fast now. I am aware of how much we have to do, so I am trying to cherish these moments of sitting and writing while I feel your kicks. Time to get some chores done and then get to work.