(Beware: this post contains Game of Thrones spoilers.)
This feels a bit risky, but I’m just going to say it: watching Hillary Clinton get the nomination this week felt a little bit like watching Cersei Lannister finally settle herself into the iron throne. There is definitely some satisfaction to it, though it’s not without it’s “oooh shit” element.
Now hear me out—this is going somewhere, and it’s not just another condemnation of a political figure.
For years this woman has watched with clenched teeth as (often less astute) men have held positions of power around her. She exerted what influence she could when her husband was in charge while suffering the indignities of his affairs and of people not taking her seriously. What else could she do? That was the highest office available to her as a woman at that moment. She is wealthy, and though she is tender to those she identifies as her children, she is known to be brutal. She has been clawing her way through the system for years, so she knows it well, but it’s done what it’s done to her.
Political comparisons aside for a moment, let me just gush about this most recent season of Game of Thrones.
It’s always fun to watch something that is capturing the excited imaginations of the masses—especially when the object of attention is at the intersection of skillful storytelling and a medium that is so completely of the moment. But it’s really, REALLY fun that that story also involves female characters with depth and power. (Although, HBO, the whole thing would be stronger with some #BlackGirlMagic. One minor character? Not enough.)
Watching the impeccably choreographed fight scenes (the best I’ve ever seen?) executed by the complex female character of Arya Stark against the crazy “waif” trainee of the Faceless Men, I realized I’ve never gotten to see female characters do something like that in a movie without being at least implicitly sexualized in the process. To watch Daenerys Targaryen sit on her throne and make an alliance with Yara Greyjoy, to see Olenna Tyrell in dealings with the hardcore vengeful mama from Dorne—matters of national consequence being decided amongst women in power—was so much fun for me.
I’ve never gotten to experience stories like that before. This season was full of women who had been wounded within patriarchal structures finally climbing to the top of the heap and taking charge. There’s no way to completely know what that does for my imagination or the collective imagination.
Lately I’ve been investigating how hard it is for me to think big for myself—
to cast a dream of or plan for myself that is outside of a safe circle of attention. Is it a coincidence that I was raised on princess stories backed by billions of marketing dollars? That in Sunday school I was taught about a holy father and his holy son? These stories were powerful enough to have razed and built and guided nations; what match was my young mind for forces like that? For centuries the face and body of power has been so homogeneous, we have to really concentrate to notice and question the far-reaching implications of his lengthy tenure.
I’m talking about men here, yes, but I’m talking about more than just men.
We all have masculine and feminine qualities, and elementally, archetypally, I have to believe that both sides of the coin are essential. Both are essential. Masculine and feminine. In balance. But for a really, really long time, the scale has been tipped to value, strengthen, grow, build on, and give space, voice, and power to one more than the other.
That’s why I posit that our world is in a major crisis of masculinity.
Male readers, I hope I don’t lose you here, because you are harmed in this crisis, too. When I talk about masculine qualities and structures, I am not talking about male qualities and structures—although they are mostly expected and encouraged in men, and what are we asking women to do when we advise them to “lean in?”
But when we think about the suck-it-up, tough, aggressive, assertive, ladder-climbing, land-taming, race-winning, seed-spreading hunter energy compared with a feeling, soft, listening, circle-making, care-taking, cooperative, accepting, relational, expressive creator energy…who’s who symbolically? And who is more important? Careful there. Think about that one for a while: who is more important? Why?
We need both. Inside and out, we need all of the above in balance.
But doesn’t it feel like the world running off the rails right now? When we’ve got war-makers getting rich from prolonged international conflict, billionaire bullies in politics stoking white supremacy and cultural fear, regular mass shootings in everyday places, law enforcement brutalizing citizens, a U.S. law body that’s too bent on “winning” to solve problems, sexual assault epidemics reaching even into the bubbles of our academic institutions, a news media that chews all of it up and spits it back at us in rapidly spun half-told stories, and a ravaged planet that is warming at an alarming rate because we can’t agree to slow production down for a second to take care of it…which side of the masculine-feminine spectrum would you say has gotten bloated, aggrieved, and warped out of balance?
Might these same symbols have gotten warped within our own spirits, too?
So where we left off…
Cersei is queen. She’s mad as hell and sitting on the throne of the Western World, which has probably never been occupied by a woman before, which also happens to be made of swords. Symbolically it’s cool. As a story, it’s really fun. And maybe it will get people ready for what we hope will happen next. Because we all know that Cersei will really just be a continuation of the system that has been in place. She has been so shaped by it her whole life. She is not our hero.
No one in Cersei’s Westeros really knows more than rumors, but we keep tuning in every week because we know that there’s a younger woman approaching from far away who could turn things right-side up. She’s been living off the grid and in other cultures. She speaks different languages and will risk everything for the rights of the enslaved. There is a spiritual element to her, too, because she has faith enough to have discovered that she can walk through fire and climb aboard an unpredictable dragon.
Oh, and she’s the only person in the world who has dragons. In the plot, Daenerys’ dragons are the trump card to any violent conflict. The dragons scorch the double-crossing slave-owners and whisk their young queen mother away when she is trapped. We can only imagine that their fire breath will be instrumental in defeating the army of the undead icy white walkers who have been approaching these squabbling territories since episode 1. (“Winter is coming.” And then it’s here. Perhaps it takes a climate catastrophe to put our priorities in order.)
Archetypally, symbolically, these dragons eclipse all else as a manifestation of a force beyond our understanding.
Like Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ wolves, the dragons are deeper, wild, magical instinct. They seem like animals, but we are told that lore says they are smarter than humans. They will not be controlled. Their power can be feared and misunderstood. They are not universally kind, but they are not indiscriminate. And it’s important to note that they belong to a “mother of dragons.” This is not a chopped down definition of a mother. She did not birth them from her own body, but she sat with the eggs in the fire while they hatched. She cared for them, sacrificed for them, listened to them, felt for them, related to them, and grew up with them even when they seemed unwieldy. The dragons are a fierce, magical extension of this elemental femininity—a force that had somehow almost been eradicated and forgotten until the right moment.
So, then, dear reader, what dragon eggs have you got in your closet?