The phrase “women’s empowerment” is thrown around a lot. Perhaps so much so that it has gone the way of “synergy” or “literally,” losing meaning through overuse.
So, what does women’s empowerment really mean, practically speaking? What does an “empowered” woman act like?
HBO runaway hit Game of Thrones has given us many powerful examples of women seizing control of their own destinies (admittedly the show has given a lot of bad examples of empowerment as well, but that’s a different blog post).
So, without further ado, here are some examples of what we mean by “women’s empowerment,” as showcased from a few of Westeros’s most powerful women.
Control of Her Assets
One of the most important markers of a woman who is “empowered” is that she has decision-making power over her money and assets. If she decides she wants to spend, save or otherwise use her material possessions, there’s no husband, family member or laws stopping her.
Lyanna Mormont, the 10-year-old Lady of Bear Island, is one such girl. Her age and her gender make her a rare leader in Westeros, yet all the men and women under her auspices respect and abide by her decisions. And they ought to – her presence, wisdom and power are as big as her stature and kingdom are small. Though she only has a few soldiers in her service, when she decides to send them to battle on behalf of Jon Snow, they willingly obey her commands and fight for her cause. That’s because, on Bear Island, what Lyanna Mormont says, goes.
Unbeholden to Traditional Gender Roles
Culturally assigned gender roles are, by definition, limiting. If people are not allowed by law or culture to live lives outside of those traditional roles, it can lead to unhappiness and stagnation of the entire society. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with sticking to traditional roles if that’s what you want, but when women or men are pressured to behave in certain ways because they feel like they have no choice, there’s a problem. Gender roles can be and are often used to control and subjugate women especially.
Cue Brienne of Tarth. As a knight of the highest skill and integrity, Brienne is woman who is refreshingly free from the typical gender roles of Westeros (which are similar to those of medieval Europe). Not only has she defied expectations by taking on a traditionally male role, but she’s better at it than any man in Westeros. Brienne’s powerful spirit allows her to throw off expectations and live her truth, choosing her own path no matter what anyone says. Fight on, Brienne, fight on.
Access to Education
Education is one of the most important paths out of poverty. When girls are educated, they have more earning power as well as better health and a deeper understanding of family planning. Not to mention the mental health benefits and self-esteem that education provides. Sadly, girls around the world are denied access to an education simply because they’re born girls and not boys. It is of utmost importance to ensure that girls have equal access to education if they want it.
The transformative power of education is evident as Gilly, arguably one of the most disenfranchised characters in the show, blooms as she learns to read. When we first meet Gilly she is trapped in a cycle of abuse in the house of her father, Craster. After escaping with her baby, Sam, she becomes a refugee and faces dangers and prejudice as she travels through Westeros. Despite this, Gilly remains hopeful in the face of adversity and seeks out an education at the hands of Princess Shireen (RIP). It’s actually Gilly’s newfound knowledge that reveals the answer to one of the show’s biggest mysteries: [SPOILER ALERT!] that Raegar Targaryen married Lyanna Stark. Gilly is the hero we need.
Strong Community Bonds
That “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy? That’s not a thing in real life. Humans are communal animals and, as such, tend to wither in isolation. Everyone needs help and support to be mentally, physically and economically well. This is especially important for women, who generally have less cultural power. Women supporting other women is one of the most powerful ingredients for change there is.
One of our favorite examples of this in Westeros is the friendship that grows up between Daenarys and Messandei. When these two women team up, they are able overcome extremely challenging obstacles to achieve their goals. Plus, and equally important, they’re happier. Though they come from different social stratas, they show each other equal respect and rely on each other’s wisdom and experience.