You might think it difficult for a male writer to accurately portray the struggles of women in a medieval world like that of Game of Thrones. If you look closely, though, Game of Thrones does a masterful job of showing how women–especially strong women–struggle to find their way in a male-dominated society. The series shows us at least three different ways strong women deal with their roles, demonstrates how difficult it is for all of them, and yet somehow still has most of them appear strong and heroic.
Some of the series’ female characters take on the traditional roles of women in such a world. Sansa Stark, for example, wants very much to be a traditional “lady,” but learns quickly that as such, she will be manipulated by men and more ambitious women. She quickly becomes disillusioned. Lysa Arryn also is more of a traditional lady, spending almost all her energy over-mothering her son Jon and not taking on important issues a lady in charge must face. She pays for it with her life. Sansa, however, shows an inner strength that allows her to survive despite being caught in the midst of a civil war.
Other female characters in GoT completely discard their feminine trappings and paint themselves as men. Brienne of Tarth is a soldier who is often mistaken for a man at first glance, and who frequently refers to herself as “no lady.” Yara Greyjoy (Asha in the books) is another warrior maid, a ship captain whose crew follows her, but whose countrymen don’t take her seriously as a woman or a leader. Even tomboy Arya Stark tosses aside most “girlish” things by training to fight instead of doing more girly things. It is a difficult thing, but she even poses as a boy for a long time, hiding her true identity to survive. Game of Thrones portrays all three as strong, vital, even heroic women who simply don’t fit in either gender, and are thus stuck in limbo between the two.
Finally, the most powerful women–like Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Dany Targaryen–embrace both their feminine roles and their more male-dominated ones, trying to be the best in both. Martin shows how this is difficult in all three. Cat finds herself torn between being a mother and leader, and makes more than one rash decision on a mother’s emotion rather than logic. Cersei–always trying to prove she’s as good as her brother–also struggles with her roles as mother and queen. Dany, who bucks all Dothraki tradition to lead a Khalasar, faces resistance from the men around her, as well as numerous attempts at manipulation and unwanted romantic advances. Still, these three women are arguably the strongest, most influential in the stories, showing that only be embracing both can women in such a world shape events.
So through Game of Thrones, Martin proves that he can not only write well about a woman’s struggles in such a world, but that he can also do so while still showing them as strong, educated, and often heroic.