The Spatiality of Power in Westeros and Women

“I swear to you, sitting a throne is thousand times harder than winning one.” – Robert Baratheon

As many of you know, I wrote my Masters dissertation on political space in Star Trek. Or in layman’s terms, I analyzed the differences between politics in the stationary space of Deep Space Nine, and the moving space of the Enterprise.

My conclusion was about twenty pages long, so I’ll just boil it down to this: When a space is stationary, the politics (and therefore the economics and social structures) were messy. When a space was moving, it was much cleaner. That’s why Deep Space Nine is rife with war, assassinations, and occupation, and The Next Generation is about a ship going out and fixing problems.

I also wrote a little bit about it on ScienceFiction.com, using Worf as an allegory for the difference, so check that out for a bit more of an in-depth analysis.

I bring it up, though, because while I was at Starfest, I went to a panel entitled “The Women of Westeros”, which was hosted by Ginny from Not Literally. In that panel, I had the very sudden realization that the politics of women who must stay in one place were very different from the women that moved. We as fans also have a lot less sympathy for the stationary women (Sansa, and Cersei being the ones that come very easily to mind) than we do for the women that are moving from place to place (Arya and Daenerys being clear fan-favorites). One doesn’t need to look further than a panel at Dragon Con where “I want Sansa to die” was the main topic of conversation, or pretty much any conversation at a bar about Game of Thrones where the highlight is congratulating each other on liking Arya.

This dichotomy begs all sorts of questions, and it’s hard to know which one to start with. But I think the two big ones are:

  1. Do we like the women who move because they are able to exert more control in their lives than the ones at King’s Landing?
  2. Why the women who work and live in existing political structures are so derided?

I struggled with the first question for a long time, trying to understand the division. I think both characters like Sansa and Arya control their fates as best they can in the spaces they are given. But that is when I realized the truth is a lot more unwieldy than it should be, and the answer for the first question is the also same for the second:

Arya derives power from traditionally male spaces, whereas characters like Sansa become powerful through traditionally female spaces.

In my paper on Star Trek, I note that there is an inherent imperialism in how the Enterprise operates. It moves around. prescribes morals and fixes problems for other people then moves on. It is essentially a traditionally male space if you take colonialism into consideration. Which, if you follow Daenerys white-savior narrative of freeing the slaves, it’s not really hard to draw a similar comparison.

However, the station Deep Space Nine, due to its stationary existence is actually able to be pushed and pulled into many different configurations, each creating spaces and bubble of power that react and change when confronted with another bubble of power.

That’s the world of Sansa,and Cersei. They may live and move in a male-dominated place, but they are able to gain power through feminine space (i.e., being a wife or a mother).

And I wonder if that is why we fans, as a group, despise them.

I do not have the answers. All I can do is ask rhetorical questions and hope to foster enough debate that we can look at these issues critically. For my part, I have loved Sansa Stark from the day her dad was beheaded, and I continue to love her now. Every time she carves out room for her to get a jibe in at Joffrey, or to play games against Cersei is a triumph for me. I also love women in more traditionally male roles, such as Brienne. She is not typical as other women who are put into fighting roles. She does not hate or despise other women for being “weak” and feminine, but knows that she does not have or want those qualities. I love women who are in undefined spaces, such as Osha, whose role is undefinable because she comes from a culture so separate from our own.

But I know that is not the common tenor of the fandom. I know that there is love for the moving women, and dislike for the stationary, and I think we need to start evaluating space and movement when thinkings about the roles of gender.

This may seem like it exists only in fiction, but I guarantee, you will see this narrative of moving women and stationary women in not just in the media, but in real life.

4 thoughts on “The Spatiality of Power in Westeros and Women

  1. I understand what you’re trying to say, but fandom in facebook, IRL, twitter etc is not the same as fandom on tumblr (where I came from and where I found this), where we have to deal with post after post about Arya=internalyzed misogyny and Sansa=weaponized femininity, Arya=brawns and Sansa=intelligence, Arya=cliche and Sansa=subversive, about how Arya could have never survived had she stayed in KL, about how much Arya has lost herself and only cares for revenge, and calling her masculine, all these things from Sansa fans who inexplicably fell the need to include Arya bashing in all their Sansa meta.
    Look, I get it: If my fave was being bashed left and right all over mainstream media and social networks and your school/worlplace/favorite bar, I would also grow defensive. But tumblr is a very feminist friendly place in comparison, and the core of that disgusting “she-needs-to-die-she-is-worthless” brand of Sansa hate doesn’t come from tumblr. On tumblr you will see many photosets/gifsets called “feminist characters”, “amazing women” etc, where Asha, Arya, Brienne, Osha, Meera, Ygritte, are not included. Sansa, Cersei and Margaery are tumblr darlings because theirs is apparently the real feminism, because it doesn’t shame femininity, and the other girls get called “masculine”.
    Since when feminism includes skirts only and excludes pants? All those arguments about Arya I told you about at first are constantly being brought up by people, and it gets tiring, especially when it’s obvious many people don’t bother to understand Arya and just cling to the HBO version. Not by you, but in tumblr it’s always happening and it baffles me how so many Sansa fans take their frustrations with mainstream fandom and pour them on tumblr where it’s their safe space, only to make it about how much better than Arya Sansa is. That’s why Sansa fandom is not a safe space for me and I can’t take part, because taking Arya down is most people’s crutch.
    TL;DR we’ve seen this kind of reasoning on the Arya tag a million times. Those people in “conversation at a bar about Game of Thrones where the highlight is congratulating each other on liking Arya” are not tumblr fandom. Ones love “badass assassin punch through problems smart mouth venom filled Arya hell yeah” and others love “low self esteem homesick starved skinny abused girl who gets her sword taken away and survives by wit, speed and laying low, humble, friendly and pack minded Arya please be ok” and you’re preaching to the latter.
    A nice tumblr for you: donewithwoodenteeth. She’s nicer and more articulate than I am.

  2. This is an interesting theory, as it may explain the changed fan reaction to Dany in ADWD — where she becomes stationary and works with messy politics, rather than being a traveling conqueror. Many fans change their tune on Dany on that book, and often say they want her to go back to conquering.

    On the other hand, Catelyn seems a major exception to the theory — as she is moving, not stationary, and yet rather disliked as a character. For *not* being stationary at home, for not being quiet and knowing her place. (The Tower of the Hand list of hated characters is unfortunately quite illuminating on this.)

    Also ASOIAF tends to be messy everywhere, even (especially) the moving characters — more like Voyager than Next Gen I suppose? Mind you I often felt the messiness of Voyager’s effects on the societies it traveled past were not explored as much as they should have…

    1. I’m glad you brought up Catelyn. I was going to insert her in, but it was going to be a bit messy for a post just idly wondering about the differences between women who move, and those who don’t. But I love discussion, so here we go!

      I actually see Catelyn as stationary because she is still constrained by Westeros politics to the point where she is still playing the part of marrying her son off, and protecting the North. Though Arya and Brienne are wandering around Westeros, and are influenced by the politics, I still see them as moving because for the most part they are able to make decisions that affect just themselves that have little to do with title or the prevailing politics.

      As for Voyager, I actually see it a hybrid that moves toward a stationary space. While the ship is moving around, they are interfering with a quadrant of a galaxy that is well connected with itself, hence all of its messiness.

      (btw, thank you for pointing out my typo. “Female spaces” is absolutely what I meant to write, so thank you for pointing that out).

  3. I’ve always liked Cersei and Sansa. Cersei is intelligent. It’s so difficult to find a good, competent, and intelligent antagonist anywhere. She protects her children–okay, she might be a little over-attached or insecure about them, but anyone who could find someone to love about Joffrey has a gift. Would I want to be friends with her? Seven Kingdom’s, no. But I like her.

    On moving/stationary, I see what you mean. Anyone who travels has flexibility–there are less eyes watching. So they can exercise power in unconventional ways. Anyone who stays put has to be more guarded–Cersei couldn’t pull of an Arya and stab random people without raising some serious questions.

    “Do we like the women who move because they are able to exert more control in their lives than the ones at King’s Landing?”
    Partially, but also because of sexism against women who exercise power using safe and traditional methods–a bias fans have against femininity. But there’s also another factor at work here to rouse our sympathies for moving characters–everyone loves an underdog. The women who are on the move are often chased, on the run, or put against terrible odds. Stationary women are more secure, and therefore less likely to rouse the sympathies of fans. Dany stopped being the underdog as soon as she settled down in Meereen. Ned Stark working against all the conspiracies in season 1? Underdog. Jaime Lannister? Fans only started liking him after he became an underdog.

    “Why the women who work and live in existing political structures are so derided?”

    I touched on this question in the other answer, but I don’t think existing power structures provide enough methods to garner the sympathy of viewers. Sometimes it happens (I think Sansa’s approval ratings went up when she faced difficulties with Joffrey in season 2) but not as often as in the mobile counterparts.

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