But here is what I know about women and power: Men fear powerful women, because they know that women have always had cause to fear powerful men. Men fear that women’s power will be violent, because they use their power to rape, assault, and beat us. Men fear that women’s power will be temperamental and despotic — that they will be forced to fear our every mood swing and obey our every irrational whim — because men have been raised to believe that their women should tend to them, cater to their whims, hang on the thread of their good graces. Men don’t fear “female power,” in the abstract. They fear being treated like women; they’re afraid that, when we win, they die. That when get the power, we’ll do the shoving, and it will hurt.
Sady Doyle on.
This piece is on Game of Thrones, so appropriate content warning for sexual violence. But having never seen nor read (nor ever had any intention to see nor read) GoT/ASoIaF, the thing this post actually reminded me of was Naomi Alderman’s The Power, which I threw across the room1 when I realised it’d done exactly this bait-and-switch on me.
I’m going to spoil the book here, which is exactly how much I hate it, but The Power is an alt-alt history2 in which young girls and, eventually, women gain the supernatural power to electrocute people with their hands. The book explores the social changes this would imply, which is to say, the entire world collapses into a brutal and deranged matriarchy that, critically, is explicitly depicted as worse than the current-world-equivalent patriarchy it replaces. And, like, you don’t need to be a genius to work out that Alderman is doing this to bang the “ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY!!!” drum, while simultaneously refuting all those Second Wave-esque nuclear takes about matriarchies being intrinsically nurturing or whatever because essentialist womanhood mother goddess yadda yadda. Which is not even a position I’d disagree with, except, hey wait a second. You’d maybe kinda think a book whose entire premise is set up to reject essentialist archetypes about women’s “natures” would have something interesting to say about, say, trans and nonbinary–
HAHAHA PSYCHE NO OF COURSE IT DOESN’T!!!! TRANS AND ENBY PEOPLE DON’T EXIST SILLY RABBIT!!!! NOT WHEN THERE’S A POINT TO BE MADE ABOUT HOW CIS WOMEN ARE ALL POWER-MAD BITCHES WHO DESERVE THEIR OPPRESSION!!!!
I mean that’s written in Hyperbole Bold but, like. That’s literally the message of the novel, right up to and including the narrative legitimizing the views of an MRA-esque character which… wow. Just… wow.
This book won awards, man. Margaret Atwood fucking blurbed it! Like… what the actual fuck?
Except… I can’t even pretend to be surprised. Because of course it’s completely expected that a piece of media featuring a female power fantasy—literally any female power fantasy—would immediately turn around and scold its audience for daring to think that maybe, just maybe, this time it would be okay to dream. To take something that I’m sure a lot of Really Real World Actual Women have imagined, i.e. having the ability to electrocute predatory men with their minds, and then spend three hundred pages shaming them for that fantasy. Power corrupts, ladies, dontchanoe! So fucking thoughtful, such a novel fucking insight! Because you know the patriarchy loves nothing more than a woman who scolds other women for daring to imagine things could be any other way!
Anyway, I guess what I’m getting at here is that Game of Thrones sucks, The Power sucks, and the whole media landscape that pretends takes on power “corrupting” women are in any way interesting, thoughtful, and/or feminist really fucking sucks.