First, allow me a cheap shot and a nitpick at the post that was included in the Weekly Feminist Reader: Daenerys being like a liberal white woman, but being compared to Laura Bush? Um… are we thinking the same Laura Bush? Wife of least-popular-president George W Bush, very conservative, THAT Laura Bush? Calling her a liberal white woman? But… whatever — nitpick.
Now, the meat of the bone I have to pick with this parallel — the argument is that Daenerys’ character is racist with very typical ‘white woman bringing civilization to the savage brown people’. The proof supposedly comes from how she changes the cultures and civilizations of the Dothraki, particularly in regards to their treatment of women (because, y’know, rape). But, because she’s white, she automatically must know better and she’s the only one who could have possibly civilized the savage barbarians.
Problem with this argument: The Dothraki are NOT the only ones who do this. The article I’m arguing against in particular compares the Dothraki as being like the Klingons of Game Of Thrones. Well… No. EVERY culture does this, with select few, sympathetic characters not being completely dyed black in misogyny. The Lannisters, the Starks, the Tullys, virtually every house in the mainland treats their women — victims of war, child brides sold as parts of bribes for loyalty between houses — the same way the Dothraki do. The only difference is how the mainland knights and nobles dress it up and PRETEND to have some nobility and honorability (Again, with a few, select characters being written to be sympathetic who DON’T). If anything, the Dothraki are just more honest and brutally blatant about their misogyny, and the better comparison is that the two different societies and cultures are a cautionary tale of “Who’s the real savage”.
Furthermore, when Daenerys goes into this, she sees herself as actually quite lesser than about any of the Dothraki (Granted, being sold at thirteen by your brother as, essentially, a sex object can probably do some nasty numbers on your sense of self-worth, especially if you’ve already grown up in an environment hostile to women) but is treated incredibly civil by the members of the khalasaar — hell, their wedding night, Khal Drogo is willing to prioritize her comfort (and pleasure) despite the language barrier. She comes to respect the culture of the Dothraki, and earns their respect of her, and works and fights to be an equal of anyone else in the community. She adopts the cultures and the values of the Dothraki — if anything, they change her, turning her from a scared girl who wants to find a green pasture with a house and a place to call home to a hardened, seasoned rider whom doesn’t flinch from realities and is willing to roam the world, never settling down.
So… what is her butting in on the cultural standards of how women are treated in wartime, if it’s not a racist, ‘white woman civilizes the savages’ trope? It’s that she’s forcing people to begin to treat women, on the whole, as (gasp!) human beings, worthy of respect and dignity. That’s right — Daenery’s is the Game of Thrones world messiah of feminism. And it really would have to be her — she’s the only woman to have real, true, autonomous power in this world, and she’s earned the respect of these people enough that they listen to her. Do you think Catelyn Stark could start a revolution where women prisoners of war were no longer raped and prostitutes no longer treated with contempt? Of course not — apart from her sons and husband, all the men in Winterfell see women as less than human (including my least favorite character, Theon Greyjoy, [redacted] he’s such a despicable piece of work) and think it’s only natural they be treated the way they are. Sansa Stark? Too busy mooning over her pretty prince to notice that she’s incredibly privileged. The queen, Cersei Lannister? She may be queen, but does anyone really take her seriously, unless they want to sleep with her? Of course not.
Am I saying there’s NO racism in Game of Thrones? Of course not — honestly, Tyrion Lannister hires a tribe of wildlings for his bodyguards and they call themselves “Black Ears”. But that couldn’t POSSIBLY be a direct reference to Native American tribes in the US. Not to mention the descriptions of the Dothraki, which include their fear of “crossing the Big Water” and using such phrases as “Stallion who Mounts the World” to describe Dany’s unborn child, and their having “bronze” skin. I do have moments of questioning George R.R. Martin’s racial sensitivities, myself. However, whatever the problems are, the character of Daenery’s is not one of them.