Last week on The History of Sex we touched on Game of Thrones and The Walk of Shame. This week we’re taking a look at GoT’s very own gender warrior: Brienne of Tarth.
**There are spoilers ahead… Well, sort of, but not really: Go and watch the show already!**
In both the books and the show, Brienne of Tarth is depicted as a woman who wanted to be a knight, and a woman who was ostracized and ridiculed for her choices. This season we heard the story of how when she was younger her father had thrown a ball to try and find her a husband, and the young men played a cruel joke. She describes the young suitors as suddenly showing interest, fighting each other to dance with her and whisper words of love, only to find out that it was actually a hateful ruse meant to mock her lack of traditional beauty and masculine demeanor and figure. However, Brienne proves herself by becoming a knight of Renly Baratheon’s Kingsguard; protector to Catelyn Stark and her girls; even gaining the friendship and admiration of Jaime Lannister who bestoys upon her the sword Oathkeeper, all despite not owning a penis to fit inside her suit of armor.
Throughout history real life women have bucked the standard of sex specific roles, and proven to be gender warriors in their own right:
Hua Mulan, the central figure in The Ballad of Mulan (and the Disney film, Mulan) was said to have been a real person who had lived in China, and disguised herself as a man to fill the draft quota during the Northern Wei in order to save her ill and aging father from having to serve.
Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and one of the principal reasons for her execution was the accusation that she dressed as a man, despite doing so for safety reasons while traveling, and because the layers of pants with doublet and multiple fasteners was a strong way of preventing being raped.
Hannah Snell, a British woman born in Worcester, England in 1723, served as a man in the Royal Marines, and was granted a military pension. She had been part of the expedition to capture the French colony of Pondicherry in India, and later, fought in the battle in Devicotta in June 1749. She was wounded eleven times to the legs and once to the groin. For her injuries she managed to keep her identity as a woman secret either by tending to the wounds herself, or enlisting the help of a discreet Indian nurse. In 1750, upon return to Britain, Hannah revealed her true identity to two of her shipmates, and petitioned the Duke of Cumberland, the head of the army, for her pension. She was officially recognized for her military service and granted her pension in November of that year. It is said that Hannah went on to retire in Wapping, England, and opened a pub named The Female Warrior.
So there you have it; male, female, does it really matter? Though she may be a fictional character, our Brienne of Tarth represents a triumph over the confines of gender stereotypes. Though it would have made her life significantly easier to choose against her dreams and the image of what she wanted her life to be, she did it anyway. She did it because it would have killed her not to.
For Brienne, her beauty may not be in the curve of her waist and the softness of her skin, but in the swing of her sword, and the integrity of her soul.