Lyanna Mormont & Feminism
I just have one tiny thing to say about Lyanna Mormont’s speech. I’ve seen quite a few people go after her for this particular line:
“I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me.”
A lot of people have said it was very anti-feminist and an insult to women, which I understand where they’re coming from, but Lyanna wasn’t mocking those women. She was mocking the rigid gender norms placed upon girls and women in her society. It was decrying the social construct that dictates women cannot fight their own battles and are only good for what society deems ‘feminine pursuits’. Lyanna’s speech was deconstructing what it meant to be female at that time and declaring that women do not need men to fight their battles for them; that they are perfectly capable of fighting their own battles. We, as modern day women, cannot define her speech by our understanding of feminism today. Feminist discourse would have been largely unheard of in that period of time. What women of that day value most is incomparable to what we as modern viewers value now. For such a toxic patriarchal society, giving women autonomy over their own futures, and thusly their own battles, was a far more needed pursuit. The comment about knitting by the fire was not to say those who do knit and enjoy it are weaker and thus unworthy of being a woman, but rather it was to decry these archaic gender roles placed upon them. Women are capable of far more than society has given them the chance to display.
It’s completely unfair to view Lyanna’s speech through our twenty-first-century lenses because the circumstances are different. It’s the same argument we use when we apply feminist theory to literature. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, if read through modern day goggles, would not be considered as groundbreaking a novel as it was at the time of its publication in 1847, but it very much was.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer.“
To us, these quotes would not be that powerful. As beautiful as the language is, the concept that women feel just as men feel is not revolutionary for us. But at the time, Bronte’s Jane Eyre was certainly revolutionary in its attempt to dismantle this cultural imposition on women over their need to be the passive and submissive “Angel in the House” (a concept of the penultimate feminine ideal described by Coventry Patmore in his poem published in 1854).
Imposing twenty-first-century notions of feminism on a culture that has yet to actually experience any wave or trickle of feminism is unfair. Contextually, Lyanna’s speech was for its time revolutionary and so was Jon’s decision to have both men and women fight. Even Sansa, who is not a fighter, acknowledges this by her smirk during the speech. It is not a slight towards those who are more domestic, but a slight towards culturally imposed notions of what it means to be feminine by men who see women’s worth as only mothers, caretakers and nurturers, without acknowledging them as a whole human that is far more complex than these strict roles allow them.
And for each woman, the question of femininity is always going to be different. For Lyanna, her fight has always been against those who underestimate her right to lead and the power she commands, and that is what she specifically addresses. There’s a famous conversation by lecturer and professor of literature and gender studies Ann Snitow in her 1989 essay ‘A Gender Diary’.
Her friend says in regards to the feminist movement:
“Now I can be a woman; it’s no longer so humiliating. I can stop fantasizing that secretly I am a man, as I used to, before I had children. Now I can value what was once my shame.”
In contrast, Snitow said:
“Now I don’t have to be a woman anymore. I need never become a mother. Being a woman has always been humiliating, but I used to assume there was no exit. Now the very idea of ‘woman’ is up for grabs. ‘Woman’ is my slave name; feminism will give me freedom to seek some other identity altogether.”
It’s always been these contradicting ideologies that simultaneously fuels feminism as a movement and hinders it. Feminists for decades have struggled to reconcile both ways of thinking, but personally, I believe neither is wrong. For me, feminism is the freedom to believe in either.
This is why I don’t see Lyanna’s speech as being particularly anti-feminist. Saying so is too black and white of a statement, which has never been something you can attribute to feminism. The movement itself is too nuanced, as are most movements.