Game of Thrones: Shattering the dragonglass ceiling
Washington — Westeros is no longer a man’s world.
Women are finally calling most of the shots during the seventh season of “Game of Thrones.” And if recent economic history is any guide, greater gender equality could help make everyone better off. In a peacetime economy, adding women workers increases the pace of growth. But in wartime, adding women workers is a competitive edge.
From her new perch in Dragonstone, Daenerys has gathered the three royal houses supporting her quest to become queen — with each house led by a fellow woman. Up north, Sansa will rule while her kinsman Jon Snow hits the road. Meanwhile in King’s Landing, Cersei is preparing for war with fierce shoulder pads and a giant crossbow in hopes of preserving her crown.
The Associated Press’ economics team discusses the rise of women in the latest episode of our audio show, “The Wealth of Westeros.” Listen to the ‘Wealth of Westeros’ audio series.
It’s a sharp transformation for the HBO series that oozed testosterone in earlier seasons. Back then women were often the primary victims of men’s constant cruelties. But the ascent of women could be a huge positive for Westeros, just as it was for the U.S. economy. Equality among the sexes is about more than social justice — it’s often a source of prosperity.
Joining the AP on its latest episode is Neera Tanden, the president and chief executive of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Tanden is a major Game of Thrones fan and said that women sometimes have gotten “big strides” in economic and political rights during periods of crisis.
But the big question for Daenerys is whether she’ll decide to order her three dragons to destroy Cersei — an act seemingly in line with the men who were previously king. Daenerys’ female advisers have encouraged greater aggression, while her male advisers, Tyrion and Varys, pushed for a more restrained approach.
“It was like gender roles were reversed, right?” Tanden said. “The women wanted to come in and use the dragons to slaughter everyone in King’s Landing. The male advisers, said, you know, you don’t really want to kill all those people.”
Economic growth comes from two major factors. The first is how productive people are for each hour worked — one of the big reasons why Westeros’ general lack of innovation leaves so many peasants struggling to feed themselves. But the other big factor is how many workers an economy can add, since more people earning daily wages leads to faster growth.
It’s the addition of workers where women matter so much. Much of the economic gains from the 1980s and 1990s came because a greater proportion of women started working — and more them started taking jobs that had traditionally been reserved for men. Women’s participation rate in the job market peaked around 2001 and has since slipped as the overall growth rate has slowed.
Jon Snow seems to have taken this principle to heart for battling the supernatural White Walkers.
He wants every woman and girl fighting this ghostly brood, not just every man and boy. He also wants women helping to mine for dragonglass, the one obsidian-like material known to kill White Walkers.
The women leading Westeros face the challenge of emulating the men who came before them or blazing their own course.
One of Daenerys’ allies, the shrewd but grandmotherly Lady Olenna, told her not to follow the advice of wise men but her own instincts as a woman — one with three fire-breathing dragons at her beck and call.
“I’ve known a great many clever men,” Olenna said. “I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
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