The plight of the Christian female isn’t so different from that of Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones. Bear with me.
At first glance, we can tell that Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) doesn’t quite fit into her society. Though she is a highborn lady, she doesn’t aspire to the virtues of courtly life, a strategically arranged marriage, and the comforts that come with them. She would much rather don a man’s suit of armor and hone her swordsmanship than busy herself with dresses, wine, and gossip. Brienne’s “unwomanly” aspirations are odd enough, but when combined with her unusually large stature she becomes quite a memorable figure. She is a round peg in a square hole, clearly female physically, but clearly not what a female is supposed to be behaviorally.
Unmistakably, Brienne exemplifies traditionally male virtues, entrenched gender roles that hold fast even in the fictional realm of Westeros. Men, for example, should be brave, strong, courageous, cunning, and honorable (or at least maintain the appearance of honor). Women can be these things in Westeros, but in order to survive, they must mask any male virtues they possess behind sexual merits or the blissful ignorance of maidenhood.
Brienne is strikingly different because she chooses not to assume the cloth of the harlot or the mask of the maiden; she is neither overtly sexualized nor infantilized. This sets her apart from both the dangerously enticing Cersei (Lena Headey) and the prince-obsessed Sansa (Sophie Turner). She wears a knight’s suit of armor instead, literally dressing for the job she wants. And this armor is functional: there are no provocatively shaped metal breasts hammered into her chest plate, nor is her armor cut in such a way as to reveal a curved waist or a shapely inner thigh. She wears the efficient armor of a knight, of a man.
On top of all of this, one of the most outstanding things about Brienne is that she is morally upright. In the world of Game of Thrones, filled with violence, gore, and sex, she has a secure set of morals, including a strict and unbreakable loyalty that she sticks to even when facing death. Brienne is immovable, brave, and somehow still maintains a tenderness beneath all that exterior. In this way, she’s a true model of biblical womanhood.
Brienne, you see, is comparable to several brave, fierce women of the Bible. Consider Deborah, a prophet and leader of Israel who commanded an army of 10,000 men. Or Jael, who is mentioned alongside Deborah, a woman who cunningly welcomed an enemy into her tent, only to drive a tent peg into his temple. Both of these women defied traditional gender roles, yet both were used for God’s purposes. Brienne is also similar to Rahab, who was working as a prostitute at the time she is introduced in the book of Joshua. Because of a great faith in the God of the Israelites, Rahab defied the king of Jericho’s orders and helped Joshua’s two spies to safety. God spared Rahab and her family members from death in the battle that followed. Because of her faith and loyalty, Rahab became one of the foremothers of Jesus. Brienne exemplifies similar degrees of faith and faithfulness.
It’s easy for today’s Christian women to find themselves at a loss when looking for role models to emulate. The oft-referenced Proverbs 31 woman seems to overshadow the courageous warriors mentioned above. Furthermore, the Church can make women feel excluded, as though there are virtues that they simply cannot exemplify and roles (like those of pastors or leaders) that they cannot aspire to. The Church can focus so much on the (albeit incredible) male heroes in the Bible that it neglects to talk about the amazing females who were heroes themselves.
Caryn Rivadeneira says it best in her new book Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible: “Though I loved the stories of the great men of the Bible … they were, well, men of the Bible. And I was a girl. Not that I couldn’t relate to or learn something from these men, but something about their stories kept me at arm’s length from the Bible. They kept me from recognizing that God made women and girls to do amazing and mighty things just like God made men and boys, too. ...God loves and equips [all women] to do mighty things.”
Let’s imagine what Westeros, and our world, might look like if more women followed the examples of Rahab, Jael, Deborah—and Brienne.