It’s true that, often on Tumblr, fans of Cersei will talk about her in the context of her status as a victim, both of her abusive husband and of the misogynistic society of Westeros itself. But let’s be perfectly frank, Cersei was no angel. She has many flaws and complexities, which I think serve to make her a more fascinating character.
1. Her (in)capability as a ruler - One of the most frequent criticisms leveled at Cersei is that she’s a “bad” ruler. Many times her detractors use this as evidence that she is stupid, crazy, or both. I’d certainly be the first to admit she’s not an effective ruler. However, there are two factors at work here.
One, she’s not an effective ruler because no one taught her how to rule. Tywin never valued her brain, just her worth as a bride. So he never taught her management, diplomacy, etc. His strict view of patriarchy and a woman’s place in it robbed Cersei of the chance to learn how to play politics.
Two, in AFFC, she’s in a severely paranoid and mentally fragile state. As I mentioned earlier, many people write her off as simply “crazy” (using mental illness as a dismissive pejorative) when in reality she’s pretty severely traumatized. Beginning with her abusive marriage to Robert, and adding on the murder of her son (in front of her!) and then her father (who she both idolized AND hated), then yeah. I’d probably have a breakdown too. And it should be noted that while she was paranoid, many of the people she suspected were actually plotting against her.
2. Cersei’s internalized misogyny - Cersei’s views on women fascinates me. She’s a chilling example of how patriarchy can warp women. Her wishing rape on the Septas and her disparagement of other women…all directly tied to her internalizing Westeros’s normalization of sexual violence. Like her dichotomous feelings towards Tywin, she simultaneously resents the status quo, but enforces it at the same time.
3. Cersei v. Tyrion - Oftentimes you will see fans of Cersei and fans of Tyrion on opposing sides of a debate. Sometimes either side will engage in “oppression olympics.” But let’s be clear - both Cersei and Tyrion face challenges in Westeros. Tyrion, because of his dwarfism, and Cersei because of her sex. (It should be noted, however, that they both have the privilege of the white nobility)
Their individual relationships with their father are fascinating, and indicative of their acceptance in society at large. Cersei, for example, isn’t outright rejected by Tywin like Tyrion is, but at the same time Tyrion is allowed more personal agency. Tywin accepted Cersei more, yes, but he didn’t really accept *Cersei,* he accepted his vision of a beautiful, compliant daughter. Whereas Tyrion, whom Tywin personally loathed, was still given agency in many situations.
In ASOS Tywin flat out told Cersei that she was going to get remarried, brooking no disagreement, despite her protests, while he gave Tyrion an out. He’s incredibly dismissive of Tyrion’s feelings, but Tyrion still has agency.
Cersei is accepted, but has agency withheld. Tyrion is denigrated, but allowed much more agency. They both suffer at the hands of the patriarchy, but in different, sometimes diametrically opposed ways.
4. Cersei’s gender identity - While I think that Cersei as trans* is a perfectly valid (and really interesting!) interpretation, it’s not one I necessarily agree with. I’ve always seen Cersei’s desire to be male as directly tied to her desire for agency.
She didn’t dress up as Jaime because she wanted to be a boy, per se - she just wanted to see if she would be treated differently, which is a stunning commentary on gender in and of itself. Cersei and Jaime really were NO DIFFERENT and yet they were treated so differently. Yet because of gender norms Cersei was forced to be “feminine” and Jaime was forced to be “masculine”.
Whenever Cersei ruminates on her own body, she never seems resentful of it. She lovingly remembers breastfeeding Joff, and intimate encounters with Jaime. She resents how her body makes her a pawn for the men in her life, but the body itself…I don’t know. I should obviously disclaim that I am cis, therefore my reading of her is clearly biased. But whether or not Cersei is trans* or gender fluid, or whatever, her story has a very strong commentary on gender and gender norms.
There are many, many facets to Cersei, and each of these topics could honestly be its own essay. But they are definitely aspects to be considered when reading/talking about her character and her narrative.
(commentary inspired by a conversation with whitewomanking and made into its own post by request)