“I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms,” proclaimed Daenerys Targaryen in season 7 of Game of Thrones, “and I will.” Watching a petite young woman gain power, especially in a fantasy world full of traditional rules about European royalty, is a strange but exhilarating experience. Thankfully, the idea of women in positions of power has been increasingly popular in our modern media and culture.
Although traditional queens have mostly been replaced by presidents and prime ministers, our TV and media still reflect our fascination with old-fashioned royalty. The long-lived British queens Victoria and Elizabeth II have their stories told through shows like The Crown and Victoria. We also see stories about women scheming their way to power by winning the favor of the king, like The Other Boleyn Girl.
But the title of “queen” has also extended its influence beyond fictional or historical royalty. On social media, the modern public can crown women with talent and influence. The most iconic example is Beyonce’s moniker “Queen Bey,” but Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, have all been considered “Queen of Pop.” Our modern queens are selected not by royal blood or inheritance, but by democracy and merit.
Queens also show up in everyday life. In high schools, we bestow the title of prom queen upon the most popular girl in high school (and force her to dance awkwardly with her male counterpart). ABBA’s hit song “Dancing Queen” still blares from the radio, encouraging girls to have the time of their lives. At the same time, the title can be used to degrade women: “ice” queen for the quiet and aloof, “drama” queen for the melodramatic.
Even the royals who still rule fictional kingdoms have more chances to live through unconventional storylines. In the show Once Upon a Time, Snow White’s Evil Queen gets a redemptive arc that proves she can become a compassionate leader and mother. The Snow Queen, or Elsa in Frozen, also made a name for herself by “letting it go” – albeit by hiding in her ice castle.
Best of all, these queens are free from the suffixes – “regent,” “consort,” “mother,” and “dowager” – that denote a queen’s relationship with the king. Now, “queen” is a title that stands on its own.
Queens might no longer govern entire nations, but they’ve traded castles and crowns for Twitter followers and mass media influence. Now their kingdoms can span the entire globe through screens and YouTube clips. While we still wax nostalgia for the old notions of royalty through books and TV, the new definition of the queen is here: with enough charisma, influence, or hard work, any woman can wear a virtual crown.