I’ve been exploring the cultural and artistic implications of Game of Thrones on Ordinary Times all winter to keep my head out of the trainwreck that is American politics, and a couple times it’s spilled over here to my blog.
As I stated in my recent piece, Game of Thrones: Bad Romance, I think the one of the biggest flaws in Game of Thrones is the utter lack of a female viewpoint.
While there are certainly women in GoT, and many of the female characters are strong, interesting, and have their own agency, I don’t feel like my experience as a woman is, generally speaking, well represented. Game of Thrones* is a man’s story, written for men, by men, representing the interests and passions of men, and that it has come to be seen as “feminist” or “empowering”, I think, is a damning statement on the lack of choices that women face when it comes to our fiction.
I believe women have so few female characters in fiction we can truly relate to, that even something subpar as Game of Thrones appeals. We’re so desperate to connect with a fictional woman revealing some part of a real woman’s experience (even the shittier parts) that we’ll glom onto anything that gives just a taste of what speaks to us, even if it’s otherwise problematic.
This lack of female representation comes in many forms, but one of the most obvious is the physical. The actors in the tv version of GoT are universally attractive – I personally don’t think there’s ever been a more physically appealing male cast assembled in any program ever, if for no other reason than that there are just so many of them. Watching Game of Thrones, if you are a female person, is like going to Baskin Robbins – there are flavors there you didn’t even know you wanted to try – I mean, what DOES Rum Raisin taste like, anyway? Even the guys who are supposed to be “ugly” in some fashion are sexually attractive. There’s some dude on GoT likely to appeal to every woman’s taste, or one totally hypothetical woman, and I have no idea who you are talking about here whatsoever, with a lot of different moods.
And yet the entire show caters not at all to the female gaze, but to the male one. (do I really need to define the male gaze at this point? I mean if you don’t know what the male gaze is, turn on your TV and wait till a woman comes on, and see how she’s portrayed. You’ll get the gist). With the exception of a little Khal Drogo action back at the start at the start, we ladies really don’t get a lot of what I consider eye candy. Considering how many good looking men there are in Game of Thrones, that shit is like water, water everywhere with nary a drop to drink. And I am a very thirsty girl.
There are, certainly, men shown in erotic situations in GoT. But these scenes are not meant to appeal to women, even if there are naked man butts in them.
Why? Well, to explain that, we need to understand what the female gaze even is. As with everything involving women, it isn’t straightforward, because women’s sexuality tends to be more complicated than men’s: “Me See Booby. Me Like Booby” vs “I suppose it all goes back to the eighth grade, when Robby Moran moved to my school from Cincinnati. Back then I collected scratch and sniff stickers on my Peechee, and I always wore Bonne Bell cherry flavor lip gloss. At the time, I was reading a lot of Sweet Dreams romances, and I had just finished PS I Love You. This doesn’t seem important, but it will matter later on.”
Suffice it to say, it would probably just take us less time to talk about what the female gaze ISN’T.
The female gaze is, despite having the word “gaze” in it, is not primarily visual the way men’s is. Thus the female gaze is not delighted by a big long sex scene in which the woman is naked and the man isn’t, BRONN, you coward. But it’s ALSO not a big long sex scene where everyone is naked, either, OBERYN, put that thing away. Dudes, that’s porn. It may be soft core, but it’s still totally porny. For reasons I do not understand, people seem to think that the solution to objectified naked women on TV is naked objectified men on TV and that’s simply not the case.
You know why? Because men LIKE BEING OBJECTIFIED, and when they see other men being objectified, they think “hey, someday that could totally happen to me”. So creators, when you objectify men, you’re still only doing that for men, get it?
Brief aside, I’m not saying women don’t like or enjoy porn, don’t @ me please, but I don’t think as a general rule, that porn (at least as it is usually presented, and certainly how the man-centric soft core porn was presented in GoT) is targeted to please women. It’s designed around what men find titillating, from beginning to happy ending, and sometimes us gals just get kinda caught up in that X-Rated web from lack of choice, even though we would prefer some other thing entirely if only we had the option.
The female gaze is especially not satisfied by graphic sex scenes that feature two men. Your mileage may admittedly vary, but when I was researching for this piece I found it INSANE how many articles I read where homosexual sex scenes were put forth as examples of “the triumph of the female gaze” in GoT. May I have your attention please: by definition, male homosexual sex scenes are not for women. They are for men, doubly so. They are, somehow, as tough as it is to believe, even less appealing to the female gaze than straight porn is, because they are ONLY for men. Again, maybe some women like them (not me, sorry, but you guys look like you’re managing just fine without my input) but it’s by default, not design.
As for lesbian sex scenes, my answer is, it depends. I personally am super, super straight (so straight, lord have mercy you would not even believe how straight I am, dear my critics who think I am a hairy-pitted man-hater, you are moronic buttheads, because my love for men is as deep as the ocean and equally as destructive) but not all women are, and I leave it to lesbians to inform us if they like to see lesbian sex scenes in entertainment, knowing as I do that the primary recipients of lesbian sex scenes are straight men. Personally I’m suspicious of graphic lesbian sex scenes in anything because straight men enjoy them so much. (Or written, in the case of the Dany + slave girls and Cersei lesbian scenes in the book, which in both cases were really egregious and unnecessary IMO George, you naughty) But lesbians if you like them, carry on, and report your findings if you’d care to because I honestly don’t know if that’s a cool thing for you or not.
There’s more coming, but before I go on, I’ll give a quick example that sort of sums up my feelz about the pornification of GoT on HBO here: One of the things that really pissed me off in Game of Thrones is the massive expansion of a character who was minor in the book (played by a porn actress, who I am sure is a perfectly nice woman) and the creation of a character who wasn’t in the books at all (played by a burlesque performer, who is also in all probability a delightful gal) in order to include more graphic sexual content, not only at the expense of any and every vaguely romantic element that existed in the book (scarce as they were) but even AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHER CHARACTERS and the overall plot of the show. Call me crazy, but a writer should not remove plot and character development, particularly of other non- or less-sexualized female characters, to shoehorn actual, literal, porn actresses (god bless em!) if you are allegedly making a show that is at all female-friendly. Cause that shit ain’t for me, you know it, and I know it, so let’s not pretend otherwise.
I don’t think sex scenes where a man is obviously supposed to be a stand in for the male audience are appealing, either. You can see this in Game of Thrones, where Daenerys has sex with Daario Naharis. Now, that dude is certainly cute, but it’s really not a particularly hot scene to me. Because it’s so obviously meant for the men at home to sit there thinking “Hmm what if that was me and that smokin hot chick was telling me to take off my clothes, that would be totally awesome, and also it could totally happen if only I was that ripped.”
And by the way, how silly was it for the writers to then, after having Daenerys be all like “Take off ur clothes stud” to Daario, not to mention her skillfully sexin’ up Drogo, that they’d turn around and have Jon Snow, bear of very little sexual experience, being the seducer and Dany the coy timid seducee?? It’s freaking ridick how they did that, and also offensive, though I haven’t quite sussed out yet why it bugs me so much.
Above all else, and I cannot state this strongly enough, I do not think that scenes in which women are brutally tortured for a man’s pleasure (I ain’t talkin 50 shades here, tho I don’t love that either, I’m talking where it’s clearly a psychopath man hurting women for his own pleasure, and not relatively tasteful descriptions of BDSM that both parties are into) are worth my time. Yes Ramsay Bolton, I’m looking at you here, and how could I not, because you have massive amounts of screen time. Again, this is something that super pissed me off in the show version of Game of Thrones, how really important plots involving other characters were shunted to the side to bring us the Ramsay Bolton Torture Porn Hour.
You see, in Game of Thrones, the pro-male-gaze mentality goes beyond actual sex scenes into overall characterization and even plotting. Whenever you have scenes that are shot for the SOLE PURPOSES of pleasing the tastes/desires of men, while simultaneously women’s tastes/desires are left totally unfulfilled, and female characters themselves are even ignored in favor of porn actresses (they’re GRRReat!!) and psychotic rapists, you cannot sit there with a straight face and call that “the female gaze” or “feminism” no matter how many actresses are cast in the show. Or in other words, I really would have preferred if my favorite character Sansa had not been shunted off to the side in favor of Shae the Suddenly Wise Prostitute (as fab as she undoubtedly is) and then offered up to Ramsay Bolton as a victim. And both Daenerys’ and Cersei’s plot arcs suffered greatly due to lack of time to develop them properly, reducing them both to nutty harpies.
Honestly, as much as the male gaze stuff detracted from my enjoyment of something I really really wanted to love, I maintain that Game of Thrones would have been twenty times as good a show if they hadn’t had the sex stuff in it at all because it would have given them time to handle the characters and plot who were actually meant to be in the show instead of subsuming necessary plot advancement for the endless brothel scenes.
So ok, that was a pretty satisfying rant there, but it’s probably got a lot of folks wondering “Seven Hells, what do women want, anyway? Why has this woman not taken the scraps of leftover manporn we have offered her and made us sandwiches out of it?”
In other words, the menfolk say, enough about what you DON’T want, tell us what you do.
And that’s fair.
As I’ve written about in the past, I’m not too sure that women really like down and dirty sex scenes the way men do. For women, especially this woman, it’s the journey, the cast of characters and why they’re doing what they’re doing, and their dreaded FEELINGS that matter and not the way the genitals fit together or the overall attractiveness of any individual body part. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy seeing, oh, I don’t know, like two hot men getting in a fight over the hand of a fair maid, and accidentally ripping each other’s shirts off, because I totally do, it’s that I need the underpinnings for max enjoyment. Why are the men in a fight, anyway? Were they childhood friends together at boarding school in rural England, or was the one the groundskeeper’s son and the other the heir to Penobscott Manor, but he was wounded in the war and now he struggles with his demons? What’s so fair about this maid? Obviously she’s beautiful, but is she also clever, though misunderstood due to her sharp tongue and love of books? These are the things I want to know!
But I’m really not doing it justice. Because it’s not the mere externals that matter when it comes to the female gaze. It’s not all about the ripped bodices and tight jerkins and pastoral settings. This I know, because you can find the female gaze in stories set in the present day, and even in the future, in which no bodices are ever ripped due to everything being made from space age materials.
The female gaze comes down fundamentally to three elements – emotion, connection, and passion. The characters have to have these things between them for me to find something hot. Me looking at Bronn fucking Generic Prostitute Number 17 in a whorehouse does fuck all for me because it has none of those things. Daenerys and Daario getting it on is barely any better because it’s all so darn PERFUNCTORY. It’s like someone went thru and checked off all the boxes on the male gaze checklist and none on the female gaze one.
Here, have a look at this compilation from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society instead. Same guy, much hotter, even though he never takes off his sweater at all.
HE DOESN’T NEED TO TAKE HIS SWEATER OFF! Because they know each other! They like each other! They have come to CARE! I don’t need to see his naked chest or any gyrating to get off on it. They have an emotional connection, and that’s where the passion comes from, even if they do NOTHING but send smoldering, longing looks back and forth. Emotion, connection, passion, it’s the female gaze trifecta.
I would rather watch a man pick a flower out of a woman’s hair than see them fuck any day of the week. Is this a great movie? NO! Is this prestige TV? NO! Does it cater to the female gaze? Oh hell yeah. Two people walking on a scenic beach in the aftermath of World War Two, actually talking to each other, simmering with unspoken sexual tension that they cannot act upon because of Reasons, and the dude is wearing an adorable British hat. Forget the guy, I’d have sex just with the hat.
There is this bizarre phenomenon where Stuff Women Like is oft crammed into programming that is maybe not quite as good, she said diplomatically, and at the same time we’re all supposed to stand around oohing and aahing over the courage of GoT bringing us such important fictional elements as women getting shot to death with crossbows for a teenage boy’s sexual satisfaction. Enough! I want Stuff Women Like IN my prestige TV show, Powers That Be! How’s about you satisfy MY gaze for a fucking change, even though it’s not actually a gaze per se and more a set of fairly elusive criteria to be fulfilled?
It would take so LITTLE to please me. I’m desperate here. I just watched a completely weird show called The Book Group (which is apparently better than I am giving it credit for because all I’ve done since I watched it is wonder what happens in the two seasons I didn’t watch.) It’s written by a woman instead of by a chubby older gent or two frat boys, and thus it has a pleasantly surprising number of female gaze moments in it, including one of the hottest kisses I’ve ever seen.
Let me relive, er, I mean, describe it.
After this huge setup which is too complicated to get into, but it involves talking rapidly, embarrassing misunderstandings, and books, an attractive guy with a sexy accent kisses this neurotic woman in a taxi and says “Goodnight, Gorgeous,” and then…nothing else happens. They don’t have sex, they don’t get together, there are no man butts at all. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It was magic. If the man butt had been shown, I would have looked at it after that kiss, and I think I would have approved.
I never had a moment like that in Game of Thrones despite all the super incredibly hot men in it, including the attractive guy with the sexy accent. I don’t remember ever feeling much of anything below the equator once poor Drogo died, despite there being like 400 guys I’d throw it down with in a heartbeat on the payroll of HBO. In seven seasons, the most attractive male cast ever assembled – I mean, these guys are like the Avengers of sexual desirability – and I felt absolutely nothing.
Something about that just ain’t right. You don’t have to call it misogyny, but I do.
*The books are better, but do still have some of the fatal flaws of the show, in addition to having their own set of fatal flaws too.