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Bookmark: Sexual Scavengers

“Game of Thrones” fails the female gaze: Why does prestige TV refuse to cater erotically to women?

There’s no way to talk about arousal or its attendant feelings with dignity, so I’ll start with a frank and graceless admission. As I (a straight cis woman) watched the scene on this season of “Game of Thrones” in which Daario undresses while Daenarys watches, I felt something: a twinge of erotic pleasure. It caught me off-guard. I’m used to seeing breast after breast after buttock after breast while understanding that they’re not there for me, that my enjoyment of them—at whatever level I choose—is akin to whatever Will Hunting felt while looking at equations in the physics department. I’m free to look and extract whatever I can from looking, but they really weren’t put there with me in mind.


Women are sexual scavengers: we cobble arousal out of things not intended to stimulate us because we’re not considered worth stimulating. (Cue the old saw about women not being visually aroused—give us a chance, would you?) That means there’s plenty of good looks on “Game of Thrones” that we can construct some kind of erotic pleasure around. I can’t speak for what most women like, but I enjoyed it whenever Drogo was on (he was Other, so the camera felt more comfortable shooting him shirtless and objectifying him), when Daario 1.0 was looking at everything like he wanted to lick it, and when Oberyn was onscreen. But these aren’t quite the same thing—all three of these men are lovely lookers, and by that I mean they are men whose gaze seems extremely erotic. That’s great, but if you’re a woman, that means the feeling of arousal has to go through a mirror: rather than directly enjoy a man’s body, you’re supposed to look at a looker who you can imagine looking at you. It is, shall we say, less visual.

'Outlander,' The Wedding Episode And TV's Sexual Revolution

But these women are not depicted as wrong or misguided for wanting and liking sex and pursuing all kinds of intimacy (and sometimes stopping at friendship, a la Abbie Mills on "Sleepy Hollow"). Many of these women are, if anything, quietly celebrated by the show's writers for being assertive, intelligent and unconventional. Unlike many of the mainstream shows and movies I grew up with, where the women who liked and sought sex were often punished in some way, I don't detect in this new wave of programs an unconscious or semi-conscious desire on the part of the storytellers to bring these women down a few pegs -- or kill them off -- for being independent and unrepentant about their desires.

This is new. This shift occurring on this many notable shows is new. But "Outlander" has taken this welcome trend a step further.


It may not have the HBO imprimatur, but what "Outlander" is doing, especially with regard to sexuality, also deserves to be taken seriously. The very first sex act in the pilot depicted a clothed woman receiving oral pleasure, and that felt very much like a statement of purpose. The wedding episode proved that "Outlander" has no intention of backing away from that subversive agenda. In "The Wedding," it reinforced the idea that desire is worth exploring, wherever it originates, and that the female gaze has something to offer all viewers who are willing to look. Moore has even said that "the full monty" for male characters is a possibility for future episodes.

"Outlander" is not for everyone, and that's fine. But it's among the shows doing something revolutionary in their depiction of how adults relate to each other, in bed and out of it. A few decades after the actual sexual revolution, they're revolutionizing how female sexuality is depicted -- even honored -- on TV. By being conscious of women's desires, these shows make it clear that they are conscious of women's humanity.


( 4 comments — Add your .02 )
Oct. 7th, 2014 06:17 am (UTC)
You know, it's weird - that Salon.com article has vanished? It still pops up in Google results and I can find other articles that reference it, but it's gone from the Salon site (and the writer's profile page prompts an Error 503 message)

I read through the cached version - there were a lot of really good points! that I agree with! - but I can't imagine that anything there would prompt a call for the article to be taken down. Maybe the writer and Salon are having some kind of disagreement? She hasn't posted it to her tumblr, though, as far as I can tell.

Just ... weird
Oct. 7th, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
Hrrm, it opens up fine for me. Maybe the site was just being buggy?
Oct. 9th, 2014 05:23 am (UTC)
Huh. It's loading now for me too. But I tried the link like 8 or 10 times a couple of days ago - from your link, from the google lookup, from the author's website - even from that Outlander review. All links lead to the Salon page saying: there is no new content on that topic.

Maybe it was being updated or edited. Oh well. For a while there I was thinking Schrodinger's Weblink :)
Oct. 9th, 2014 09:13 pm (UTC)
"Schrodinger's weblink" is now a thing I am going to say, fyi. :)
( 4 comments — Add your .02 )

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