Jun 19, 2014

    Game Of Thrones reveals what's missing from TV: The female gaze

    MUCH criticism of Game Of Thrones - and, indeed, of cable TV in general - has focused on its depictions of violence against women.

    But, at Salon, Lili Loofbourow points to another problem: Much of television may offer not just too many scenes of brutality towards women, but also too few designed to make them feel good.

    In an essay published on Monday, Ms Loofbourow writes about watching Daario Naharis disrobe for Daenarys Targaryen earlier in season four: "The thrill of being invited by the camera to regard a naked man in an explicitly erotic context as a woman drove home how rarely I've felt that when watching mainstream TV, let alone 'prestige' TV. Only male arousal wins awards."

    She notes that "cultural conversations about sexism in media tend to revolve around negatives - objectification, subjugation, stripped agency".

    However, she argues: "Women deserve erotic pleasure too. Not just penises, but scenes shot with a female viewer's perspective guiding the camera.

    "Watching naked people in an erotic context is pleasurable. If nudity is here to stay - and at least on Game Of Thrones, that seems likely - there is no legitimate reason to limit access to that pleasure to men."

    Indeed, some of the most intense debate around this season focused on a scene that many found deeply disturbing: the apparent rape by Jaime Lannister of his sister, Cersei.

    After that episode aired, Sonia Saraiya wrote at The A.V. Club that the show might be "falling into the same trap that so much television does - exploitation for shock value. And, in particular, the exploitation of women's bodies".

    As she notes, Game Of Thrones is hardly alone.

    In Emily Nussbaum's much-discussed review of True Detective, she wrote that the show's obsession with female anatomy "will be gratingly familiar to anyone who has watched a new cable drama get acclaimed as 'a dark masterpiece': the slack-jawed teen prostitutes, the strippers gyrating in the background of police work, the flashes of nudity from the designated put-upon wifey character, and much more nudity from the occasional cameo hussy".

    And, she wrote, "when a mystery show is about disposable female bodies, and the women in it are eye candy, it's a drag".

    Still, so much television is dominated by men that critics are essentially forced to spend a lot of time talking about how women are treated.

    When women are on the periphery, when they're the objects rather than the subjects of a story, all that's left to evaluate is what's done to them - whether the crimes committed against them are excessively brutal, whether their nudity is gratuitous or necessary.

    This may be another reason the scene Ms Loofbourow mentions is so powerful.

    Daario doesn't just take off his clothes. As Kelsea Stahler at Bustle points out, he does so because Daenerys tells him to, and we can see from her face how much she appreciates the result.

    We see not just a nude male body, but also a woman taking explicit control of a sexual situation. The "erotic pleasure" is not just the viewer's, but hers.

    Viewers will likely have to wait nearly a year to find out if it happens again, which gives other shows ample time to fill the gap - if their writers want to.

    As Ms Loofbourow and others make clear, there's plenty of demand for television that lets women not just survive, but also desire, and occasionally get, what they want.