The Missed Opportunity for Women in 'Westworld'
There’s been something that’s been rubbing me a bit wrong about Westworld for the last couple of episodes. Not enough that I’m not enjoying the show, devouring my newsletters for clues, and arguing with people on the internet about it, but enough that I felt something off. Then while watching Nicole Cliffe tweet about watching the show, it finally hit me as a fully formed idea and not just a weird feeling:
@Nicole_Cliffe Female sexuality in a consequence-free environment is where Westworld could be TRULY subversive and they're just like "Nope."— Genevieve Burgess (@rustyheadedgirl) October 24, 2016
Imagine being a woman in a world where every sexual encounter was consequence free. You would never get pregnant, never get an STD, your partner would never hurt you (more than you wanted), and they’d never suddenly show up at your office with no warning. If you made a move, you wouldn’t have someone respond with a laugh, or an insult. If they flirted with you, you could politely decline and they’d walk away with a tip of their hat. Whatever you asked of them, they’d comply without judgement. If you went to bed with someone and decided midway through that “I can’t do this” they would just stop. No pleading, no shaming, no pressure, just “Ok, let’s stop.” How would you behave? I have to say, honestly, that I can’t really wrap my mind around the concept. It’s so foreign to my and other women’s daily experience. I think that even if it were my reality, even if I were in Westworld, it would take me days or even more than one trip to truly internalize that there was nothing to fear. Nothing to hesitate about. It’s a kind of freedom that is literally unfathomable to me, and that’s why I wish they’d explore it more on the show.
It’s been made clear that there are male hosts whose job is to sexually service guests. Except that the only guest we’ve seen them service is Logan. While I appreciate including non-hetero sex in the show, it seems somewhat conspicuous that female guests availing themselves of male hosts has not been shown. We overheard a conversation between two female guests on the train in the first episode about hooking up with hot cowboys and bandits, but nothing came of it. We’ve seen a lady guest getting to be a big damn hero and taking a prostitute to bed afterwards, but it was Clementine. Why not have her request her “reward” from Teddy? On the spectrum of sexuality, most women are primarily attracted to men*. But so far we’ve only seen sexually tinged interactions between two women whether unsuccessful (Maeve) or successful (Clementine). The story of how men express their sexuality when the chains come off has been dealt with time and time again, often in ways I’d find insulting if I were a man. The only barrier to push there is with how distasteful can they make it. But there has NEVER been a time or place in history when having sex as a woman was free of consequences and Westworld could have taken things there.
Picture it; A middle-aged woman sidling up to Teddy with a wink and a smile and saying “I’d prefer to take you for a ride cowboy” and him following her off-screen with a docile smile. A young woman discussing how this is her “last hurrah” before she and her husband try for a baby as she enters the saloon and looks around appraisingly at the male hosts. A woman on a bounty hunt catching Hector and deciding that maybe she’ll let him go if he does a few favors for her first. How would we react to that? Even typing them I feel like there’s something pornographic about them, even though it’s about the same as better than what we’ve seen from the male guests. We’ve seen male guests proposition the women. Logan and William are there as a kind of Bachelor Trip, as well as the group in the first episode. We’ve seen male guests take part in the raid on the Abernathy ranch that culminates in the rape of Dolores. You can’t use the brush-off “that’s not realistic” in a world where nothing is real. I think it’s just because we’re not accustomed to seeing that kind of sexual wish-fulfillment depicted with a woman in the driver’s seat and so something about it still feels obscene. It would force us to confront this deeply ingrained idea that women do not get to act that way because they could get hurt, in a situation where they can’t be hurt. It would force us to see women’s sexual drives with the brakes removed, when we can barely acknowledge women wanting sex for its own sake even with social and physical limitations. It’s exactly the kind of subversion that Westworld keeps saying it’s going to show us, but doesn’t.
The story they’re telling in Westworld is shaping up to be an epic mystery that will make us question the nature of humanity. So, mostly what Battlestar: Galactica tried to do before Jimi Hendrix drove everyone crazy. It’s not that I don’t appreciate this story and enjoy speculating about it (although I am keeping firmly in mind the gossip about production troubles and them shutting down for an extended time in the middle of filming), it’s that it’s overall not that different from stories I’ve seen before, including the original movie. There is a possibility here for a truly different kind of story, and we’re not getting it. I’m thrilled that Jimmi Simpson is getting something of a star turn here, and both Maeve and Dolores are excellent characters, but if “in this world, you can be whoever the fuck you want” why are all the characters and writers choosing to be so familiar?
At first, I wondered why women even came to Westworld. There is no part of the actual Old West that I am enamored of. It was dirty, dangerous, and difficult. It didn’t sound like any kind of vacation to me. However, when I started to realize what Westworld would mean in terms of a woman’s personal safety? Now I understand. The women who are visiting Westworld are very very upper middle class to wealthy, that much is clear from the cost, but in today’s world you still can’t buy that kind of security. Look at what happened to Gigi Hadid and Kim Kardashian recently. I suppose there’s still a small risk from the other men who are guests, they haven’t really explained how the guests tell each other apart from the robots, but overall it’s a world where a woman could feel completely and totally safe around men. Now I think that it would be heartbreaking to leave.
*I understand that the concept of gender and sexuality when it comes to robots is a bit tricky, but the robots are built to mimic male and female humans almost exactly. The robots themselves identify, as much as they are conscious of, as men and women. Therefore, I am assuming that if one is not attracted to humans of a particular gender, a robot that presents as that gender would not be sexually appealing.