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On “Westworld,” viewers have yet to see how “these violent delights have violent ends,” as some of the futuristic park’s androids are fond of saying. But we have seen those delights enjoyed, primarily, by violent men.
Where are all the female guests in Westworld? Only a handful have cropped up so far in the frontier adventureland based on an admittedly white male-centric period of American history: A woman with her husband, who poses with an outlaw host he’d just shot dead for a photo memory of their vacation. A woman in pants (accompanied by Teddy, who has been killed hundreds of times) is led upstairs by one of the Mariposa saloon’s employees. A woman with her small family who happen upon Dolores (who has been raped hundreds of times) painting horses in a field.
Most guests have been straight men getting their kicks from killing and having sex with lifelike robots. But Westworld certainly seems like a land of equal opportunity, its narratives blind to gender, race and background. In the town saloon, a madam named Maeve is shown drinking and speaking Japanese with guests. The family that bumps into Dolores is black and presumably free to take part in any storyline they please. So what gives? Surely more than a few women would also pay for the thrill of playing the hero of a Sweetwater town shootout or for the freedom to disregard the law without real-life consequences. Surely some would go white-hat, some black-hat. (And surely the park could scrounge up some more male prostitutes for its straight female guests, too.)
The sheer novelty of being in a park filled with robots who only exist for guests’ fun makes Westworld’s hefty pricetag seem worthwhile ― even if guests aren’t taking advantage of the more masculine storylines. Perhaps there are more women than we’ve seen in the park enjoying more conventionally feminine activities ― partaking in the ferry-boat narrative mentioned in passing, riding horses somewhere, or sleeping on more plushy beds than the outdoor ones frenemy duo William and Logan have been using. Maybe, like the original 1973 film, there are other theme parks, Rome and Medieval, that attract more women.
But the lack of female guests shown enjoying Westworld feels intentional. The park’s violent Wild West narratives are amalgams torn from every Wild West film and TV show from decades past. Guests (a bunch of “rich assholes,” according to the park’s narrative director) step into the park to giddily murder and often rape clueless hosts, experiencing a rush of adrenaline unfettered by the guilt or anxiety they’d feel out in the real world.
It’s been argued that “Westworld” is just another HBO series that treats female characters poorly. But Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Dolores, has cautioned viewers against making such judgments before they can see the full “context.” As we’ve seen, the reality of living those narratives in Westworld, day in and day out, is cartoonish. “Westworld,” the show, criticizes the entertainment value of violent masculinity through its outrageous theme park, rooted in violently masculine pleasures. Watching mostly men enjoy its thrills onscreen, becoming “heroes” or “villains” in their own minds, simply amplifies the image. And the question: Why are stories of murder and rape the most entertaining?
Female guests may be fewer and further between. But female hosts are plentiful. While male hosts around them grotesquely malfunction ― one smashed its head with a rocks and another poured milk over dead hosts’ bodies ― Dolores and madam Maeve are quietly awakening to their realities as perpetual victims and managing to stay in the game.
“Can you imagine if these poor bastards knew what the guests do to them?” asks one of the park’s analysts behind the scenes.
As an android awakening seems more and more imminent, it looks like the women hosts will be the ones to lead it. The last story that Westworld tells may be what happens to male aggressors when women are empowered to fight back.