In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s misogynistic killing spree, the media’s role in male entitlement and violence against women has brought commentators to virtual blows. One right hook came from Ann Hornaday, who argues in the Washington Post that male entitlement fantasies are part of a climate in which women are displayed as objects for the sexual fulfillment of men. This post is about how full frontal nudity in True Blood, Hung, and Game of Thrones contributes to this climate.
While there are dozens of examples of full frontal female nudity in True Blood’s six-season run, from lead actors to extras, there are only two instances of full frontal male nudity.
A striking example of the exploitation of women as sex objects is in the appearance and figure of Lillith, a vampire goddess who is featured rising from a pool of blood, walking around fully nude for extended scenes. Her minions do the same and are also shown full frontal.
When a male character drinks Lillith’s blood and effectively becomes her, he too rises out of the pool of blood. But unlike the actresses associated with Lilith before, the camera cuts away before reaching his waist. In another stark example, vampires hold several dozen humans captive. While all the humans are naked, men in one cage and women in another, it is only the women who are displayed fully frontally nude. When the werewolf packs in True Blood disrobe to turn into wolves, again it is only the females who are demonstrated fully frontal.
Hung is a program about a down-on-his-luck teacher who, because of his large penis, became a prostitute. Though the entire show is about Ray Drecker’s member, we only get one brief glimpse of it — and not even the whole — yet his clients and sexual partners are often shown fully frontal.
Even when a show is about the sexual objectification of a man and his sexual organ, it’s still women who are the default sex objects.
Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones has come under fire for its sexism, misogyny, gratuitous nudity, and violence against women. As usual, women are portrayed fully frontally nude in most Game of Thrones episodes, even when their male sexual partners are not. This is especially striking in the many brothel scenes (unnecessarily) scattered about the seasons; even when there are both male and female prostitutes, only the women are shown full monty.
To date there has been only one full frontal male on Game of Thrones: Theon Greyjoy. Through a horrific series of events, Theon is tortured and castrated. In episode six of season four — “The Laws of Gods and Men” — we are offered once again a gratuitous display of naked women in a bathhouse. In the same episode Theon is also offered a bath and while his full frontal, for once, would have actually been part of the plot, we do not see it.
In episode eight — “The Mountain and the Viper” — we are given another bathing scene in which members of the Unsullied, an army of castrated men, bathe in the vicinity of women in the same convoy. Surprise, surprise, the women are fully frontal and the men are not. Even sans one particular physical marker of male sexuality, these castrated men are deemed unseeable.
Neil Marshall, who directed the Blackwater Bay siege episode in Game of Thrones‘ 2nd season, recently spoke about how he was urged by a producer to include more full frontal female nudity. The producer explained that he was “not on the drama side of things,” meaning that he didn’t care about the story. Instead, he said, he was on the “perv side of the audience.” This is concrete evidence that orders for the systematic sexual objectification of women comes from upper management.
Ultimately, nudity is rarely necessary to further a storyline. Women’s nudity isn’t about plot, it’s about treating women as objects and men as human beings. The problem is systemic. Women’s bodies exist in many of HBO’s varied worlds to serve men, circling us back to a culture of male entitlement that, in the case of Rodgers at least, led directly to violence.
Sezin Koehler is an informal ethnographer and novelist living in Florida. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.
Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.
Mr. S — June 24, 2014
How can you possibly blame Rodger's killing spree on the "culture of male entitlement" when he was so obviously detached from the culture? He was developmentally immature in so many different ways. He threw temper tantrums, cried, had his parents arrange what he called "play-dates" well into his teens. He spent college isolated in his room playing computer games, and he transferred out of most courses if one attractive female was in the class.
Maybe most importantly, he was completely passive in his attempts to attract females, sitting or walking in public places and expecting to be approached. When that didn't happen, he went home in tears. This is NOT the cultural expectation of men, who are culturally encouraged to be the initiators. Rodger did not see women as objects to be acted upon, he passively waited for women to initiate contact with him.
I might add that there seemed to be a bit of racism motivating him, as he elevated white, blonde women to a near-goddess status in his mind, and hated the various forms of alpha males (black, hispanic, full-asian and full-white) who were able to connect with them. He did kill more men than women, after all.
Rodger's extreme isolation and mental problems that led to the murder spree cannot be reduced to misogyny.
Inglevine — June 24, 2014
I would love to share this article, but I'm frustrated by the innacuracies, at least as far as Game of Thrones is concerned. There are several instances of male full frontal nudity. There's a much earlier scene involving Theon and also a scene in which Hodor is entirely naked. The writer's points remain, of course, but I couldn't pass them along when they are so easy to poke holes in.
Jehovazilla — June 24, 2014
I'be been watching a lot of European mystery/thrillers of late; andretty much all of them are full of nudity, full frontal, male and female. It was actually shocking for a bit, until it became refreshing. By your logic, though, the Europeans should be slaughtering women AND men, right and left?
We're adults, nudity should really be all that shocking anymore. The only reason I can really think that it is, to us Americans, is because we are largely a nation of prudes. We decided (in part to logic like that expressed in this post) that nudity is taboo, something forbidden (because obviously we are powerless to our urges. Mostly men, that is). This logic is self-fulfilling. We want what we are forbidden, it is special.
Please don't strive to continue this.
genitalequality — June 24, 2014
Half of the people who are commenting clearly have no business checking out a SOCIOLOGY website. Hello people....we look at cultural patterns. We live in a PATRIARCHY....where men pretty much define what will be normal. Women's sexualities are RARELY catered to which is why there are always boobs on the screen. DUH.
Luckily, women are slowly taking over these industries so hopefully we'll start to see some erect penises soon! Can't wait! It's ironic that almost all films show how "sexual" guys are, but the only way through which they can actualize their sexuality is through a woman's body. If guys are so sexual, why don't they show their dicks!!
Thomas Hakvoort — June 24, 2014
At the same time Game of Thrones particularly features powerful female characters who decide about the lives of countless men without much second guessing. It find it difficult to relate the full nudity in these shows to ´male entitlement´, partly because the writer does not elaborate. More male nudity in TV shows would not really influence the culture of male entitlement.
Sid K — June 24, 2014
I propose a much simpler explanation than "male entitlement" for this asymmetry in full frontal nudity . HBO is in the business of entertaining both men and women. So it will cater to those tastes. Heterosexual men like to see full-frontally nude women, so HBO puts them on. Women don't like to see full-frontally nude men as much, so HBO doesn't put them on. Women do like to see fit men with bare-chests and naked butts and indeed you do see a lot of that in an HBO series.
ViktorNN — June 24, 2014
I don't think connecting Rodger's murder spree to cable tv portrayals of women is a good foundation for an argument, mainly because Rodgers was a suicidal person under psychiatric care.
Whatever his attitudes towards women, he was also mainly mentally ill. In my experience in dealing with suicidal people (I'm not a professional - just someone who has had the misfortune of having to deal with 2 suicidal people), when they are walked back from the edge of killing themselves they are the first to repudiate whatever crazy things they were saying when they were at risk, and grateful for the help.
Now, if you wanted to make a connection between violence against women and media portrayals of women, I think a more solid foundation would be to look at rape statistics. The thing is, when you do, they show that the amount of rape in this country is falling and has been falling steadily, including during the past 10 or 20 years when porn has been much more available and cable tv shows have gotten raunchier.
So if one wants to make a connection between the two, you would have to concede that Game of Thrones et al. are actually making women safer. Personally, I wouldn't want to make that argument - but if you're going to link real evidence of violence against women (like rape stats) to porn and raunchy cable, that's the conclusion you have to accept.
Sara Rieck — June 24, 2014
Just off the top of my head I can think of maybe three full frontal male nudes in Game of Thrones. Are your counts acurate?
Underpath — June 24, 2014
I was just watching episode 7 of Game of Thrones' season 1 before reading this and actually there is full frontal male nudity on the guy who *spoiler alert* tries to poison Daenerys, when the Dothraki ties him to a horse. Although i see the point , and agree, you know, just saying for correctness.
porlob — June 24, 2014
Small correction: There are at least two other instances of male frontal nudity on Game of Thrones: Hodor, and the wine merchant/assassin who attempted to poison Danerys (as he was being dragged to his death sentence).
That said, the fact that I can easily name off every instance of male frontal nudity speaks directly to your point. And even more so when seen in context: Hodor's genitals are played for laughs, and both Theon and the assassin's nudity was meant to portray the characters' humiliation and powerlessness.
The few instances of male nudity at hand are stripped of their sexuality, very much unlike the way women's bodies are regularly on display.
Mary — June 25, 2014
I believe the character Hodor also has a full frontal moment... just to be accurate. Thanks for the article. I like GOT but the obviously-made-for-straight-men nudity is the worst part is definitely alienating as a female viewer.
Andrew — June 25, 2014
Double standards abound. As far as biology is concerned, female breasts are no more of a "sex organ" than male breasts, but while the sight of a topless woman guarantee movies an R rating, topless males remain safely in G-rated territory, not even regarded as nudity.
Even in the absence of the de-facto censorship practiced by the MPAA - which imposes the dreaded NC-17 rating more often for films with male genital nudity than those with only female, and would rather have us watch hours of gory dismemberment than see a healthily engorged member - its prudish, ambiguous standards still shape much of the television landscape. Male genitalia still has enough of a shock factor to be occasionally mined for laughs in bawdy comedies, but producers of more serious works are often put off by the disproportionate share of attention the dongs wind up getting. More ink was spilled over a brief shot of Michael Fassbender's flaccid schlong 5 minutes into "Shame" than all the rest of the film that followed it, but equivalent press coverage of a muff shot is simply nonexistent.
Meanwhile, the US box-office for European films - which feature male nudity far more nonchalantly - is in steady decline. I suspect that if all of the people crying for more cock on TV started lining up to see films like "Stranger By the Lake" or "Nymphomaniac," Hollywood might take note of the shifting standards and occasionally produce works of similar sexual frankness.
And monkeys might fly out of my butt.
MJS — June 25, 2014
I thought that that Washington Post article cited at the top was patently ridiculous, in part because it doesn't cite any kind of statistics or for that matter even provide any evidence that the perpetrator had even seen the movies she was trying to blame his killing spree on. It was, essentially, just wild speculation. A case of someone coming to the conclusion that whatever pop culture pet peeve they have MUST be responsible for whatever the latest travesty on the news is.
pduggie — June 26, 2014
boys are fancy on the outside. Girls are fancy on the inside.
On the (Rest of the) Net. | The Scarlett Woman — June 27, 2014
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Jordan — June 30, 2014
Blaming Elliot Rodger's killing spree on a lack of penises in premium cable shows... now I've heard everything.
Protoguy — July 1, 2014
"To date there has been only one full frontal male on Game of Thrones: Theon Greyjoy."
Not that I'm arguing against the article's intent, but this isn't true at all.
Hodor and the guy who tried to poison Daenerys both had full-frontal. Granted, Hodor's was enhanced, but still a penis.
Bad Spock — July 7, 2014
This is one of the dumbest theories I've heard in awhile. Who treats their women better, socially conservative ones that demand women be covered at all times, or more enlightened ones (such as Europe and the US) that appreciate and enjoy the female form for the work of art that it is? Europeans experience far more nudity in their popular culture than us prudish Americans, and little of the violence and sex crimes that we do. Nudity and honest expressions of sexuality make the world a better and safer place. Get over your juvenile hang-ups, people!
lillie — July 7, 2014
Regardless of this article's purported message, it's horribly researched. GoT has featured male full-frontal more than once, but apparently this author didn't actually watch the series. She really should; she'd realize sex and nudity by women is often a tool of power on GoT.
ponyboy — August 1, 2014
1. We are naked around each other in real life. So why should adult movies and TV shows edit out this part of peoples lives?
2. Regarding the instances of male vs. female full-frontal: males have their plumbing on the outside, and while I do not have a problem with it, and maybe it needs to change, it is widely viewed as being more vulgar, akin to seeing a woman "spread", which never happens in these shows. Usually, "full-frontal" for a female is merely a shot of bush, not the actual organ.
3. I would argue that males are indeed displayed as sex objects on HBO, particularly in True Blood. Just because you don't see his junk does not mean he's not turning you on (being an object). I can't recall a show with more rampant examples of male eye candy.
4. Criticism directed at beautiful, sexually provocative nude female bodies on HBO as somehow being a trigger or encouragement for bad male behavior is akin to the tired old rape defense that blames the victim for wearing sexually provocative clothing.
Koehler's position is fundamentally contradictory, and I'd bet she didn't even realize it.
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aldaine — January 23, 2015
Ugh.. This is inaccurate and biased. First of all there are at least 2 more scenes in game of thrones being mentioned. Many instances of so-called female full frontal is not full frontal at all for one of 2 reasons: the genitals are obscured by camera angles or objects/limbs blocking view or because there is an unrealistically large amount of pubic hair. More than likely this pubic hair is a synthetic pubic wig called a merkin deliberately put there with the purpose of obscuring any genital detail.
To boil it down for you:
Breasts =/= penis
Synthetic pubic wig =/= penis
Instances of male frontal depicts visual external genitals. Instances of female frontal nudity depicts nothing (below the waist) except hip/stomach/leg area adjacent to the merkin.
serious — March 7, 2015
"Sexual appreciation" doesn't equate with "objectification", but of course social activists desperately need to inflinge a sense of victimization on people and those who care for them (specially on the ones that are already less powerful, as long as they have some money -- that's why children are so often neglected by feminists, even though they're often worse off in any comparison) in order to keep their niche going on.
Besides, frontal female and male nudity aren't quite equivalent, specially if women aren't completely shaved. In one case you only see a bush of hair thay may even be fake, in the other you really see everything. The fair "equivalent" would require at least shaved genitals and being more of a view from below. But again, fair comparisons don't help creating the sense of victimization on people.
john — June 9, 2015
Im hoping you would take the time to review this and possibly to do a piece on it. Any exposure helps and this is a true issue that will garner lots of attention, and discussion. Look it up on google, I have. Thousands are wondering why the MPAA is afraid of the vulva. Thousands of signatures will indeed help the vulva fearing MPAA
His Watch Has Ended, And So Has Mine: An Open Letter to Game of Thrones,PrideNation Magazine — June 22, 2015
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Valar — August 25, 2015
What's even stranger is that True Blood was aimed at a mostly female audience and had plenty of male eye candy. But the producers apparently just couldn't bring themselves to pan the camera down once in awhile.
Jared Ba — September 16, 2015
There's obviously enormous inequality which deserves thoughtful discussion--but this is a poorly thought out blog rife with self-defeating examples. Aside from the below-mentioned fact that female full frontal nudity almost never involves the display of the sex organ its self--while full frontal of a man by its very nature always does, the blogger goes on to pick "Hung", which is about a man with such an epically large member that (and I'm sure Thomas Jane is just fine down there) no actor could have lived up to it without prosthetics--and then the blogger would have been complaining about that instead. The same goes with Theon, who is continually remarked upon to have John Holmesian gifts and therefor presumably a prosthetic would have been required and therefor by the blogger's double standards, no frontal nudity.
I've also noticed a sea change in the last ten, fifteen years. Believe it or not, there was a time not too long ago when, if a scene of male frontal nudity came on, my female friends would roll there eyes and say something along the lines of, "I don't need to see that." Or as a woman comedian (I think Elaine Boosler) once said, the reason why Playgirl Magazine never caught on with women was, if a woman wants to see any man on earth naked all she has to do is ask him--therefor there was simply less of a market for explicit male objectification. It's only in the last few years that there has been greater and greater interest in the mainstream to see the full monty.
The dude — September 1, 2017
Let me tell you about the BIOLOGY of being male. When we evolved into modern hairless apes, we likely were all fully and frontally nude and all found it equally disinteresting, except....except for that little bit of extra padding on the female backside and the curvy and softer torso and the round mammaries that sent "good mommy genes" deep into our ancient brains and piqued the interest JUST enough that we started to get curious about the parts we couldn't see. Those thoughts made our blood run hot with testosterone and gave us a reason to pursue a given female. The female, logically, would have evolved to be delighted with the attention she was generating that made her feel special and cared for. She evolved further to eventually have a strong desire to allow the man a look at the treasure she hid and got turned on not by a flaccid everyday penis that she saw all the time but by a raging erection that visually signified the mans desperate need and desire for her. Once the courtship reached that stage, mating was inevitable and the female's lust to be desired caused her to lubricate the mans entry and facilitate the ejaculation process.
It so happens that women are MOST lustful after longing male eyes when they are at the peak of fertility every month (ovulation before the period). They become so aroused during this time of month that they even became aggressive towards the capture of male desire by purposely seducing them with unsolicited exposure. As nature would have it, males are easily seduced and would be captured by their prey nearly every time.
In short, men evolved to enjoy looking as an arousal mechanism and women evolved to enjoy being looked at.
It's no different today. However, women see things differently (they don't all see eye to eye on this!). Some women can live vicariously by watching a fully nude female exposed to a male. They can use the female exposure to get turned on, often extremely turned on, by the male gaze and lust for the nude female. They use it as clothed male nude female fetish porn and masturbate (furiously) to the thoughts of male desire and the power of women to so easily obtain it.
Other women get turned on only by their lover seeing them nude and can only focus on their own arousal of a man to get aroused. The site of another naked woman being desired sparks deep jealousy or insecurity - they want men to focus on them rather than a "competitor".
The imagination to enjoy the experience vicariously or to focus on male desire for females in general as an arousal thought process is lacking.
I have dated both types, so I know something about it. I have dated women who could get as aggressive as a lion after watching men ogling fully nude strippers at a club. I have dated others who could only focus on jealousy in that situation.
Personally, I don't care if every man in every tv show spends the entire episode nude with an erection - I sincerely doubt 99% of women want to see that. Males just did not evolve to attract women with their penises, because their penis was exposed all the time anyway in ancient times.
Rather, males and females both evolved to enjoy the exposure of the hidden parts of a woman or the firce desire and raw gaze of a man. The erection was only a turn on for a woman because it proved his raging desire for her.
I am quite certain of all this. The question then: why do some liberal women demand penises in movies when they don't enjoy looking at them anyway?
The lack of imagination to live vicariously through the nude female causes focus on jealousy. The jealousy demands that the competitor be clothed and the male stripped bare to even the score.
I close with this. Men don't like naked women because we are trying to control them - we get a high greater than any drug can produce when we see a nude female, and that is the ONLY motivation. Sadly, we are just as easily aroused by one as the other, which does warrant some jealousy perhaps. However, we usually only truly LOVE one woman.
A few women demand nude males to take back what they see as a male control mechanism. It's faulty logic. The truth is that you control us with your nudity, not the other way around.
My suggestion is to lighten up a touch and try, just try, to get aroused by male desire next time you see Helen Hunt prancing around in a movie such as The Sessions with her swollen vulva on very full display for all the clothed male moviegoers. You just might find you can learn to enjoy it.
Bill — October 21, 2018
I wish we should change the comparison from full frontal to genitalia. Now let’s compare the times we have seen male genitalia to female genitalia. If you understand that pubic hair and fake pubic hair (merkin) you will see that we see much more male genitalia to the zero times we see female genitalia.
Chillout — July 31, 2019
Until women stop complaining, of how scared and disgusted they are of the male penis, it will always be controlled by them and complain of by them. Men can simply look away if they don’t wanna see a penis, but frankly, men act grossed out by seeing dick, but then are always talking about dick sizes. Women need to cut the bullshit and their “virgin” eyes deny wanting to see them, then perhaps the tables can finally turn for equal representation. So please, grow up people. Control what your children watches, not what the world should or shouldn’t see.
chloe aldaine — January 20, 2020
This article is a total load of shit. When you say "fully nude women" you're excluding the fact that basically none of these instances even show vulva AT ALL. There are penises constantly in everything, including semi and fully erect ones. Game of thrones has at least 6 fully visible penises, one of which is zoomed in close while the guy manipulates it. How bout vulva? No? Just low-light, shadowy merkin fests?
james — December 24, 2021
The vulva, clitoris and labia are just too ugly to show in movies. The vulva stinks of fish, faeces, urine and blood. Women hate their genitalia hence it is not shown and it does not smell of roses or even resemble a rose. An opened vagina is the ugliest part of humanity and women don't want it seen. If a woman is shaved she wears a merkin.
Why do you think the vulva is hidden albeit as the clitoris is analogous to the penis as is the labia to the scrotum coupled with women demanding equality the vulva must be shown however ugly and smelly it is. And girls stop saying the vulva has a musky smell no it has a fish faeces smelly that is why men drink
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