I enjoy the HBO sci-fi thriller Westworld, but I do not believe that I would enjoy visiting the Western-themed amusement park of the same name. Why not? Well, there are a few reasons. For one, I’d prefer not to spend my precious time off wandering around a desert in a heavy dress and period-appropriate bodice. For another, murdering and raping incredibly lifelike android “hosts” who are not technically human (nope, no moral ambiguity there!) isn’t quite my idea of a fun vacation.
Let’s imagine for a moment, though, that I did go to Westworld, and that I wanted to have sex with the hosts. For many of the guests, that’s the park’s single most powerful draw. But as a person who is interested in men, my options would be sorely limited.
Should you be attracted to women, then you’re in luck. There is a brothel staffed by the beautiful Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) and Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) to cater to your needs. You’re also welcome to sexually assault the rancher’s daughter Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) or any of the other hosts who might appeal to you, on the off chance that you are a terrible person who somehow doesn’t find the idea utterly repellent.
This isn’t to say we haven’t witnessed female guests experiencing sexual pleasure in Westworld. When they do, it’s just universally at the hands of other (robotic) women. Maeve and Clementine hit on all their potential clients indiscriminately, using the exact same pickup lines on men and women. Even back in Westworld’s production facility, engineer Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) can’t resist stealing a kiss from a powered-down Clementine. At first I was pleasantly surprised to see women pairing up with other women so nonchalantly, but after four episodes and virtually zero sexualized depictions of male hosts, it seems like this is less a genuine embrace of female queerness by Westworld than a convenient excuse for the show to avoid objectifying men.
There has been dialogue that indicates guests can pursue male hosts, but very little action. In the first episode, two women aboard the train to Westworld catch sight of Teddy Flood (James Marsden). “Look at that one. He’s perfect,” one says. “Perfect is boring,” her friend replies dismissively. “I’m more interested in the bad guys.”
When William (Jimmi Simpson) and his future brother-in-law Logan (Ben Barnes) arrive at the park, Logan snipes, “It’s not like my sister didn’t ride her share of cowboys when she was here.”
Thanks to Logan, we’ve seen one example of what a queer man’s experience at Westworld could look like. He suggestively links arms with both a male host and a female host when he arrives, and later, partakes in a group sexual encounter that’s our best evidence so far that male robots are capable of having sex—or at least of being immediately adjacent to sex.
A nude man lies silently at Logan’s side, stroking his arm and chest, as Logan busies himself more directly with two women. And… that’s it. If this is the closest we’ll come to seeing a male host engage in sexual activity with a guest (or the closest we’ll come to seeing two men having sex at all), I’ll be disappointed in Westworld, in which the female hosts are rarely depicted as anything but sex objects. It’s as if anything that doesn’t directly conform to the heterosexual male gaze is an afterthought, which is especially ironic considering this is supposed to be a place where guests can live out their every fantasy.
Outside of the brothel, which appears to employ no male sex workers (not counting Logan’s aforementioned host, who hasn’t surfaced outside that single scene)—and outside of even more sexual violence—it’s unclear how newcomers can get more intimately acquainted with those cowboys and bad boys, who seem wrapped up in their own programmed narratives. It’s also worth noting that while Westworld is stocked with an impossibly gorgeous population of women—as Logan says to William of a beautiful train attendant, “Where we’re going, she’s a 2″—the dudes are utterly regular. With the notable exceptions of Teddy and bandit Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro), heartthrobs are few and far between. In fact, most of the male hosts in Westworld look like they haven’t bathed since about three bounty hunts ago.
In the show’s defense, all hosts are subject to equal-opportunity nudity in the clinical environs of the underground control center, where diagnostic tests are run on some of them and others are relegated to cold storage. And you could certainly argue that, because Westworld is intended as a critique of the kind of escapist fare that fetishizes violence against women—looking at you, Game of Thrones, and also every other HBO series ever—the park’s nauseating treatment of its female inhabitants isn’t an oversight, but a pointed statement. Maybe it’s precisely the point.
But given that Westworld has so carefully constructed every other aspect of its universe, this gender disparity strikes me as a glaring flaw. A future that can’t conceive of the male body as an object of desire is a future less progressive than Magic Mike XXL.