Maybe it’s because I wasn’t having any of it. Maybe it’s because I was afraid of it, desperately, until I was in my mid-twenties. If you hit on me at a party I immediately found the nearest exit and took it. But for about ten-fifteen years or so, I was completely obsessed with sex. Not having sex, mind you. Just obsessed with the concept. When I was nine years old I accidentally stumbled across a copy of Forever by Judy Blume in the library and it altered my brain chemistry – although, for real, the guy in the book named his penis Ralph. It’s a euphemism for vomiting, if you remember correctly from the film Clueless. Think about that.
Now, I wasn’t just obsessed with sex on a pornographic level, although the day that I came across scrambled porn on the television was an interesting evening; I wanted to listen to a scrambled HBO presentation of Cool Runnings and got way more than I bargained for. Feel the rhythm, indeed. Anyway. I was just fascinated with the mechanics and the way that two people could know each other intimately. It’s not all I thought about, not by any means. But whenever I wrote fiction or poetry or looked at film in general, I would just automatically go to the sex. Those early attempts at fiction are straight up embarrassing and that should have been a sign that I’m much more of a humorist and critic, rather than a novelist. They always say that we obsess over the things we don’t have. I was a very overweight, nerdy and weird kid. Nobody wanted to hold my hand, let alone invite me to any pants parties.
Conversely, the thought of myself actually taking part in these acts scared the ever living hell out of me, mostly because sexuality in the media is framed entirely from a male perspective (more on that later). I thought it was all about the overwhelming goal of making the guy happy. If youd didn’t make the guy happy, you were ostracized.
Nowadays I’m not as sex-crazed, perhaps because I hold a much more realistic viewpoint on female and male sexuality. But I still make it a point to critique or take interest in the way sexual subjects are portrayed in text and film as part of my scholarship. Which is why the newest episode of Outlander made me want to run around my house screaming with happiness. Basically, we’ve been over how much I’m completely obsessed with Outlander. Yesterday, in an episode appropriately titled “The Wedding”, Claire and Jamie got married (in a forced ceremony to keep Claire out of trouble with the English) but that’s not what most people were watching it for. They were watching it for Claire and Jamie to get down to bidness, coitus style. That’s exactly what they did, in a way that both blew my mind and moved me in a way I didn’t expect having read the books.
Before I go any further I want to talk a bit about a literary theorem called The Male Gaze. Originally conceived by Laura Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” The Male Gaze posits that women in film are positioned to be looked at, not to be objects in action but objects and that’s it. They are valued by their “to-be-looked-at-ness”, and not by their character arc. Mulvey argues that the male gaze can be voyeuristic or fetishistic. Basically, if you’ve watched a television at all in your life, you’ve seen a LARGE amount of the Male Gaze and not nearly as much of the Female Gaze, or, a male body positioned from the point of view of a woman. It’s the reason why “All About That Bass” is both so good and problematic at the same time because it positions body-confidence from the POV of “Men think this body type is sexy, so you should too!” I still love that song, but you get what I’m saying.
Usually this theory is applied to sex scenes in film but also just whenever a woman’s body is presented. For example, it’s not a huge secret that I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones, but that show, with all of its intrigue and snarky quips from Tyrion, has a big bone of contention with me in its depiction of women through the Male Gaze. I’m not saying that all of them do this, but a lot of the time on that show we see the woman in relation to a man. I always point to the scene in season 3 when Tyrion repays Podrick for his service by bringing him some of his best “girls”, hookers in the King’s Landing brothel, who proceed to perform acrobatic feats for Podrick’s amazement. One of them binds herself up in a pretzel with her vagina practically hanging out. All of it for the benefit of a man, without situating the females themselves as sexual subjects, only sexual objects.
The only time this got circumvented on GoT was when Daenerys, in a horny fit of pique, asked Daario Naharis to get undressed in front of her. The camera did something it hadn’t done in the history of the show – it lingered over the male form from the point of view of a woman, and luxuriated in it. When I watched it, I didn’t think “Oh, there’s some boobs again.” I thought “DAT ASS.” I was objectifying a man the same way men, in so many different ways in media, objectifies women(Remind me to write a blog post about why I appreciate the Nicki Minaj “Anaconda” video for precisely the same reason). I can honestly say that scene made me want to fistpump, not just because the actor playing Daario had a nice butt, but because it located Danaerys as a woman who wanted to get herself some, and didn’t apologize for it.
What Outlander did in its seventh episode was not only give us the Female Gaze, but it gave us an episode entirely centered on the female as a subject of sexual desire and control. It captured the breathlessly awkward quality of the “first time” while also effortlessly showing a seriously lusty roll in the hay. Also, it showed an oral sex scene where the woman was ENTIRELY in control of the situation. It was erotic because both participants were on equal playing fields. And it was FUNNY – so many films and TV shows fail to depict people laughing during sex, and not due to something going wrong but just because the act of sex itself is inherently hilarious. At one point Claire asks Jamie to get undressed and the camera, similarly to when Daario disrobed, moves around his naked form as Claire surveys it, and we as the audience are invited to stare as Claire stares. It’s textbook Female Gaze and it punches you in the face. It invites women to be sexually desiring and aroused, and it exalts the male form as a sexual object, which doesn’t really happen that much in media. They even allow Claire to orgasm first (and it’s a loud, throaty orgasm, but not a pornographic “OH GOD YES” sort of fake one. It was a punctuated, breathless moment), and she’s still breathless a few minutes later and she’s in that p0st-orgasm haze of not knowing what do to with herself, which was SO REALISTIC, and then what does she do? She controls a bout of seriously hot oral sex on Jamie, the virgin, who takes it with a series of shots aimed directly at his face that show him in blissful ecstasy, completely under the spell of his more experienced wife “and happy to be there.”
DO YOU REALIZE HOW RARE THIS IS?! IT WAS LIKE WATCHING A SEXUAL UNICORN.
I mean, it helps a lot that Jamie and Claire are both really, really, really really really goodlooking. But the sex was passionate and lusty and awkward and infatuated and REAL. It took all of those sex scenes I’d seen on television film, the over-directed and overperformed acro-yoga pyrotechnics, boiled them down to their essence, and showed two people on the cusp of really getting to know each other but also really into each other sexually. It was perfect. It took the male gaze and inverted it and stuffed it in the garbage.
There’s a lot more where that came from, too, and I’m bonkers excited. Can you tell?