Here’s the thing: HBO’s track record when it comes to the treatment of women in its shows is just not that great, and they’ve been under fire for it before, specifically when it comes to Game of Thrones. And since that’s the most frequent and obvious comparison to Westworld, it’s not exactly shocking to find that the same things that make Game of Thrones a feminist nightmare already seem to be plaguing Westworld in the pilot.
While Westworld is definitely meant to examine and criticize how people might treat the human-but-not-quite hosts when placed into a world where there are no consequences and they can’t be harmed — and thus it could be argued that portrayals of excessive violence, sexual or otherwise, go to that point… it’s just not necessary, y’know?
HBO Chief of Programming even preemptively defended the use of rape in Westworld to Entertainment Weekly. (Which, shouldn’t that be your first clue that you’re doing something wrong? If you’re ALREADY feeling defensive and nobody’s even seen it yet? JESUS.)
First of all, it’s not different. The hosts in Westworld are played, obviously, by real people, so when they’re abusing women in Westworld, the viewers are still watching real women being abused. COME ON. But also, like, I’m a fairly chill, low key person. Once I kicked a boy in the shin in middle school for killing a snake with rocks on a school trip, and I still feel badly about it. So if I can think of dozens of ways to show that people can be bad and violent without raping women, people who are being paid tens of thousands of dollars to write Westworld can do it too.
The fact that within the first fifteen minutes of Westworld, there was an implied intended rape (Dolores’s mother), an actual off screen rape (Dolores), and numerous shots of naked women is a PROBLEM, ya’ll.
The writers seem to have lamp-shaded the problem without even knowing it: part of the issue with the way Game of Thrones and other shows utilize rape is that the women who are subjected to it don’t get to DEAL with it. It doesn’t become part of their lives. We don’t see how deeply it impacts their experiences and thoughts. We don’t see rape portrayed as something that significantly impacts the narrative, which is a HUGE ISSUE.
In Dolores, we have that by default, because her memory is wiped, and she doesn’t know what happened to her the next day.
The larger implication of this is hopefully something that will be confronted with great sensitivity and consideration (although given HBO’s track record, I’m not holding my breath), but Dolores and all of the other hosts are to a certain extent being used as prostitutes, both literally and ~metaphorically~.
We already see the seeds of Dolores and other hosts beginning to remember things that have happened to her in the past (her father, YIKES) and so certainly all of this is going to have to be addressed in some fashion. It’s just important to keep in mind that the constant use of rape as a plot device dangerously perpetuates the idea that rape isn’t a big deal, which is how we end up with certain disasters in the real world.