115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Asexual, Transvestive Role-Projection: "You Go Girl!" Guys and Game of Thrones

Chloe Allmand, Western Washington University

This paper is an exploration of asexual, transvestive role-projection, the act of watching film and imagining oneself as a character of the opposite gender. I argue this form of fantasy can occur for a male viewer when a female character is non-sexualized, and transcends gender binaries like Arya Stark, the subject of my analysis.


This paper is an exploration of what I call asexual, transvestive role-projection, which is the act of watching a film or television show, and imagining oneself as a character of the opposite gender. I argue that this can occur when the character in question is not sexualized or sexually attractive to the viewer, and that this type of role-projection has become a more common phenomena especially for viewers who identify as male due to the rise of the “girl hero” in film, like Eleven in “Stranger Things,” Hit Girl in “Kick Ass,” and “Game of Thrones”’ Arya Stark, who along with her sister Sansa are the main subjects of my analysis.
    My ideas build off of and counter Laura Mulvey’s quintessential film theory article “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,” in which Mulvey argues that male viewers get pleasure from film in two ways: by picturing themselves as the hero, and by imagining themselves possessing the heroine. Considering the characters of Thrones, Arya and Sansa Stark in particular, it is clear to me that the portrayal of men and women, at least of the heroes and heroines, is different in Thrones than the description Mulvey offers. Thrones’ heroines do not exist only “to connote to-be-looked-at-ness” as Mulvey says women in film do, or at least did in 1975 when Mulvey published “Visual Pleasure.” Not only has the portrayal of men and women in film become more progressive, but so too has the viewer’s gaze. Considering more contemporary film theory than Mulvey’s work, I find it crucial to consider that the male viewer has moved beyond the pleasure of imagining possessing the heroine, to pleasure in imagining himself as the heroine, as long as she is not sexualized. Because Thrones has been scrutinized and criticized by feminists and misogynists, it serves as an especially important text to examine the breakdown of gender binaries in film.
    From conversations I have had with other fans of the show, most viewers seem to admire and respect Arya, but loathe and scorn Sansa. Further research into fan forums, magazine articles featuring interviews with Thrones actors, and even one book about the show, confirmed what I had heard fans of the show articulate: Arya is a badass, Sansa is a bitch. If Mulvey is correct in her assertion that women in film represent to men the fear of castration and an alien otherness, then it stands to reason that male viewers in particular would be able to identify with and admire Arya, who accomplishes her goals through “male” means of physical violence; however, if a male viewer identifies with and admires Sansa, who asserts her agenda through “feminine” strategies of manipulation and cunning, the male viewer risks “castration” by seeing himself in the feminine Sansa. I further this argument through special attention to the Stark sisters’ relationships with their male mentors, and through close reading of scenes throughout the series in which Sansa is sexualized, but Arya is not.

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