Emilia Clarke has been named Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive, which every year seems to be more and more of a “thing,” although nowhere near the anticipation of PEOPLE’s Sexiest Man Alive title. Sexiest Woman Alive can’t anoint a woman’s entry into the upper echelons like PEOPLE’s Sexiest Man Alive can (see: Channing Tatum, Chris Hemsworth). The SWA is usually a very big name – Rihanna, Mila Kunis, Halle Berry, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz. In that way, Emilia is a bit of an outlier as she is known primarily for her one big role as Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. (Thank you, GoT Wiki!)
I’m not here to debate or weigh in on whether or not Emilia deserves the title – we have angry men on social media to tell us how “not hot” successful and attractive women are. I like Emilia, I love Game of Thrones, but I found this interview both depressing and enraging.
First off, the writer, Benjamin Markovits, tells us about a tenuous connection he had to high-school age Emilia (he worked at an ice cream parlour where she was a customer). Then he tells us that he was supposed to take his kids to Legoland but instead is going to interview her.
I’m going to press pause here. In what world could a female interviewer in a major magazine ever reference her parental duties like this? The implication – we crossed paths when I was a lowly shop boy and she was a private school girl, and now I’m hanging out with her on a Sunday afternoon – all works with Esquire’s larger theme for these pieces: women have to be, above all, accessible to a schlub. F-ckable, of course, but in an attainable way. Not in a way that would make a man feel embarrassed or insecure. Even a dad who goes to Legoland on the weekend could bone a hot movie star, OK?
The entire piece is incredibly condescending from the get-go. He talks about the experiences that “keep happening” to her, like free concert tickets and exotic travel (which didn’t happen to her, she was promoting her film). Not stuff she’s earned. It’s stuff that’s bestowed on her for being that hot chick from Game of Thrones. When speaking about her mother’s career, he put the word “drive” in italics. And now she’s hanging out with a “middle-aged, slightly etiolated Texan” because she’s not like a stuck up bitch or anything. She’s cool. She’s a cool chick! A dad might have a chance of f-cking her.
The writer takes her on this stupid task, a treasure hunt called Game of Phones, set up by a social networking site. She is going in disguise and the writer thinks that he is there to guard her, writing, “I'm supposed to provide the disguise. It's possible that I'm supposed to be the protection, too.”
Please note, never once does she seem to imply she needs protection, or is nervous. But isn’t a woman in need so much sexier than a woman not in need? The disguise he brings is, of course, a baseball cap from his favorite sports team. Cool chicks wear baseball caps.
There is some cursory, not at all revelatory talk about her upbringing, her early years in the business, her accents and her schooling. It’s all in service to tell us how attractively non-threatening she is: she’s sweet and tough and can play a queen and kid sister. Um… kid sister? This guy could not have possibly ever watched an episode of GoT. He doesn’t seem familiar with the show in any real way, but keeps referencing Terminator Gensyis like it’s been a defining moment in her career. It has not, but I guess the Sexiest Woman Alive has to be a movie star?
When they head to the Game of Phones activity, the writer gets to dig in and uncover her character. Here, amongst the ordinary trolls, he sees into Emilia’s soul or something.
Through this silly game, he casts Emilia as a plucky good sport (because shouldn’t a woman always be a good sport?) and calls her a pocket rocket. She’s fun! And f-ckable, obviously.
Benjamin is incredibly pleased with himself to anoint her as a sexy and spunky movie star. Because, you see, Benjamin has a theory that movie star personas epitomize something. In what I can only guess is an effort to demonstrate his middle-agedness, Benjamin brings up Tom Cruise, describing his image as the “classic poor American kid on the make.” Tom Cruise is 53. Twenty-five years ago this would have been an apt explanation of Tom Cruise’s persona.
But why are we even talking about Tom? Back to how unfailingly agreeable Emilia is. She doesn’t complain when you show her a sh-tty time, like taking her to a themed treasure hunt. She’s not the kind of girl who would ever be disappointed with a man’s shortcomings.
Then, when a player brings up the uncomfortable, much debated aspects of GoT (like rape scenes and the overall treatment of women), the writer is relieved when she doesn’t get too serious about it, and relates to the controversy through her personal experience on set. Another reason for him to cast her as a cool kid sister who is, of course, imminently f-ckable.
Esquire is often criticized as being infuriatingly proud of the male gaze. Reading this, I wondered why Emilia and her team allowed this to happen, but looking at the roster that came before her, it’s easy to see why she would take the cover. Yet it seems that most of the Sexiest Woman Alive winners came before her, like Mila and Scarlett, have a much higher profile. Last year, Penelope Cruz’s piece used bullfighting as a metaphor for her brutality and perseverance. No one calls Penelope a “pal.”
But audiences have known Penelope for years, she is always at the Oscars, she’s a proper movie star. The piece was trying to pull Emilia up to a professional level she’s not at yet, and then jerk off to/applaud her anonymity as another thing that makes her hot.
Maybe I am trying to assign qualities to Emilia that she doesn’t have, but I think she has more to contribute to the conversation then “I cried and had a cup of tea” re: rape scenes. It’s not just that we didn’t get a good Emilia interview, it’s that her entire persona was shaped by what the writer wanted her to be. And it’s gross. The narrative here is so forced and so inauthentic that I wonder if the writer didn’t want to see more, or, if there wasn’t much more to see.
The piece closes on the idea of feminine balance, calling her “half pal, half dominatrix.” A pal laughs when you fart, but a dominatrix is, well, do I even need to say it? F-ckable.
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