“Maybe I’m just really into dudes who fight,” writes Taylor Andrews, one of Cosmopolitan’s sex and relationship editors.
She’s talking about her mega crush on Geralt of Rivia, Henry Cavill’s character from Netflix’s The Witcher. But if it really is Geralt’s skill with a sword that makes Andrews “horny” (her word, not mine), she worries that this is “something she should take up with her therapist.”
It’s a truth (nearly) universally acknowledged that Cavill’s Geralt is sexy. He’s an impossibly ripped, sword-wielding tough guy who has undergone some sort of magical mutation that makes him really good at killing monsters. He wears leather, has long silver hair, speaks in grunts and monotones, and is rumored to be unable to feel emotion. Not exactly the sort of empathetic feminist ally we’re meant to be looking for these days.
Not exactly the sort of empathetic feminist ally we’re meant to be looking for these days.
But search for the character’s name on social media, and you won’t have to look far before you find tweets like “Does Henry Cavill even know how to look bad??” Or, “Geralt is so sexy he made me literate again. almost done reading 'The Last Wish'” (the book the show is based on). And then there are articles like Andrews’s, which calls Geralt’s grunts “erotic” and describes his “low, deep, rumbly voice” as “super-sexy.”
Is Geralt Feminist-Approved?
In the #MeToo era, when we’re all supposed to be on the lookout for “toxic masculinity,” it’s interesting to find so many people salivating over a giant, hulking man who spends his time fighting, sleeping around, and speaking in guttural monosyllables. Not exactly a feminist’s dream come true. In fact, it’s got Taylor Andrews wondering if her interest in the character is grounds to seek psychological help.
Others try to explain Geralt’s sexiness in feminist terms. Emma Stefansky of Thrillist, for example, says that, sure, Geralt is “tall, burly, great with any kind of weapon,” but he’s also “extremely respectful of women.” She continues, “He'll converse with a woman in a tavern, he'll take a job from a woman, he'll fight a woman in the city square.” In other words, he’s not just trying to save women, he’ll kill them too. (Because that’s equality. Yay feminism!)
But the truth, I think, is that Cavill’s Geralt is masculinity personified. And rather than being toxic, it’s all kinds of alluring. The feminist insistence that women don’t need rescuing, that all violence is evil, that men who keep their feelings in check are unevolved, all falls apart when faced with a character like Geralt. A character who will move heaven and earth to fulfill his obligation to protect a young girl. Who will fight to the death to rid the land of monsters, sorcerers, and evildoers. Who keeps himself to himself – letting people believe he has no capacity to feel emotions – rather than open up about his isolation and abuse.
Cavill’s Geralt is masculinity personified. And rather than being toxic, it’s all kinds of alluring.
The Appeal of Masculinity
See, the appeal of a character like Geralt is that under all the violence and the reticence, he’s still human (well, in this case, mutant, but you get the idea). He is willing to fight and to keep his emotions in check, because he believes in something (even if he says he doesn’t). He is strong, so he must protect the weak. He is powerful, so he must protect the powerless. Even when he doesn’t want to – and he really doesn’t want to – he does it. Because he does have emotions and wants and needs, but he controls them – channels them – for the service of the greater good.
He is strong, so he must protect the weak. He is powerful, so he must protect the powerless.
Characters like Geralt – and there are others, think Frank Castle of The Punisher or Wolverine of X-Men – appeal to us because of what they believe and what they hold back. Underneath Geralt’s gruff exterior is a world of hurt and loss. But instead of whining about it, he gets on with his life and does his job. And when given the opportunity to hurt or to protect, he chooses to protect. He believes in right over wrong, and he holds back the parts of himself that would get in the way of that (like fear, self-pity, or hatred).
A character like that is endlessly appealing because secretly, deep down, we all want to be the one he swears to protect, the one he loves enough to let down his guard for. Yes, even feminists want that, but shh, don’t tell them.
Geralt’s sex-appeal is not only in his toned abs or the way his butt looks in tight leather. It’s in what he does with his strength and what he doesn’t. A man who will use his superior physical strength to protect us – not hurt us – is sexy. A man who will stand up for us against evil, even if he has to risk his life to do it, is sexy. A man who is gentle when he could be rough, fiercely protective when he could be uncaring, clear of purpose when he could be adrift – a man like that is sexy.
And we – as the women worth fighting for – elevate the man’s brute strength to something higher. For us, a man like Geralt channels his instincts for the greater good. And that, too, is sexy. And not just sexy, but necessary and good.
And we – as the women worth fighting for – elevate the man’s brute strength to something higher.
Masculinity itself is not toxic. And sometimes women need protection. And sometimes – lots of times – women want to be protected. Or to feel, at least, that the man in their life would protect them if it came down to it. A character like Geralt is an extreme, yes, but the way he makes us feel tells us something about what we want in real life. To know a man would die for you is a powerful thing. Don’t knock it.