Women, sex and control

We have started watching The Wire. So, four episodes in and I am still trying to work out what everyone’s name is – except of course, McNulty, that would be impossible to have missed. So no spoilers, but even if you told me about what is going to happen to characters I probably wouldn’t yet work be able to work out who you are talking about….

Anyway, I can’t remember whether it is episode two or three, but in one of them, McNulty turns up at the house of the DA woman (see, I really can’t remember names yet), askingg her what he needs to do to get permission to clone a pager. And it then becomes obvious that they had had one of those relationships which are odd and not usual and then she points out that really, coming around and askin for legal advice does not constitute a date. Cut to the aftermath of sex. And she calls his an arsehole.

Now, this whole scene made me reflect on how we constitute responsibility and desire for sex, and what a woman’s proper position in that equation should be. The standard sort of commentary on a woman in that situation is – well, she shouldn’t sleep with him because he is just “using” her and she’ll never end up in a “proper” relationship that way. what I want to know is, why should the woman have to be the one who has to say no. Does it occur to us that, she might just want to have sex? And that might not be just because she is sad and lonely, but because she had made the choice to not have a standard relationship. That sometimes women are not really secretly looking for a boyfriend to hold their hand?

it reminds me of the line in the film version of Dangerous Liaisons (and I honestly can’t remember if it was in the book), when Madame de Tourvel says about the importance of sex for women is “the pleasure that they give to their husband”. It is this notion that for women, pleasure or enjoyment for themselves is not the object of sex, it is about the pleasure given – and the control or manipulation that comes from that. It is still fundamentally considered a Bad Thing that women have sex for sex’s sake – that is why we have words like slut. And even then the sluts involved are usually depicted in the media and popular culture as doing it for some other reason, usually about manipulation or self esteem.

Can’t we just be allowed to enjoy sex – and when we have it with someone like McNulty, which is sometimes the preferred way, have it suffice to make it clear that they are an arsehole. I think that is doing it on one’s own terms enough.

Update: For an entertaining discussion of women’s sexuality, see here.

Sex, teenagers and John Hughes

Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan note, in Camera Politica, that during the 1980s “Hollywood took both sides of the issue”when it came to depicting sex on film. The 1980s were a period in which sexual conservatism returned as a strong element of political discourse. At the same time the manner in which sex was depicted on screen tried to have it both ways, utilising imagery drawn directly from pornography while punishing both women and men who behaved in sexually transgressive ways. While films like Fatal Attraction (1987) and 9 1/2 Weeks (1986) are the best examples of this, this duality was a feature of many other films like Risky Business (1983), Class (1983), Top Gun (1986) and a whole range of other films.

In contrast, the film of John Hughes managed to capture something rather more innocent about teenage sexuality. While they were not without sex, in contrast to the overt sexual imagery yet punishing films that characterised much of the depiction of sex during the 1980s, this films showed sex as something messy and a little confusing. Often somewhat distasteful, as in Pretty in Pink (my personal favourite) or as an area of discomfort in The Breakfast Club. This recognition that it isn’t all candles and slow motion kissing with sweat glistening on backs was what a teenager wanted in a film when grappling with fears and concerns oneself. The idea that it was OK to say no like Andie was reassuring.

I guess it is no real surprise that when the market shifted away from teen movies that were really about teens, Hughes moved to more family friendly movies, or straight-out children’s movies. I am no major fan of his post Ferris Bueller oeuvre, but I am very glad he could give us those three or four films which will always be meaningful to the teenager of the 1980s. And the music!

And this fantastic story about Hughes reveals a little more about how he understood and acknowledged his connection to the teens of the period.