Female sexuality as seen from the perspective of women
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
A funny thing happened to me while sitting through the press screening of “The To Do List” a few weeks ago. I got caught up in a dawning awareness that I was watching a teen sex comedy told from the perspective of the girls. As an old school moviegoer, I remember the sex comedies of the 1980s – “Porky’s” and “Meatballs” – that were a rite of passage for my crew. These movies were our first taste and view of the hidden treasures and pleasures of the female form and they were made, exclusively, for the male gaze. To be honest, I know that not a single one of us ever thought about whether or not these movies spoke to girls our age.
That sense of obliviousness has continued, even to a certain extent in my role as a critic. I have to force myself to an elevated mindfulness about the presentations of characters and perspectives, in terms of gender, sexuality and sexual orientation. (As an African American writer, I would like to believe I have a greater awareness of such things, but it is by no means innate.)
This was, in part, why I was charmed by the subversive streak in this distaff take on teen sexuality. Not content to ape “The 40 Year Old Virgin” or the rest of Judd Apatow’s bromantic oeuvre, writer-director Maggie Carey’s “List” presents a girl of the 1990s in Brandy (Aubrey Plaza), an over-achiever with single-minded focus in the pre-Internet age struggling to find herself and what pleases her. She wants the hot guy, but she’s wiling to casually use a good friend or any situation at her disposal, just like a guy would in similar circumstances. And she’s not judged any more harshly than said guy would be.
Remember that great 1985 anthem from Annie Lennox (as part of the Eurythmics) and Aretha Franklin – “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”? Well, in 2013, women in film and television are doing it on their own terms, and they don’t care who knows it. These new girls are bold and full of a sense of brazen bravado.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on the HBO series “Girls.” I found the dank sexuality on display a bit off-putting in the first season, but I’ve come to embrace Lena Dunham’s second season of exhibitionism because she’s unafraid of making the wrong choices and allowing us to see her fumbling. That is bracingly honest in this day and age when no one is all that eager to accept responsibility for their faults or show a desire to actually learn from past miscues.
More importantly, it is not just Dunham’s focus on Hannah – her aspiring writer who is full of words but completely lacking in focus – that works here. She has made a much more concerted effort to expose all of her characters, creating flawed human beings with stories of their own, not merely as foils for Hannah. Dunham grasps that complex drama requires interplay between equals. By the end of the initial season, my sympathies skewed to the guys on the show (Adam Driver, Alex Karpovsky and Christopher Abbott) because they were less needy and self-centered than Hannah’s crew (Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke and Zosia Mamet) who just seemed like younger “Sex and the City” driftwood. But now, these dudes are just as f***ed up as the ladies, and so goes a generation, Dunham posits.
If this is true, then let’s sit back and enjoy watching girls and women search for sexual meaning and fulfillment. We’ve been told for years that girls are more mature than boys. I bet they will lead a revolution that just might take us all to the Promised Land.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com