Portraying female sexuality and empowering women
Film and television is a double edged sword when it comes to stereotypes. It has the power to reinforce offensive stereotypes or it can challenge them. Whether you watch in your bedroom, on the couch or at the bus stop, watching media plays a significant role in our lives. On average, residents of the United Kingdom spend around five hours consuming audio visual content across various platforms. With that amount of daily exposure to screens, it is understandable how film and media have a considerable impact on social change. This is why it is important now more that ever to portray women and female sexuality accurately.
Historically, women are often misrepresented in film and television, whilst men have dominated the screen. Laura Mulvey’s famous paper Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema brought the term ‘Male Gaze’ to prominence. The paper highlights how women are objectified, sexualised and stripped of their agency within the narratives. Men typically are the target audience of films and therefore women are written for them and filmed in a way to fulfil male desire. The power lies with the men objectifying the women on and off camera, therefore pushing a heteronormative and patriarchal agenda. Women are treated as props for male gratification.
Objectifying women on screen on screen and reducing them to sex objects is undoubtedly reckless, pushing that kind of thinking into society has proven dangerous. The sexualisation of women and young girls undermines their confidence, can lead to body image issues and damage a woman's sexual self image. It is dangerous for women to grow up believing their role is subservient to men. Unfortunately the film industry is still heavily male dominated on and off screen. There has been a rise in women working behind the scenes in film but men still out number them in the top jobs 4 to 1.
Empowering women on and off screen
The pleasure revolution is taking place on our screens challenging misconceptions surrounding sex and fighting stigmas surrounding sexuality. There has been a big shift in the way women are represented on screen, partially because of the #MeToo movement. As of 2022 almost half of the major characters on streaming services are female. Female characters are being created with more depth and television is not afraid to represent female sexuality.
"Looking at the pleasurable aspects of sexuality invites a truer reflection of real women’s lives and a greater understanding of all the possibilities that can contribute to women’s empowerment.”
Female pleasure is no longer a topic of shame. There is a rise in sex scenes in television shows, we are in an era of women exploring sexual pleasure on screen. Shows like Fleabag, Sex Education, Bridgerton and Normal People show women actively seeking pleasure in sex and intimacy in their relationships. Season 1 of Bridgerton was watched by over 82 million households. The regency era romance drama depicts main character Daphne exploring her own body, learning about sex and discovering what gives her pleasure. The masturbation scene is a strong example of a women claiming autonomy over her own body.
Sex positive shows are encouraging women to pursue a healthy sex life or their own. Shows like Netflix's Sex Education are in fact educational for all generations. Not only does is explore non-heteronormative relationships but discusses insecurities surrounding sex and sexual health. Within the show there are women of all ages, races and sexual identities pursue pleasure in different ways. If shows like this are young woman's first exposure to sex then the impact will be a positive one.
Framing sex in a positive light, allows women the freedom and reassurance that they too can feel safe and have good, pleasurable sex. If film and television becomes more and more sex positive for women it will continue to change attitudes towards female sexuality in all of society. Women will be allowed to be explore the intricacies of their sexuality with no shame attached.
Join the celebration of some of the best examples of female sexuality in film and television.