I cannot count the cinema essays and articles I’ve read over the years where some critic lists scenes in movies that first introduced him to the concept, ‘Whoa! Girls and Boys have DIFFERENT PARTS!’
If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard Phoebe Cates’s red bathing suit scene mentioned, I’d be dictating this entry to my houseboy ‘Ceviche’ while we lounged poolside somewhere decorous and decadent.
There are others, usually somewhat unique to the critic; mentions are made of Marilyn Monroe’s famous subway grating scene, Raquel Welch’s furry underpants, Sophia Loren, Bridgette Bardot; the list goes on and on into the ‘sirens’ of today, none of which are coming to mind.
I remember in elementary school my good friend Eddie waxed rhapsodic about the tassle scene at the end of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark; we swore a pact that if I sprouted boobs like hers I would practice spinning tassles off them, and one day find him and show him. Alas, I sprouted no such thing(s). I’m sorry I let you down Eddie–it’s my life’s great failure.
Anyhow, I was reading one of the inestimable Todd Alcott’s film reviews when I saw he’d chosen to review ‘Labyrinth.’ But Nowhere in his review did he mention how David Bowie’s tights-swathed area ignited a fascination in millions of young girls, sending them toddling down the road to puberty, or how Jereth’s entreaty for Sarah to love him by obeying him was the hardest task for her to face in the whole story–after all, physical dangers are often easy to identify. It’s the emotional pitfalls that are hardest to escape from.
So! In the interest of exploring new territory, I bring you the subject of this entry, and encourage you, the reader, whatever gender you are and however you are oriented, to share your own stories in the comments below: A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Awakening in Film.
1. Labyrinth – Men Can Also Be Objectified.
Ken’s parts were different that Barbie’s. That much I was clear on.
But how they differed was not readily evident, not even in the art books I was exposed to as a child. What wasn’t carefully covered by a fig leaf was pretty weird looking, and it was hard to believe such a fuss in our culture was made over covering the equivalent of a garden slug.
And well–just LOOK at our boy there. Not very inspiring, in the crotchal region. And of course that was intentional on the part of Michelangelo, but still. You hear a line in an action movie where someone says something about a ‘huge dick’ and that is your frame of reference.
There’s also the fact that for a few years in the 80’s, it was acceptable to show naked women in PG-rated movies. Sheena, Clash of the Titans..others that aren’t coming to mind. Anyway, I waited patiently to see naked men, thinking it was only fair–to no avail.
Enter a little movie about a sparkly, fancy-pants magic man who wants a girlfriend he can boss around.
What really cemented my fascination with the movie was the fact that OTHER girls were fascinated, too.
What was IN there? WHAT?
We speculated, joked, stuffed our pajama bottoms with pillows and danced around. But our questions weren’t answered until much later in life, usually in sweaty and breathless encounters with people as terrified (or drunk) as we were.
But the magic of those pants and their mysterious contents lives on, both in the silly, girlish thrill I get watching Bowie dance and in the hundreds of thousands of websites, artwork, and articles dedicated to them. Articles like this one right here.
Objectification holds within it certain flaws; after all, turning a person into an object removes responsibility from the viewer for the object’s feelings, motivations, and any dissenting opinions they might have. It removes the object from being ‘The Other’ and makes being attracted to them simpler, and without emotional risk to the viewer. In short, you don’t have to care about them.
Since Jereth is the film’s villain (and I’m not confusing him with, you know, a real person) I feel quite okay objectifying him. I objectify the HELL out of him, in fact.
2. Conan the Destroyer – Girls can chase boys!
When asked by a young naive girl what Zula, played by Grace Jones, would do if she were attracted to someone, Zula responds ‘Grab him, and take him.’
This was MAGNIFICENT when I heard it.
I had been taught by movies, cartoons and books that boys went after ‘ladies,’ that they came to your house with chocolates, flowers, and awkwardness. You played hard to get, you pretended you weren’t interested, you spent your life waiting by the phone for boys to call.
We all know now what bullshit that is. I have been approached by men a handful of times, and each relationship I’ve had began by my showing interest in someone and pursuing them, not the other way around. Given my poor track record for social interactions and tendency towards bluntness, chasing the boys was pretty much my only option. And they ran, believe me. They ran like hell.
But for every ten or twenty who hauled ass, at least one was into that. Men (at least the men I tend to hang with or date ) are HUMAN, which means they are not above wanting emotional validation, and not above wanting to feel special, sometimes even feel pursued. These men, at least I’ve found, are often the ones who are much more secure emotionally, are are less likely to pull bullshit mindgames or marginalize their significant other. And they don’t want it done to them, either.
So I’d like to thank Grace Jones for her portrayal of strong, confident Zula, even if she was a little crazy. The rest of the United States might be thanking her for single-handedly introducing ecstasy to the New York club scene in the 80’s, but I’m glad she showed tomgirls (and anyone, really) how to really go after what you want.
3. The Breakfast Club – People Do Stupid Things To Impress Other People
John Bender. My god, that would have been my ultimate man right there when I was in college. Brash, arrogant, dark eyed, floppy-haired, he had it all.
He was also monstrously immature and at heart a frightened child, which would have been tailor-made for me and all my unarticulated neuroses 0f the time.
But growing up and leaving behind a fascination with ‘bad boys’ is why I’m where I am today, and not on my third divorce or struggling with a serious habit instead of just being an unemployed drunk. Lesser of two evils, believe me.
Anyhoodle, there are multiple scenes in the film illustrating Bender’s attempts to impress ‘Princess’ Claire; in several conversations, after Claire has made some kind of declaration towards one thing or other (it’s okay if a guy’s a virgin, sex with someone you love is okay), the camera cuts to a quick reaction shot from Bender, showing how he is processing this new fact and how he will probably try to use it to his advantage–or against Claire when he decides to lash out at her, as he is prone to doing. Bender is a criminal, but he’s also, like most people his age, deeply invested in other people’s image of him, and manipulating that image is a full-time job. He shows off by mouthing off to the principal and to Andrew, the Wrestler, and bullying Brian the Brain until he notices she isn’t impressed by that.
Also, I’d like to submit the scene later in the film where Claire has snuck into the closet to see him as exceptionally hot. When she leans forward and kisses him on the neck, it’s a special moment–there’s a smash cut to the scene, and you can tell from the way they’re sitting it’s obvious that Bender was probably saying something ridiculous and posturing to impress her, and was caught off guard by the move. I love that scene, because it acknowledges that yes, women can be sexually assertive and the world won’t burn down, and also that deep down Bender has been wanting to be pursued– just a little.
So, thus armed with my iconoclastic notions of romance, I sallied forth and probably wreaked unspeakable harm on the boys I chased. I left roses on their desks (I still cringe at that one), wrote them inane notes, catered to their egos, even gave them presents. I can’t even imagine how embarrassing it must have been for them, especially the ones I fixated on for more than a few days.
Sorry guys, but hey, we all had crap to work out back in the day. But if the worst thing that happened to them in middle school was being treated to cookies or handed a flower by The Weird Girl, then that’s not too terrible a thing. Maybe a few of my ‘victims’ even look back fondly on those days