I had the pleasure this weekend to attend the Guelph Film Festival screening of #Female Pleasure. This documentary, produced by Barbara Miller, gave some thought-provoking insights into the many ways that women’s bodies
are objectified, controlled, and subject to the whims and desires of men’s sexual appetites. Barbara Miller has produced many other
award winning documentaries, including Forbidden Voices and The Clitoris.
#Female Pleasure follows the lives and social activism of five different women across the globe. They include
Rokudenashiko, an artist in Japan; Deborah Feldman, a woman who left her
Hassidic community; Leyla Hussein, a Somali woman and Muslim who is
actively engaged in banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); Doris Wagner, an Italian woman repeatedly raped while cloistered as a Catholic Nun; and Vithika Yadav, an activist and street performer who founded Love Matters India
in an attempt to address rampant rape culture.
Rokudenashiko gained notoriety during a well-publicized trial after
she was arrested for making 3-D digital models of her own
vulva, and then instructing others how to do the same. She and her lawyers fought the case in court, and
she was found not guilty of indecency because of her status as a pop artist. She
was found guilty of spreading taboo information on female body parts, however
– a decision being contested by her team of lawyers.
Rokudenashiko asks an important question: “why it is acceptable for sex toys and representations of male sexual organs to be available and accessible in public venues, but female sexuality is illegal to discuss or display?”
Although the five women come from very different cultures and different experiences, all five stories come together in one powerful theme.
Female bodies are controlled through practices of patriarchy and misogyny in all places of the world. Women
are objectified and labeled as dangerous, devious, and subservient in a male-dominated society. Female sexuality
is defined strictly through reproduction and
child birth, and ideas of female sexual pleasure and bodily autonomy
are often violently suppressed. The five women featured in this documentary
the ways that empowerment, education, passion, strength, and courage can
begin to make a lasting change for women, and a space in which to take back their bodies, their sexuality, and their pleasure.
After the documentary,
a community talkback was held to discuss the concept of pleasure and the content of the movie.
Carm de Santis (registered Sex Therapist and Lecturer) and Olive
von Top (Sex Educator and local Burlesque
performer with the Femmes
Rebelles) helped lead the discussion. While there was a great deal of positive and educational discussion regarding the movie and female pleasure that ensued, I had two concerns of note about the focus of the dialogue.
a large portion of the discussion centered on sexual pleasure relative to sexual organs.
Despite the fact that
this was meant to be a dialogue on female pleasure, and we had just viewed a documentary which highlighted
the ways in which female sexuality is secondary to male sexuality, the bulk of discussion rested on the penis.
Even more concerning was the fact that
pleasure was focused on either male genitalia or female genitalia. This essentialist focus
fails to recognize a segment of the human population which exists as transgender, non-binary, or intersex. This excludes many people from a discussion of pleasure, female or otherwise.
As a result of my experience viewing #Female Pleasure, and discussion that ensued, I will
be writing a short ongoing series of articles exploring sexuality and pleasure and the many ways pleasure can
be experienced; including emotional, mental, sensual, and sexual. Look for the next upcoming article at the end of this month, November 2019.