girls

TV, Film & Sex Education

TV & Film have always been part of our sex education, and now in 2018 some writers are realising their responsibility and the power they have to change the narrative.

On the rare occasion that society discusses sex education, and the papers are full of opinion pieces, the word that always gets thrown around is ‘pornography’; specifically the dangers of its accessibility. The government, teachers and parents are so terrified of what their children are seeing online, that a debate on sex education in parliament will usually turn into a debate on pornography. While this is an important debate to be had, and we are in a unique time when people are using the internet for everything from banking to dating, in all these debates and articles I can’t help but think that society is missing a big part of the puzzle.

To access porn, you have to know where to look, you have to google and browse and be an active user, you are alone in a room. On the other hand, media within the entertainment industry will always be a communal event. You sit down with family to watch the new Sunday night drama or go with friends to see the latest film release. What always follows is conversation between family, friends, and the wider audience, which thanks to social media is more expansive and immediate.

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Porn is not where people go to find great plot devices, the end goal is very simple, and sex is viewed in the abstract. Whereas TV and film in its nature use sex as a plot device and even when a sex scene is clearly put in for titillation (take Game of Thrones for example), the writers will still argue its relevance. In the last seven years or so I have seen a shift in the stories being told; from Lena Dunham’s Girls to Pheobe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, there is a need for the narrative around sex to change and for women to control the story.

Pheobe Waller-Bridge has said in many interviews that she wrote the original play Fleabag because she wanted to talk about sex. In 2012 when Lena Dunham’s new show Girls aired in the US and the UK, all people could talk about was the awkward sex scenes. Many journalists described them as explicit and awkward, however, there had been more explicit scenes depicted on TV before Girls appeared on our screens. Game of Thrones was being commissioned for its third season, a show in which it was normal to see at least four sex scenes in one episode and seemingly, an actress couldn’t get through an episode without at least once walking into a room of men, having forgotten to have got dressed. The sex scenes in Girls were new and interesting because Lena Dunham was showing her own experiences of sex and many women responded to this with glee because it allowed them to have the conversations that society deemed taboo.

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Caitlin Moran says in her book How To Be a Woman, “the sexual imagery of teenage years is the most potent you’ll ever have. It dictates desires for the rest of your life. One flash of a belly being kissed now is worth a thousand hard-core fisting scenes in your thirties”. Up to a certain age, and I am aware that age is getting younger, parents can control what their children see on the internet and to a certain extent what they see on their TV screens thanks to the 9pm watershed, however, we can’t control everything.

Remember the time when you were younger, on the brink of adolescence, and woke up past your bed to go to the toilet? On your way back to bed you heard the noise of the TV and the chatter of adults, and intrigue led you down the stairs. You poked your head over the bannister and saw your parents and their friends glued to the telly, then you looked up to the screen to see an image that you knew not to be looking at. Laying in bed, your mind boggles and so many questions arise, but you don’t know who to ask. It feels like being on the last word of a crossword puzzle and knowing on seeing the answer it will make sense, but at that moment you feel lost. Instead of talking to your parents and friends out of embarrassment, you seek out the same image in books and films. It takes you years to finally have those conversations with friends and eventually partners when sex has become a reality. Only then do you start to question the scenes you watched and the depictions of sex in your favourite films.

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Now, in 2018, we are having those conversations, whether that be the writers of The Affair making sure every sex scene pushes the narrative along, or Rachel Weisz discussing the importance of the sex between the two female protagonists in her new film Disobedience. I truly think that one of the many reasons famous actresses who have the money and the platform are turning to producing is so they can control the narratives they are telling about female sexuality. Sex is still a taboo subject, and we still cut off conversations with the excuse of being British, but we can’t shut down conversation and then worry about the lack of sex education children are receiving, or what they are seeing when they turn on the TV.

In the wake of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, the industry is trying to be more inclusive and give everyone a voice. People are asking for the narrative to change and the choice of stories to grow. The conversations about sex in the last year have revolved around power and abuse and what we want the next generation of women to know and experience. If we want to carry on making change for the better, and the film and TV industry wants to take responsibility, it needs to take sex seriously.

Just as we need diversity in the stories we tell, we need diversity in sex scenes and the relationships we see. Teenage girls and boys should see LGBTQ+ stories more than just once a year, and be shown different relationships and the multiple reasons people choose to have sex with each other. Our government, parents, teachers and most importantly our storytellers can’t be scared of answering questions and giving children the power of information and choice.  

 

Words: Lara Scott
Images: BBC/Two Brothers Ltd, Jessica Miglio/HBO, Sky Atlantic

 

WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT LOVE BY 20

One of my most vivid memories of Year 5 and 6 in primary school, was getting asked out by a boy’s best friend and then giggling every time we held hands. Then being constantly asked by your friends if you love each other and replying ‘of course!’ It’s safe to say that my idea of love has matured a little bit since then.

When you’re young, it seems so simple. You either love them or you don’t. But one of the things I’ve learned is that sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes, people who you love do things that you hate. Maybe the first time in your life, it’s your parents. They don’t want you to have that cuddly toy and you just can’t understand why. When you’re older, you realise that it was just because they didn’t want you to be a spoilt brat. They loved you and wanted the best for you then, even though you just thought they wanted to be cruel. That showed me that love requires learning to respect someone else’s thoughts and ideas. Even if they don’t make sense to you. Lesson number 1.

And then came the first wave of ‘romances,’ if you can call them that. That first nervous little peck on the cheek and playing kiss chase with all the people your friends fancy. Your boyfriends and/or girlfriends came and went faster than you could eat your packed lunch. Do you remember how that felt? It was exhilarating at the time. Yet you look back now and you think, ‘that wasn’t love!’ And I don’t know about you but what that showed me is that love is more than just nervous kisses and games. There is more than living for the chase and hurting people just because we can. Love isn’t just lust and playing games with each other. Lesson number 2.

Soon there came secondary school. This is where I honed my cynical perspective on love to perfection. ‘Love is pointless’ was my mantra. Every time someone said the word I’d cringe. I had watched my parents fight and stay together and enough soaps by this point to know that there was more to love than just liking each other a lot. I thought that I was above my friends who would gush about their boyfriends as if they were their knights in shining armour. I saw my sisters have their first big relationships and scrutinised why they went wrong (maybe I am a Psychology student). And I thought I was smarter because I knew that love didn’t mean giving up as soon as things got hard. Lesson number 3.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I joined in the band wagon and had that typical school romance where you hang out at lunch and maybe even outside of school and you’re completely ‘in love’. This was around the time where I thought that I knew best and that no one older really understood. Classic. I remember me and my friends breaking up and making up and it all seemed so real and genuine. Now, those relationships seem so insignificant. And yet, those were real tears and real heartache that was felt. This is what made me believe that love isn’t always about your age. If it was real for you then, it was probably real. Just because it may have ended badly or you now don’t think of them as the love of your life doesn’t make the experience any less important. People grow up, and that just means changing the way we think about things. Getting older doesn’t invalidate our feelings when we were young. Don’t underestimate a teenager’s ability to love just because you think it’s different to how you do it. Lesson number 4.

For a lot of people, secondary school and college marked a lot of firsts. First kiss, first time and first ‘real’ love. Not always in that order. On top of that, everyone would be whispering about each other’s personal lives every chance they could. It was like a competition, who was having sex first, who had been together the longest. Even your best friends told people you didn’t really know. For some reason, this was everyone’s business just because they passed you in the hallway sometimes. Rumours would start, fingers were pointed. But love shouldn’t have to involve the whole school anymore. The gossiping got less brutal as you got older; but that still doesn’t mean your friends want to know every detail. Lesson number 5.

Like most things, love got more complicated after everyone left school. People had to get serious about long distance relationships because of university, and everyone matured out of their secondary school ideals. Love wasn’t just about making out on the sofa anymore. It wasn’t the most important thing, just one of. There was money to think about, a career, maybe travelling and learning to look after yourself. Sure, people go on dates, move in together and go on couple’s holidays. But there’s also family, socialising and food shopping. My point is, love requires just as much care and attention as your taxes. It’s work. Lesson number 6.

The most important thing I’ve learned about love by now, is that it’s different for everyone. It’s a cliché but love is complicated and I would never claim to be an expert. Maybe it’s not always a fairy-tale ending and maybe it seems like more hassle than it’s worth. But what if it’s not? It’s time to break away from the notion that love is just a fleeting thing that only happens to a select few. It’s something that you can make happen and has to be worked at so it can thrive. Then again, maybe I’m wrong and in 10 years’ time I’ll be the cynic I was at 14. But rest assured, everyone’s bumbling along trying to figure it out just like you and me. Lesson number 7.

What Going to An All Girl’s School Taught Me About Womanhood

When I tell people that I went to an all girl’s secondary school, their response, more often than not, is “How was that?”  

Either that or: “Was it full of lesbians?”

Secondary school is a funny old time – you have the pressure of exams and your impending future, but you’re also trying to grow up and go through puberty and become a person. It’s probably the time when you have your first sexual experiences, start getting drunk, socialising, doing teenage things. Getting to do all of that with 900 other hormone ridden girls sounds like it should be absolute hell on earth (and sometimes it was). But I don’t think any other experience of my life has shaped me quite as much as those 7 years surrounded by girls.

The girls I spent those years with were some of the most ballsy, ridiculous, hilarious, silly women I will ever meet. They took no shit, not from teachers, not from the boys on the field at lunchtime, and not from each other.

Studies show that girls in single sex schools perform better than girls in mixed schools, whilst for boys, it makes little to no difference. I love that. Girls make each other better simply by being around each other. Because they feed off and find worth in each other.

Our school was divided into 6 houses, and once you were sorted (not by a hat), you wore the snowdrop badge with the colour of your house as the background. It all sounds very jolly, but let me tell you, the Olympics got nothing on year 8 Gym & Dance. There’s something about being divided into houses, and being forced to perform gymnastic and dance routines for house points that turns teenage girls animalistic. I have never seen such anger and fury, such commitment, and such hairspray.

There’s also that end of term madness that drives school children to Beatlemania style screaming. This madness was perpetuated only by the teachers panto which happened every other year. Watching your Religious Studies teacher parody Edward Cullen in ‘Twiglet’ is matched only by watching your Maths teacher rush into the audience to confiscate a giant inflatable naked man that was being thrown around like a volleyball.

These were the girls that always had tampons to give out, make-up to share, and plans to bully teachers. These were the girls that spent their last day of year 11 dressed as Gordon Brown (yes I was one of them) because it just seemed like a really funny thing to do. The girls who were the kind of friends that let you plank on them, or spent entire Saturdays making music videos for McFly songs.

It was a grammar school too – high pressure, hard-working, smart, serious. The best example I have of this is a lunchtime viewing of Cheaters by the entire sixth form being interrupted by the headteacher giving some important guests a tour. They were ushered out of the common room fairly sharpish.

When you’re in a house named after an important woman, it infiltrates your blood. Austen, Franklin, Curie, Parks, Rossetti and Shelley were ingrained in our brains, and held up as names to live up to. Founders Day was, and I’m sure continues to be, the most boring award ceremony in the world, but having ex-students come back and give speeches about the waves they were making in the world, couldn’t help but inspire you (Sophie Rundle was my fave). By going to that school, you become part of a long line of women. Women who have gone before you, attended that school, and gone onto greatness. That’s pretty darn cool.

It’s only now, in hindsight, that I can truly appreciate the magnitude of what my female teachers did for me. The strong, intelligent, funny, independent women who guided me through History, English and Drama were some of the most influential people I’ll ever know. When my Dad died in my final year, they were beacons of hope, and strength, and kind words. I would never have got my A-Levels and gone to university without them, and without the network of girls I had around me in that year.

I feel like I say it a lot but it’s true; gender is a social construct. I don’t know if I still think that gendered schools are a good thing – it feels outdated, to define young people by their gender. Some people don’t have a gender. Some people don’t identify with the gender they’re assigned at birth. But going to an all girl’s school taught me a lot about being a woman. It taught me about the power of young girls together.

And it got me 11 GCSE’s and 4 A-Levels. So everyone’s a winner.

 

Words by Sian Brett