Netflix is running the documentary Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution from 2017 which I thought might teach me something new about the culture and/or sexuality. It didn’t. I’ve been hearing the same messages in this documentary since being a Christian teen in the 1990s.
I’m not saying the culture hasn’t changed or is not more permissive sexually, but the fears given in this documentary are old. They may still be relevant to think about (there’s always a new generation entering adolescence and then college age), but it’s a disappointing film. I believe it most likely cherry picked situations and the producers think what they caught on camera is more important and insightful than it is. Just take a look at the website and how it leads you into a “What’s Next?” with a manifesto and then videos against objectification and porn. I’m not saying we can’t consider the concerns raised in the film as bad things happen and should be discussed, only that all of these concerns are old news and the documentary is lacking in depth and content.
Commentary is given in between scenes of spring breakers acting like idiots; brief interviews with academics and book authors with no mention about the intersection of male biology and female biology (or even homosexuality and transgender sexuality). It was as if biology didn’t exist in regards to the casual sex being frowned upon. The entire focus was on the pernicious nature of hook-up culture between male and female on Spring Break, the emphasis being on “culture” or–and I’m interpreting–a new socially constructed sexuality. Can we really extrapolate a “New Sexual Revolution” from drunken heterosexual hook-ups in Panama City, FL? Do we really know where biology stops and where culture begins or how they feed off of each other? Do the statistics bear out when it comes to accusations of bad behavior or assault or rape on Spring Break? And how many college kids who were in Panama City during the filming enjoyed their sexual experiences? We’ll never really know based on this exploration? Opinions are expressed, but no stats. The film highlights sexual fear.
As you pass the 40 minute mark in the film, there was the expected condemnation of women being objectified (which is an old argument against media, porn, film, TV and guys liking sexy women), and–because I knew it was coming–the term “rape culture” was rolled out. “Objectification” and “rape,” words laid upon boring scenes the audience of this documentary endured of men hitting on women, women and men talking about there being no such thing as love, binge drinking, and several sexual hook ups. With the exception of groping (and even that was often by permission in many of the scenes they showed) and slut shaming (Which I hate. If women want to have sex or be sexual there should be no such thing as a slut–it’s a double standard), most of what was shown was consensual behavior (sometimes stupid behavior I agree, but both parties were engaged). There were also several scenes of women saying “no” to taking their top off, being motor boated, and being picked up for a proposed sexual encounter. The more I reflected on the the film, the more normal it seemed. The sexual landscape is not a problem-free paradise, it’s messy. What was so new?
In regards to “objectification” I’m increasingly skeptical if this term has any real use. It is an overused term and often ill-defined in regards to it being a good or bad thing. It is mostly used by fundamentalists, both Christian and Feminist, in order to seem like they care about the “self” instead of the real goal of controlling sexuality to fit their ideals. So what if we as sexual beings “sexually objectify”? It’s not the entirety of our sexuality. Apparently, it’s the same as lust which is very natural for both sexes to do and should not be sex shamed. Or the word is used to demonize sexy fantasies like an unobtainable celebrity or model or even a comic book character. Most of us can distinguish fantasy from reality and if not, due to ignorant youth, the reality check comes soon.
It’s also clear that every woman on the beach in Liberated was sexualizing (objectifying according to the accusation of the word) their bodies (which is fine and is not an indication of rape culture or that someone should call them sluts). The academics and film bias suggest the women do not know any better when it comes to objectifying themselves (such as entering a bikini contest) and that culture (or herd mentality) has tricked them into it. I can’t disagree that peer pressure makes us do dumb things, but I don’t want to treat women like children either. They are responsible for making good choices even in the face of pressure–it’s called being an adult. What was not mentioned was that the men were sexualizing themselves too for the sake of attracting women. Young women expect muscles in return for their bikini bodies. I’ve never seen so many men with abs, pecs and biceps on full display. Certainly, I cannot live up to that kind of objectification (even though I still exercise with my creaky-sounding joints). Where were the fat nerds women wanted for their manly minds and manly inner beauty?
Spring Break orgies are nothing new. Even one of the college women interviewed remembered watching MTV Spring Break as a kid (the film hints that it was sort of like a training video for the future and might be the reason why she was engaging in such “competitive” behavior with other women). Young people in their twenties want to let off steam and they want to have sex. Yawn. How surprising? Sex is “competitive” (another daring film insight). Yawn again. Mix in alcohol and you’ll see some pornographic results. Is that rape culture? The film does cover a notorious rape incident from 2015 and says every Spring Break there are incidents of rape. I believe it. However, Spring Break partiers do not represent the entirety of the United States. Nor even a rape within a Spring Break event represents the danger of the event. What statistic has been agreed upon by academics that would indicate a rape culture? How are we measuring this indictment of our culture? The 1 in 5 rape statistic on college campuses (shown on screen in the movie) is in dispute because of poorly defined data. I won’t deny there is misogyny in the culture or aspects of our culture that might encourage rape, but for me to believe that our culture as a whole endorses rape requires the necessary correlations (and rape, statistically, has been on the decline). And I don’t consider groping and sexual harassment the same as rape (they are not to be dismissed but are also not the same thing). I am reticent to dilute actual rape by making it equal to grabbing someone’s ass or forcible kissing (certainly those can be criminal acts though). One of the reasons I balk at rape culture terminology is that it turns everything into rape and therefore nothing is really rape. Rape should be an easily identifiable physical violation of a man or woman that makes the perpetrator criminally liable.
If you think at this point I’m excusing bad behavior, I’m not. I really am not. I hate Spring Break mentality and I don’t like insecure women (or men) having sex strictly because of peer pressure. I’m not against the supposedly rampant consensual sex (as long as they’re safe), but the dumbed down alcoholic herds roaming the beaches wasting their parents’ money make me shake my head. I can’t stand men who call women sluts once they give in to showing their breasts (which speaks volumes of how we’ve shamed breasts in the USA). I like smart women. I think beauty and brains is hot. I love STEM. I’d rather see science as an encouraged female profession and stripping as a fun hobby for exhibitionists. I think preventing rape is, of course, a societal imperative. What I hate about this film is a return to same old arguments including subtle sex shaming and unfounded sex fears. It feels like propaganda instead of the film exploration we need. I’m sure Spring Break can turn toxic for certain individuals, but statistically is it toxic and does it represent our entire culture? Are more women being assaulted and raped than are having consensual sex and enjoying their sexuality? Is the percentage of abuse high enough to call an alarm on Spring Break? The filmmakers failed to make those correlations or provide relevant and interesting information to make their case.
The agenda of Liberation is even more clear on their site which to me is sexual confusion and sex shaming instead of reinforcing reasonable boundaries needed in sexual interactions. It’s interesting that these activists are against objectification and yet chose two beautiful people as the backdrop for their anti-objectification/anti-lust manifesto. I would like an honest discussion of sexuality including biology and culture; of how my body and looks will affect me and others, and from there a discussion on creating a better culture or a better “me.” Instead, the agenda appears to remove “me” from my body as if I have a soul? As if sex has nothing to do with my body or how I look. That’s not reality. Yes, we should treat everyone with dignity and respect, but an anti-lust campaign? Sometimes young people have sex with another person once and that’s all it was–pleasureful lust. Maybe it was satisfying, maybe it was stupid, maybe it was an embarrassing regret. Then they grow up and find a relationship because maturity sets in as their sexual experience grows. Not always, but more often than not.
Update: And whaddya know? This is a Christian documentary disguising itself with no mention of its religious bias. Created by the Christian nonprofit Exodus Cry, the film, “Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution,” tackles the “normalization” of sexual exploitation seen during college spring break in Panama City Beach, Florida, and the impact the porn industry is having on millennials. And yet, I wrote the review before I realized that was the case. I knew it had to do with sex shaming and that it felt like propaganda. Mix partial truths with unverified beliefs and you get a useless film.
Sidenote: I’m not against a discussion on the potential for Spring Break sexual abuse, but we might want to concern ourselves more with combatting binge drinking which seems to be one of the main causes rather than porn, hook ups and old arguments for objectification. If you’re intoxicated with people you don’t know you make bad decisions.