On the ‘TV to Big Screen’ shelves at Blockbuster, I found a DVD claiming to be erotica written and directed by women, for women. That’s a big claim, so I rented it to see how it lived up to its cover copy. It was called Bliss, and was put out by the Oxygen Network, which didn’t mean anything to me because I don’t have cable.
The DVD held 8 mini episodes, about 20 minutes each, each one with a different sexually charged situation and a woman acting out differently by the end of the episode than is her accustomed style in the beginning of the episode. So far so good; the cover copy advertised that the DVD was about women’s fantasies; assuming a fantasy is something you haven’t done, if the DVD was about women exploring their fantasies, then women acting differently than they usually do makes sense.
From there, it gets weird. I could swear that it was really designed by men trying to think of what women might fantasize about. There was the reverse situation of an older woman screwing one of her son’s musclebound friends and feeling foolish about it afterwards, which was at the very least unoriginal and uninspired. There was the ‘bitch’ character who keeps a man on a booty call once a week and never has a relationship with said person…until the romantic sensitive (much younger) guy comes along who isn’t satisfied with that.
In a volume about women by women for women, there was only one episode that dealt with lesbians – and the focus of the episode was an (older) woman being inexplicably drawn to a (younger) much more masculine lesbian than she usually was. In fact, the older woman eventually comments, “I feel like I just slept with a man.” Ultimately there were only two of the episodes that really dealt with strange fantasies; one where a woman has some light bondage/S&M fantasies going on and contrives to convince her boyfriend to try them out with her, and the first episode where a photographer becomes obsessed with a gay libertine who is interested rather than scared by her obsession.
There were three things that bothered me about the claims of the DVD. As a feminist, it bothered me that a volume about the fantasies of women was so hung up on the woman meeting a man who changes her life. Even the one lesbian episode showed a femme lesbian getting involved with a drag queen (dressed as a man) which was unusual for her. Out of eight, only the S&M girl didn’t meet a new guy.
More basic than that, however, was that in a volume supposedly for women, there was a whole lot of women being naked (tons of skinny girls almost non-existent breasts in various sexual scenes) but very little of guys. Maybe women aren’t as hung up on visual stimulation, but most women who aren’t bisexual aren’t going to watch erotica for the shots of women, and lesbians aren’t going to watch to see women with men. Beyond that, the focus of the way the scenes were shot and the camera angles and such were focused as ordinary TV is, with the camera on the woman – the most common angle during a sexual interlude was from over the man’s right shoulder right in the woman’s face or breasts. I really didn’t think this was how women’s fantasies would be in their own minds. Rather, this is how we see directorship in the patriarchal world catering to the male gaze – which is supposedly not supposed to be involved in this project. Instead of seeing from an angle of standing by and watching, seeing a woman’s fingers laced into a man’s back or the expression on her face or looking at her chest, shouldn’t such a project show more of a focus on making the (presumed female) viewer feel like she is interacting with the scene, like she could place herself there?
And I couldn’t leave out how creepy it was that the main characters were mostly a generation older than their newfound sexual playthings. It didn’t help that most of those main characters were women. It was just plain creepy.