Sunday, September 02, 2007

Genders and movie nudity

In the comments thread for More sex, please. We're American. by Jim Emerson, a discussion has started over the relative quantity of female vs. male nudity in cinema.

Following a comment bringing up the old chestnut that women are substantially naked substantially more often, I replied, "I've come to the rule of thumb that with no shirt on women are about 50% naked and men are maybe 25% naked. Because of the weird skew right there, the algebra to creating something reasonably interpretable as equality requires a complex algebra that's unlikely to ever get dealt with.

"As it goes, I've got to agree with Dane, seeing women's genitalia is virtually unheard of in mainstream cinema... and practically so even in arthouse movies. The general region shows up on rare occasion, although certainly not any more often than the male region, and as such, the actual male genitalia make an appearance.

"I'd say the concern over this would best be alleviated with more 100% naked people of both genders, but until then, I think the supposed double standard is overblown."

The other commenter, Liz, replied, "It's true that, due to the nature of our anatomy you rarely see women's genitalia. But you can argue semantics, anatomy and genitalia shots all you want, but if you count shots of topless women, full frontal nudity and shots from the rear (or rather, of the rear), male or female, women are still naked in movies a lot more than men."

My reply was and is that if you are considering the whole of cinema's over hundred year history, this is likely true, but that it isn't true in particular in the last twenty years.

Again, the complexity of female vs. male anatomy makes a reasonable assessment more difficult than people like to imagine. Topless women are considered more naked than topless men, although I'm unwilling to concede topless men as not adding in there anywhere. I'm also unwilling to concede that it's ever been substantially more common to see full frontal female nudity than full frontal male nudity in mainstream cinema, and that the amount of full frontal female nudity has decreased by a much larger percentage than full frontal male nudity in recent decades.

And, as I say, because of the nature of our anatomy, the average view of full frontal male nudity is a significantly more intimate view than the average viewing of full frontal female nudity.

There could be a remaining discrepancy. I'm not entirely ruling that out. I merely think the extent of it as a trend is greatly exaggerated and much more complicated to assess than people give it credit for at first glance.

Either way, I do think the solution is to have way more nudity from both genders, so we'll all be too distracted to be counting and adding up body parts and their respective "point value" to assess whose prurient needs are being better served by cinema.


Marty McKee said...

There's a simple explanation. Naked women are beautiful, and naked men are hideous. Not even women really want to see men naked in movies.

Neil Sarver said...

Marty, there's definitely something to this. I also think the women I've discussed this with at various times seem more annoyed at the principle than the fact of it.

As it goes, it's the real desire for it that makes it happen. I think a lot of the reason we're seeing so much less female nudity is that the Internet and proliferation of porn generally has harmed the desire of men to see nudity in movies. And even the briefest scan of or for porn for women, in a market that could and would clearly be willing to serve it, shows massively less. Hell, even women friendly places like Babeland have to rely heavily on female friendly malecentric porn.

cinebeats said...

Marty, there's definitely something to this.

I call bullshit!

I'm a woman and I REALLY like seeing naked men. Believe me when I say that if you're attracted to men, you enjoy seeing them nude. Lots of women are just too shy or prudish to say so.

For some reason an actor showing his dick on screen = a woman showing their breasts in most people's minds (including mine 50% of the time and I'm not sure why?).

Even with saying that, I've seen a LOT more female asses in films than men's and I would argue that it's more like a 75% vs. 25% with women being naked 75% more than their male counterparts.

I will confess that I tend to love actors like John Malkovich, Viggo Mortensen, Ewan McGregor and Cillian Murphy who are willing to let it all hang out.

With that mind, if you happen to come across any nude pics of Jason Statham or Asano Tadanobu please feel free to send them my way. ;D

Neil Sarver said...


I tried to note that I thought it's more complicated... I also think it's more complicated than men being more visually oriented, etc.

That said, I stand by the basic principle that we are to a place that while too many things are still run by men and with men in mind, if there were Big Bucks to be had providing images of naked men for the viewing pleasure of straight women, then the market would have filled it by now.

I'll acknowledge that male asses seem to have fallen off since the early '90s when they seemed to be de rigueur at that point, and is also when I started getting into this goofy debate. I may have to revise that if I ever get into this again.

That said, I remain, twenty years into having this, and I absolutely refuse to concede penises and breasts as being equivalent. As I said, I don't think our bodies... or at least the ways in which our society views them... allows for anything close to a simple answer to equivilency, but I don't think that comes close to even being a rough approximation of it.

I also have long been an advocate of male nudity, however. I think it makes better film on a whole variety of levels, not the least of which is prurient, a level of cinematic pleasure I encourage for everyone. As such, I also very much appreciate that there are indeed a number of prominent movie stars who are willing to do what it takes for their work.

Frankly, I think every actor, male, female, young, old, attractive, unattractive, thin, fat, tall, short should have to expect that nudity is part of the job that they chose to pursue and they will most likely have to do it eventually. Sometime perhaps for an "important" work, sometimes for mere entertainment.

But then my views of these things are clearly not the norm.

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