Last week, an interview with the famed director Bernardo Bertolucci resurfaced. In the interview, he admitted that the infamous rape scene in Last Tango In Paris between a 19 years old Maria Schneider and 48 years old Marlon Brando was unscripted and set up without the prior knowledge of Schneider until the sequence was just about to be shot.
Bertolucci's reasons for this monstrous plan was that he wanted Schneider to react not as an actress, but "as a girl". For decades Schenider claimed that she was virtually raped during the filming though these comments were never given their due attention.
The recent controversy seems too little too late given that Schneider passed away in 2011.
While this news has caused a huge amount of disgust, it needs to be questioned what caused both men to think that shooting a rape sequence without the consent of the actress involved was in any way the right or necessary thing to do.
Was it perhaps the desire to make the best film at any cost?
Was it the fact that, as it was not a genuine rape, the scene was somehow ok?
Or was it perhaps that Bertolucci and Brando were products of a culture that placed (and still places) male sexual agency and moral authority over that of women?
While we are clearly living in an age of unparalleled romantic and sexual agency for both men and women. The patriarchal structure of contemporary society means that the male sexual agency is placed at a higher level of importance to that of women. The causes of this, whatever they are, may be manifold. But many subconsciously accept this, thus continuing, without realisation, this level of gender inequality.
It is continued too by the endorsement of all elements of modern culture, from advertising to high art. It is a commonplace maxim of advertising that "sex sells" but rarely does it sell to a female audience, except in products specifically marketed to women.
Of the 20 most successful romantic comedies of all time (Box Office Mojo), only four are from the perspective of a woman, this is particularly notable as far fewer men than women go to see romantic comedies in the cinema. This is particularly striking as the most successful romantic comedy of all time (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is from the perspective of a woman. Also, many of the most popular and critically successful romantic films like the Bridget Jones films and Bridesmaids. It seems they are just harder to get made.
Films overtly sexual in nature, almost are exclusively from the perspective of men.
In Doreen Massey's Space, Place, And Gender, she mentions a time when she visited a gallery and noticed that virtually all of the nude figures in the gallery were women. Ever since reading this, I too haven't been able to unsee this. This is the case in likely every single art gallery in the world.
Only in classical art and sculpture does male nudity seem commonplace.
Whilst the female nudity isn't necessarily always sexual in nature, a naked woman in art could represent human reproduction, for example, it seems naive to think that it the high level of female nudity in art, could be a representation of an older form of societal focus on male sexuality over women.
Whilst this is a shameful aspect of our culture, a greater shame is when this culturally encouraged focus on male sexuality leads to action. I'm talking, of course, about unsolicited photographs of penises.
I carry my mobile phone with me at nearly all times, so does everyone else. While I do so, I have constant access to both a camera and the internet, wherein I can communicate with total strangers with substantial ease. This ability was unknown ten years ago, and now it is utterly ubiquitous.
Its ubiquitousness allows for it to be easily abused, malicious or sexually aggressive messages can be sent to strangers. Even merely knowing the person they are communicating with is female can be enough to start sexually aggressive or malicious messages. As photos can be easily linked to these posts, photos are sent, usually of penises.
This isn't rare either, I have spoken to many who have mentioned that they have received penis pics, never have I heard of a woman sending unsolicited photos of their breasts or vagina. This culturally endorsed focus on male sexuality seems, to me the cause.
Though this seems a uniquely modern phenomenon, this could simply stem from the ease of this sending these messages and photos, instead of suggesting that attitudes are changing.
Note: This piece is going to be shamefully heteronormative. My reason for this comes down to how heterosexuality is still the most visual, most dominant form of sexuality. Whilst in this piece I write about the scarcity of female-focused romantic comedies, out of 100 most successful romantic comedies of all time, not one has a same-sex relationship as its focus.
While there are movies featuring and focusing on same-sex relationships (notably last year's Carol) These are strikingly rare.