I recently took three hours out of my busy schedule to check out the re-release of “Titanic” in theaters. Ignore the fact I saw it by myself the day before Valentine’s Day — it is one of my favorite movies, so I put the loneliness aside. Even if you have never seen the film, chances are you are familiar with the iconic scene of Kate Winslet being drawn like “one of those French girls.” It has a surprising amount of nudity for a PG-13 film, and it got me wondering, why are we not seeing anything from Leo? This mundane observation grew into a much larger concern; why is full-frontal male nudity not more common in film?
I’m not saying that there are films or shows that have shied away from letting their male leads show it all, but when you really start to look into the subject, it is clear that more is expected of female stars than their male counterparts.
In my incognito-tab based research, I came across a fascinating article by The Michigan Daily entitled “the boob: balls ratio.” This article then led me to a study conducted by the Annenberg Foundation in 2018. The piece explored inequality in film regarding portrayal of gender, race, disabilities and more. In the study, 1,100 films were tested on a variety of factors and some of the key observations noted “Female characters (28.4%) were far more likely than male characters (7.5%) to be shown in tight or alluring apparel, and with some nudity.” When looking at the percentage of sexualization in male and female characters in films from 2007 to 2017, the differences are just as drastic.
Even without the research, think about the last movie you watched where a female character removed her clothing – consider how much the camera lingers. Now, think about that same movie and if a male character is shown in an equal amount if at all. There’s clearly an argument to be made for the fact that the majority of directors in Hollywood are men, with an even greater argument to be made that most studios are run by men. It’s unfortunate that the most likely reason for these discrepancies is the male gaze, but let’s examine further.
In an article by The Lily, Clarissa Smith, a professor of sexual cultures at the University of Sunderland, is interviewed on this very subject. In the article, Smith expresses that there are different types of female nudity in film — “sexy and sexist.” She cites Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones.” She explained that audiences are not watching her because she is “occasionally naked” but because she is a well-written and strong character.
That can go for nudity in film in general. Most audiences are very self-aware when nudity in any art is used with meaning, and used to be exploitative. The point I’m trying to make is that the depiction of nudity, whether tasteful or not, is greatly unequal between genders. Films will go to great lengths to obscure, hide, and shoot scenes in a way where a male actor’s penis is practically invisible. Most of the actresses in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have bared it all in other films, but the only reason we know what Captain America is packing is because Chris Evans did not look twice before posting.
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