Wednesday, November 11, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: The Dilemma of Desire

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th. 

The Dilemma of Desire
Directed by Maria Finitzo
Ticket Information

The title of this documentary is probably the least controversial thing about it, and that’s precisely the point. Among its strongest arguments is that men have, for all of history, been the decision makers about issues related solely to women, and that much of what women have learned about their own bodies in educational settings comes from the perspective of a man. There are a number of women actively working to change that, flipping the narrative so that women are in control of the way that they teach others and market products allegedly related to their own bodies that only they could actually understand.

Sophia Wallace is an artist whose primary work features the term “cliteracy,” designed to give people a much better and more transparent understanding of how female pleasure is supposed to work. Dr. Stacey Dutton teaches college students about the clitoris. Dr. Lisa Diamond looks at the brain and where desire comes from in her position at the University of Utah teaching psychology and gender studies. Ti Chang designs vibrators and other products that are made with both women and elegance in mind. All four tackle different aspects of the same issue: the pervasive and prevailing beliefs in society about female pleasure that are just plain wrong.

This film’s subjects provide a wealth of knowledge, presenting their research and their bafflement that so much that is incorrect has been taught for so long. Among many other fascinating insights, this film covers the invention of the vibrator as a medical instrument meant to ease the burden on male doctors rather than something designed for the benefit of women, and the clear marketing of many modern devices based on male expectations of what women should want. The statistics presented are damning and infuriating, and it’s especially jarring to learn that much of what these women want to talk about it is considered inappropriate because of the perceived nature of its content, ineligible for advertising on Facebook, among other things, while anything about male desire or pleasure flies under the radar as completely acceptable.

There are many entertaining moments throughout this documentary that come up as the subjects describe their own experiences and the way others who think they know better have talked down to them. But this film makes an extraordinarily powerful transition to the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh and how this type of thinking, however humorous it may be to reflect on, can be very dangerous because of how it gets applied to the detriment of women. This film will likely be just as unappealing to audiences not ready to hear any of its crucial information as terms like “cliteracy,” but there is so much just waiting to be unpacked and explored further after this invigorating and enlightening deep dive.


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