It's Valentine's Day, a holiday that strikes equal parts excitement and contempt within me (and I have a feeling it might in you, as well!) In theory, I relish the idea of a day that we as a society dedicate to love. Yet somehow in the execution of it, the day becomes a dreaded event. One that focuses on love in all of the wrong ways. As I've mulled over these conflicting feelings, it's brought me back to a topic that I've wanted to write about on this very blog for quite some time...
After Bread and Butter was released, I found myself incredibly proud to be a part of a film that champions a woman's point of view and --even more unusual-- normalizes female desire. Even though women are encouraged to embrace love and sexuality, it is rarely on their own terms. I've been so thrilled to witness that audiences of our movie picked up on these themes. I've continued to be moved by the thoughtful questions I've received on these issues, from reporters and audiences alike.
Yet somehow in the midst of all this excitement, I was confronted deep-seated fear within me. You see, I never thought I'd see a headline that paired my name and the word masturbation. But there it was. And it was frightening: Christine Weatherup on Masturbating On-Screen In Feminist Rom-Com ‘Bread and Butter’. How could I share this article? What would people think of me??
So, let me back up a bit…
If you haven't seen the movie yet, here's a quick spoiler: the opening scene of the movie starts with my character masturbating. It's bold and daring and precisely why I think Bread and Butter is an important film. In this opening, it does something subversive: it takes female sexuality seriously. Amelia (my character) is never an object; She is a complex, layered woman who, while still a virgin, is sexual. Her sexuality is not a joke or a punch line. I am proud to be a part of a story that is sex positive and (more importantly) female positive. The film is squarely on “Team Amelia,” and I LOVE that.
And yet, this headline continues to give me butterflies. It's scary to share this article right now, even though I love what it has to say and am so freaking excited that people, like writer Rachel Simon, are "getting" our film. Nevertheless, I’m terrified. Which brings to light the question of what makes me so nervous about the headline. If I’m so unabashedly proud of the message of our film, why is it that I'm still afraid? Is it that I’m afraid that I'll be judged or harassed? Disliked? That people won’t see the actor as separate from the character? But really, I think it comes down to a larger problem: I am scared that we live in a time when women can be simultaneously celebrated and yet also berated.
We have so many examples of strong, complex women who are taking center stage right now: Amy Schumer, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Gina Rodriguez, Amy Poehler, to name just a few. These women each provide unique perspectives of the female experience, and audiences are clearly responding to it. Additionally, we have incredible female auteurs like Ava DuVernay, Jill Solloway and Shonda Rhimes who are filling their stories with fascinating, complex women. What a wonderful time we live in!
However, even when female creators are celebrated for bringing differing representations of women to the forefront, they are concurrently chastised and judged. When Lena Dunham released her book, “Not That Kind of Girl”, the news story quickly focused on of her story about being raped. She was questioned, insulted and attacked, and was placed in the position of victim.
In some ways, this comes with the territory of being an artist. But it certainly seems that women are faced with more vitriol and judgment than their male counterparts. I suppose this is why I’m struggling. As an actor, I relish the opportunity to disappear behind a character, to meld the creation of the writer with my own interpretation. The job of an actor is an odd blend of being seen but also hiding. And yet, once the film is complete, there is no more hiding.
Of course, it’s been well publicized that sexism continues to be rampant in our industry: According to research from the Geena Davis Institute, only a pitiful 7% of feature films are directed by women. It is perhaps unsurprising that, in an environment where women are given fewer opportunities to tell their stories, female characters and perspectives are similarly sidelined: women occupied less than a third of the speaking roles in film, and only 23% of films had a female protagonist. Instead of being written with agency, needs and desires --including sexual desires-- female characters are relegated to a secondary position, where they are simply the romantic interest of a male lead.
And as these statistics begin to improve, female desires and perspectives will become normalized, and perhaps it won’t be so subversive to see a woman on screen that owns her sexuality. It won’t be unusual to have a story that shows a multi-dimensional vision of what it means to be a woman. And maybe those that commit to tell these complex stories will not become targets themselves.
I hope that our film and others like it reach audiences. I hope that it empowers women, young and old, who feel all these fears that I do. Because maybe this fear that I am feeling is exactly why I needed to make this film. Maybe one day I won't feel like this headline is a scarlet letter of sorts. Maybe female sexuality won’t be something that is scrutinized, but instead celebrated in all of its variations. When audiences embrace differing depictions of female desire, we all win. Together we can demand more diverse representations of women onscreen and off.
And hey, maybe we can start this today? Maybe Valentine's Day can be about celebrating women in all their multi-faceted glory and desires.
Happy Valentine's Day, friends!
** Update: Reader Mary reached out with a link to this "Empowering Internet Safety Guide for Women". I thought it might be helpful **
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