Today I wanted to talk a little about some media issues. I apologise in advance as the tone of this does feel a little formal, but there was a lot I wanted to say, so… deal with it!
I’ve been watching the series Wentworth recently. Wentworth is described as a contemporary reimagining of the series Prisoner (known in the UK as Prisoner: Cell Block H), but with less wobbly sets and at times, a grittier feel. Set in an Australian women’s “correctional facility”, the series follows the stories of the women in the institution, both as their stories develop during their incarceration and, through flashbacks, how they came to be in the facility.
The women portrayed in the series have a variety of backgrounds, personalities and sexualities. While watching episode 5 of the first series, entitled “The Velvet Curtain”, I was struck by the themes presented. From here on out, I will discuss the episode freely so if you have not yet seen it, you may deem the following to contain spoilers.
While a lot of other action takes place in episode 5, the overarching theme was that of female sexuality. This was explored from many angles – most strikingly as the women talked unabashedly about masturbation and in doing so caused visible unease in Bea, the lead character. As the other women realised Bea did not partake in self-pleasure, they pushed her to explain herself. Embarrassed, she flees the conversation, but it is clear this has set her mind turning. Later, we learn more of Bea’s history with sex; she married young and pregnant, with sex of little priority to her. One abusive husband later and she seems utterly disconnected from her own pleasure.
We learn that Erica, the governor, has been engaged to her fiancée for five years with no sign of a wedding, something her fiancée is unhappy about. Through flashbacks, it appears that their sex life was once exciting, yet seems to leave Erica cold now. Franky, a sexually voracious, lesbian inmate under Erica’s charge, who has shown significant interest in Erica, begins to dominate Erica’s mind, both during waking hours and in her dreams. Troubled by this, she seeks a more passionate life with her fiancée, which sees him react negatively. He doesn’t understand and feels as though Erica is suggesting he bores her.
This story really resonated with me, as someone who has been in a relationship where any display of sexual desire or demand was met defensively. I feel as though I know personally how damaging that can be – the subtle way in which such rejection wears a person down and teaches them not to approach their partner resonates through them for a long time, even after that relationship ends. To this day, I see myself as re-learning to be confident with sex and remembering that my partner doesn’t find it threatening that I have a sex drive.
Finally, in this episode we see Franky engaging in what seems to be, for her at least, no strings sex. What the other inmate makes of the encounter, we aren’t shown. To me, it seems apparent that Franky uses casual sex to detach herself from her feelings (in this instance, towards Erica) as to accept them would demand a vulnerability from her that she cannot handle.
It could be said that the whole episode formed a look at the way in which women can feel dissociated from their own sexuality, and the causes of that – be it dismissive partners, abuse, or inability to accept themselves in some way. I was glad to see issues such as this being handled in mainstream television, as the more we normalise female sexuality and recognise it as something to cherish and hold high rather than as something to demonise women for possessing, the better.
Women are not to be separated into two piles – the sluts and the virgins. Women are not “good girls” by virtue of denying their sexuality, nor are they inviting ANYTHING by celebrating it.
And now, I can step off my soap box.
And say, well done to the writers of Wentworth.