Disclaimer: This film was previewed before the intended premiere and cancellation of SXSW 2020.
In season two of Grey’s Anatomy, the infamous “Vajayjay” was born. We have all used it, the term becoming indoctrinated into vernacular to describe the female anatomy, a loose and relaxed reference. The story behind the creation of this term, however, did not come out of humor, but rather clever writing due to the restriction on how many times the female genitals can be mentioned on network television.
I found myself calling back to this as The Desire of Dilemma began, a copy of “Gray’s Anatomy” taken from a shelf, the index in the back falling to list the clitoris, the book itself failing to provide images and diagrams. While there are several (and I mean several!) images and cross-sections of the penis, the clit remains absent. Personally shocked to hear this, I instantly went to my bookshelf, taking out my 2010 edition, and sure enough, while it was listed in the index, there were only four page number listings of the organ and only two images – both of which never showing the true shape.
Where the clitoris is the gateway to pleasure, here it is the gateway to exploration of the female orgasm, female biology and the social and political ramifications of embracing female sexuality. If you think you have heard it all, The Dilemma of Desire, from director Maria Finitzo, will open your eyes, presenting womanhood and sexuality from all facets of life and the world, giving each woman a voice and a new sense of empowerment.
Control and Power
The Dilemma of Desire finds its strength in its showcase, relying on acts, comparisons and even art to help get each element of its message across. While we are introduced immediately to the lack of knowledge science provides, with the most popular text sorely lacking information, The Dilemma of Desire immediately dives into the lives of those who have made it their mission to inform the public and normalize a stigma. From this moment, the idea of control and power begins to form and take shape.
Control and power are elements that information, or lack thereof, can change a perspective and hierarchy. Sophia Wallace is one who is not only taking the power back but empowering those around her. Through her art, she is bringing awareness to the clitoris, using it as a sign and an emblem of the power of the female form and the strength it brings to women. Through her sculpturing and various art mediums, knowledge is power, and her exhibitions have inspired.
For years, men have controlled the direction of science and the exploratory paths the studies would follow. As more and more women have entered into the field, the information that once lay strictly in the hands of men regarding the bodies of women has slowly begun to wane. Corporations run strictly by men too are finding that better product development and sales can be met by bringing the female perspective into development and marketing. While the control of someone’s body is a continuing issue, it is the breaking of this control that received the brightest spotlight.
Yet, control and power go beyond just men, corporations and heightening female empowerment. The Dilemma of Desire also looks at the children brought up in an ever-changing society. Control can be someone dictating what women can do with their bodies, it’s a power that can be taken from us if we are not educated to know our bodies. This control extends to children, especially from parents. We control what they will know and the belief system they will grow up in. We set the barriers and restraints for how far they can go, how much they can learn and the relationship we present to embrace questions and concerns.
Where inclusion can break the control of information, college is a moment for many to take your power, freedom from parents and limited perspectives now broadened. You can explore your sexuality, beliefs and the limit of knowledge is now only based on how far you are willing to go. There was a kindredness that exudes from this aspect, finding my own comparisons, many of which audiences alike will share.
“In the USA, only 24 states require some sort of sex education, only 13 require that the information be medically accurate.” If there is any indication to the mindset of adults, it starts way back when we are children. Schools and parents are the primary influence of beliefs, values, and knowledge for children. What we choose to say and discuss, and what we choose to exclude, can continue a cycle or break it. When hearing this statistic at the very beginning of the introduction into this section of The Dilemma of Desire, I found myself shocked and sorely realizing how much farther we have to go.
Sexual education in the United States is about prevention, rather than education. We do not want to give to much information that could promote promiscuity or sexual exploration. We want to give just enough to protect those that do, and deter the curiosity. Within the film, one girls asks if only they could do a study to see the impact of proper knowledge of sex and anatomy would have on children – a suggestion to which is harshly and realistically shot down. This is something that would never happen.
Yet, as The Dilemma of Desire continues, viewers will be shocked to fully realize, it is discussed and normalized – for boys. We have deep conversations with boys about wet dreams and erections (just to name a few), comforting and explaining that it is normal – giving ways to manage and understand. Yet, while these conversations occur to help boys through puberty, we fail to acknowledge or teach our girls that they too have sex dreams, that their clit can too can become erect – that these are just as normal. Again this brings us back around to control and power – knowledge. Who has it and who is allowed to use it.
Sex education though goes beyond just children. In a recent episode of The Orgasm, Explained on Netflix, they discussed the misinformation that continues to circulate. One example: for a woman to reach maximum sexual pleasure, intercourse was the only way to go. This misinformation, and failure to push education and knowledge, has left many to experience shame, embarrassment and acceptance that they can not finish. But recent research has shown it is rather the clitoris that is necessary. The Dilemma of Desire only further drives this home, stating only about 25% of women can reach orgasm from intercourse alone. We need to educate ourselves, defying the status quo and venturing out to find what works for us and to educate ourselves on what we need to live our sexual lives to the fullest. From this knowledge comes the ability to ask for what we want, to voice what makes us feel good. Hey, if men can say what they like and want, shouldn’t we be able to as well?
Shame and embarrassment
This was one of the strongest focuses within The Dilemma of Desire – and understandably so. Not a section, but rather interlaced into each of the talking heads’ stories, working through each element of female sexuality we find ourselves in – education, control or disempowerment because of the views of others and society. Embarrassment is another term commonly associated with shame, and one that seems to be just as accepted.
From a young girl dancing to the purchasing of vibrators, each action seems to be one women must calculate not only for the choices they are making but for the ramifications that follow that they must live with. Like a young girl dancing in a dress that makes her feel good invites boys touching her boobs and uncles requesting her to sit on their lap. Vibrators present awkward conversations with family members, and embarrassment to ask questions, to embrace pleasure. They are listed as a novelty, not as a means of pleasure. Even red lipstick for a young teenager is presented as promiscuous and inappropriate. Many of this comes from cultural upbringing and environment, for some even religion. Virginity pledges set an expectation for children early on, that not only is your family expecting purity – but so is God.
Shame and embarrassment are only heightened in today’s age. Social media exposes women to deep ridicule and judgmental opinions of those who feel they have the correct view of what a woman should look like, behave and exhibit. A recent example that speaks to the message The Dilemma of Desire is trying to express was the attention Millie Bobby Brown recently received for when she wore an outfit at the 2020 SAG Awards red carpet – and outfit deemed to be too mature for a 15-year-old. In an expression of womanhood, Brown was ridiculed for her choice – others deciding what is appropriate and what is not. Many women fall prey to the ridicule of others, social media facilitating the ability to shame and embarrass. The freedom of expression and exploration placed under a microscope.
Conclusion: The Desire of Dilemma
I really enjoyed The Dilemma of Desire, unable to shake many of its messages and moments of enlightenment. It is a fascinating exploration in female sexuality and everything it encompasses. I found myself rewinding the screener I had been given the opportunity to see, shock and curiosity driving me to make sure I did not miss a beat. It is an eye-opening and a vital informational showcase for everyone today, yesterday and tomorrow.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.