Disclaimer: I am not mentioning the production's name as the film has not come out yet, and I do not want to find myself with legal issues.
I intend to do a regular series about different women in the film industry. I want to introduce this topic by sharing my first on-set experience as I think it illustrates perfectly why we need a more gender balanced industry, and why we need to celebrate the women working in it.
The production had requested a group of models, I guess to be camera friendly goods in the background. This is not surprising, we know the film and T.V industry is looks-prejudiced. I'm a model as well as an actress, so I got the gig. I was also pretty excited about it. Before accepting the role I was asked over the phone if I was comfortable going topless. They asked ‘yes’, ‘no', ‘or depends how it is shot’. I said ‘it depends how it is shot’, which is definitely not a yes. Note.
The days spent filming were in a tightly packed tavern set. I couldn't say how many extras, but the room was completely filled. There were meant to be prostitutes in the scene. Some of these women were completely naked; everything on show. There was notably zero male nudity. It really struck me as peculiar. It's true the women were prostitutes, but I feel like the men may have been slightly undressed, not buttoned up to their necks. This results in an image of the women being on parade, rather than the men engaging in a sexual experience. I also found myself taking a lot of issue with the general attitude towards the women who were allowing their bodies to be used. The women were seen as commodities, and there was no ounce of sensitivity. Men were gawping and giggling. A personal example is when we were going to first positions, and a man tries to put a coin down my top. I flinched back and yelped, mainly from shock. He then says ‘don’t shout, it’s only a game’. It was only after that I had really realized what had happened, a man had tried to put a coin down my top, and pretended that it was all part of the atmosphere. The problem is, it was part of the atmosphere. The women and their exposed bodies had become a game for the men, a chance for them to leer over women and pretend it was for work. In what other line of work would it be ok for a man to drop a coin down a young woman's top? (aside from the obvious)
The pinnacle of discomfort for me was when I was asked to go topless. The assistant director gave us our positions and after telling me my directions he loudly instructed ‘we’ll have you topless.’ There was no quietly taking me to the side and asking if I would be ok being topless, it was demanded in front of everyone. I still remember the excruciating moment when I felt all eyes on me as I struggled to bring my corset down so I could be topless. It was horrible. To make matters worse the man I was partnered with was being over sexual with me. He was ‘getting into character' I suppose. But he felt the need to always have his arm around me, stroke me, and have his crotch pressed to my side, even when we weren’t filming. I don’t even feel like he was a horrible man, but because this was the general way the girls were being treated, he was embracing the attitude. I felt hideous. Everything felt wrong. You may ask- why didn’t I just refuse?
As I said, it was easy to be swept up by the atmosphere and I felt like there was something wrong with me for feeling uncomfortable. Also being on a film set there is so much pressure, and not really the chance to say you’re not happy. I was 23, on my first feature film set in a room crammed full of people that just expected me to do what is asked. Also I’m an actress, and I was thinking, that this is what actors do right?... After the first take I knew it felt wrong so I tried to then make sure my nipples were covered for the rest of the takes.
Whilst this was happening to me, my friend had been asked to dance on a table. And then in the middle of the filming, an AD asked her to go topless. Again, in front of everyone, not allowing her the chance to quietly say she felt uncomfortable. They then eventually asked her to pour water down her front as another male extra licked it from her. This was cold water. No assistance was offered, no towel was given to her, and no one came up to make sure she was ok.
If you were watching these scenes in a film, you might think they're relatively normal, especially as they are currently everywhere. This experience got me thinking about the realities of female nudity on screen, especially when there is a team full of men, just asking for any kind of exposure at their request.
I’m not against women getting naked, but I am against it just being expected of them, and the complete lack of respect. It is not sending a great message in our culture, if on screen women are always more exposed than men. If women are asked to be naked on set, complete respect for their bodies should be given.
I really hope the industry changes where it is not expected for women to be nude all the time. Sometimes it is really not necessary. True Detective is a perfect example. The first series was absolutely terrific and I loved watching it. Apart from one slight problem, the amount of gratuitous female nudity balanced with no male nudity. Sex scenes where you see everything of the woman’s body; and nothing of the man’s (see image above from google). Woody Harrelson literally just zipped his flies at the end of the scene to suggest they had had sex, whereas we’d had a good two minutes seeing every nook and cranny of the girl’s body. It was weird.
So I'm a bit tired of T.V and films where there's an obvious gender imbalance. I want to find projects that tell interesting stories about women. I’m not bothered about watching women as sex objects. We know women can be sexy. Time for change.