Female Misbehavior

Dir: Monika Treut, 1992. Starring: Camille Paglia, Annie Sprinkle. Documentary.
Female Misbehavior

The title of this documentary makes me angry. Of course you know why; here are these “bad girls” who swear and are neurotic loud-mouths who shouldn't display themselves so gracelessly. The director of these four documentaries should have known better, seeing as how she directed smut, but forgiveness can be given based on her choice of subjects. Director Monika Treut dips into the lives of four women who couldn't be more different than the average woman, and yet offer some amazing lessons in life. Camille Paglia, true-feminist and all-time eccentric, opens the documentary by revealing the fickle and dishonest reality of American feminism and gives her two cents on what is right and wrong with our view of women and their bodies. Camille's segment is followed by a short documentary on Annie Sprinkle, a notorious '80s porn star who worked with the likes of Jennifer Welles and now has a doctorate in human sexuality. Following Annie is a short on bondage, and one woman in particular whose life was forever changed by its introduction into her life. This particular short is a bit more on the experimental side, with less interview time and more artsy shots of skin against leather, etc. Following that is a documentary on Max, who's going through the expense and social hostility of a female to male sex change.

The first segment on Camille really blew my mind. As a woman who considered herself a feminist, I always found the idea of feminist theory as a whole to be very restrictive and a little contradictory. Camille is a fast-talking woman who always had issues with her sexuality. She flips from bisexual to asexual on a daily basis and could never understand why it was so difficult to find someone compatible. Her biggest issues come with women in the lesbian community who, for the most part, frown upon the idea of a partner who is still interested in men. I'm not sure if this reality is one that threatens their comfort or appears to be a false claim, but it's not unheard of for people in the gay community to disassociate themselves from those who leave the issue open. Camille also offers a more radical stance on feminism because she is pro-pornography and doesn't see it as something degrading for a woman, or a man. Many of her beliefs are compared to Freud and early masochistic arguments. This, along with her many other rants, have led many feminists to see her as the anti-feminist, or more amusing, the “Stalin of feminism.” Despite all of the negative criticism toward her, she's taught at and attended several prestigious universities and her book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, broke publishing records for scholastic literature. While I didn't agree with her entirely, I enjoyed her fervor and engaging arguments. If you're a woman who could never understand why productions like The Vagina Monologues had such huge success, you'll enjoy listening to Camille's interviews.

The Annie Sprinkle segment was a bit of a shock to my system. Her segment opens with her sitting on a bed, dressed sort of frumpy, explaining that she doesn’t feel complete being just "Anne." Her persona as Annie Sprinkle means the world to her and makes her feel beautiful, and she goes through the steps of putting on makeup and costumes in order to show you what a drastic difference it makes. Annie received a lot of fame for her jaw-dropping performances within pornography and very explicit stage acts. In this documentary there are several clips you must prepare yourself for as she gives herself a pap smear on stage and invites the crowd to get a closer look. But underneath the shock from her acts is a sense of relief, if that makes any sense. Her audience, men and women who look no different than anyone else, enjoy seeing someone so proud about her body. I feel as though the '80s followed a sexual revolution in the '60s that produced people who were very uplifted by sexual exploration, and Annie Sprinkle was sort of the poster child for that, in her own way.

The third segment on bondage is a little on the boring side, to be honest. It's an experimental short on a middle aged woman who discovered bondage and sadomasochism. Instead of a series of interviews, she's seen walking around the city in leather, and in the bathtub of her home bonded by rope. That's pretty much the gist of it. Treut seemed to think that her story was interesting, and perhaps it was when the film opened. However, the shocking aspect falls flat in this day and age.

The last segment on Max is quite interesting. It tells the story of a beautiful woman's struggle to understand why she was never happy being female. Max has not actually gone through a sex change, but has started taking hormones that assist in changing voice patterns and many mental and psycho-sexual functions. He explains a long history of being lesbian, yet not wanting to be a woman, as well as the struggle to find help getting a sex change. There were also the inevitable hardships that came with telling friends and family about the choice, and the expense of having the surgery. I felt as though this segment was very special because it was so informative. Max explains the before and after life of a woman morphing into a man very honestly, and with a touch of charming humor. It really removes a lot of the questions that come to mind when you hear of someone getting a sex change, and unfortunately, the stigma surrounding it.

Female Misbehavior is not about women doing “naughty” things or misbehaving, but about a small group of women who've chosen to live life on their own terms, regardless of the consequences. I can honestly say that it was the coolest and more interesting series of documentaries on sexuality and feminism and I recommend it those who are interested in the other side of the argument.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 4, 2011 2:05pm
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