The movie under analysis, Lila Says (2005), is a screening of a French novel that goes under the same name. Ziad Doueiri directed this drama and managed to tell a story of the youth who start their way in the adult world. The story is set in one of the poor neighborhoods of Marseille, where Muslim immigrants constitute the majority (Doueiri, 2005). A Polish orphan, Lila, living with her lesbian aunt is quite different, and she stresses her “otherness,” revealing her sexuality.
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The sixteen-year-old girl makes friends with Chimo, an 18-year-old youth. The friendship is loaded with sensuality as Lila tells her new friend about her sexual experience that appears to be her fantasies. In certain ways, Lila may seem a feminist who wants to stand up to the norms of the patriarchal society and be free sexually. Nevertheless, this view is rather erroneous, and a closer analysis shows that Lila’s sexual freedom and rebel, as well as her dirty talk, are a product of the patriarchal society.
Prior to starting the analysis, it is necessary to note that it is prone to certain misinterpretation since Lila’s thoughts are never revealed in the movie. Therefore, the focus is on her actions and words. First, it is important to distinguish between a feminist or sexually empowered individual and an embodiment of patriarchal traditions and fantasies. Hollibaugh (1996) notes that women are calling themselves feminists have often tried to ignore their sexuality or reveal it as a way to oppose the norms of the patriarchal society.
The researcher stresses that feminists have feared to listen to and hear their desires and inclinations, which led to their attitude towards sex and sexuality. Sexual satisfaction is regarded as a male’s prerogative, and sex is seen as a men’s domain. However, Hollibaugh (1996) emphasizes that sex is the terrain for exploring equality and collaboration, as well as the area to research and develop theoretical frameworks within the scope of Feminism.
In terms of such views, Lila can hardly be viewed as a true feminist and sexually empowered person. She seems to reveal her sexuality, but this is not an act of empowerment. She does not feel or act as if she were free. The teenage girl simply wants to seem free, which can be regarded as her self-defense mechanism. She is not a free female but an embodiment of patriarchal fantasies. The girl’s dirty talk is one of the most conspicuous actions that hint at Lila’s being sexually inexperienced. She tells different things to Chimo, who believes that Lila did what she shared with him.
The modern media bombard people with various messages, the vast majority of which is somehow related to sexuality or sex. Pornography is largely available to everyone, and young people can learn about sex from this source rather than from literature or professionals.
Peers are not the primary source of this kind of knowledge for many teenagers. For instance, Lila uses Chimo as an object to feel empowered. Lila knows about the way certain tasks, actions, and appearance can affect males. She explores these ways to feel she is in control of something. The young female has to face a myriad of issues, including poverty, discrimination, and the lack of opportunities. The power over Chimo is a way to take control over some spheres of her existence.
Lila’s dirty talk is a way to explore and exercise this power. She describes sexual intercourses, but these descriptions are based on pornography rather than her personal experiences. Her stories are not “feminist porn” or liberating in any way, but they are reinforcing patriarchal views of female sexuality. The fact that she was a virgin is not surprising but somewhat disturbing as many girls like Lila play with things they know little about. The saddest and the most disgraceful thing about this situation is that the patriarchal society creates an environment favorable for such attitudes—the society where violence is illegal but still supported by the system and the existing traditions and values.
Ticktin (2008) stresses that the policies aimed at reducing sexual abuse and protecting females from violence, ironically, result in more violence and more female victims. In Lila’s case, her socioeconomic status became one of the reasons for the violent act the youth from the neighborhood committed. Of course, her behavior was also one of the factors that led to the rape, but it was far from being the defining.
To sum up, it is possible to note that the patriarchal society is instrumental in creating characters such as Lila. She seems to be opposing the system and traditions, but instead, she is a product of the existing values and norms. Her fantasies are patriarchal fantasies, and her rebel is shaped by patriarchal views of a female and its place in society. The young Polish girl is only yet to understand her sexuality and the ways to use it. Lila’s liberation and empowerment can be possible in the future, but the teenager has to acknowledge the other side of patriarchal fantasies.
Doueiri, Z. (Director). (2005). Lila Says [Motion picture]. United States: Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Hollibaugh, A. (1996). The desire for the future: Radical hope in passion and pleasure. In S. Jackson & S. Scott (Eds.), Feminism and sexuality: A reader (pp. 224–229). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Ticktin, M. (2008). Sexual violence as the language of border control: Where French feminist and anti‐immigrant rhetoric meet. Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 44(1), 863-889.