"Subjectified," a new documentary about sex, takes a topic that is usually talked about behind the scenes, and unapologetically pushes it to center stage.
Sex is still a taboo subject, even on a college campus, but there are members of the Bowdoin community working to bring the topic into the open. On Wednesday, Safe Space and the Women's Resource Center hosted a screening and discussion of "Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk About Sex."
"Subjectified" is Melissa Goldman's debut film and is composed of interviews with nine young women from all across the country. The women represent different facets of the population in terms of sexual experience. The film features the stories of a religious, abstinent young woman, a lesbian, and a victim of sexual assault, among others. Many of the subjects openly share their stories and opinions for the first time, an opportunity that Goldman feels is missing from the public arena.
A discussion followed the Wednesday night screening in Searles 315.
Students asked about Goldman's motivations for making "Subjectified," how she chose her interviewees, and how her personal views affected the interviews.
Emily Ausubel '13 attended the screening and enjoyed hearing real life stories of sexuality.
"It was refreshing to hear topics brought up that no one talks about," said Ausubel. "You feel like you can relate to these women more than you can relate to mass media's interpretation of sexuality."
Filming for "Subjectified" began in 2006 when Goldman prepared to move across the country. As she traveled to her new home, she interviewed young women that she knew or found through friends that fit different descriptions.
Goldman felt that when it comes to sexual experience, uninformed perceptions often take precedence over real women's stories.
"I had an idea of why people do what they do, but these were very poorly informed ideas," she said. "I didn't know...what being abstinent or a teen mother meant to anybody. I wanted to have a better sense of how to empathize with people."
"I did all of the filming alone," she said. "I needed to develop a very personal relationship with each woman immediately. I knew if I had big equipment or a crew that was never going to happen."
Goldman's documentary is based on passion: she has no film background and relied on the kindness of friends to help her put the film together.
"This was a project I felt needed to happen," she said. "I was very humble and asked for a lot of help. I did wind up having to do a lot of it on my own. I had blind faith that it was possible to make a film if you approached it in the right way."
Goldman's film does not just serve her interest in learning more about the breadth of women's sexual experiences; it fulfills a political purpose too.
"I think that a woman's experiences with sexuality have a lot of political consequences in terms of how we deal with sex ed., access to reproductive health services, and contraception," she said. "People make big policy decisions on these topics based on hearsay. The women that are actually affected by it aren't given any space."
Goldman made a political statement in another way by self-funding the documentary.
"The perspectives that I was trying to represent are not institutionally recognized," she said. "I knew that there wouldn't be funding to give voice to the topic I was addressing."
Even without a big budget or production company, "Subjectified" was recognized by the Women in Film & Video/New England's Chicks Make Flicks series. The series is sponsored by The MIT Program in Women's and Gender Studies to promote the participation and representation of women in the film and video industry.
"Subjectified" first screened at MIT this past February and has been shown at colleges across the country. Goldman has received many positive reviews from filmgoers.
"I'm hearing from people that watched the movie that it created space to have conversations they never felt comfortable having before," she said. "I've been really heartened and touched by the responses people have shared with me, even with the limited number of people that have seen it."
Goldman is currently looking for a distributor to bring her documentary to a larger audience beyond college students.
"I'd like young women from many demographics to have access to this film," she said. "Young women are at times in their lives when they're making important decisions on how to take care of themselves and really need access to this information."
Her target audience includes anyone interested in learning more about how women really feel about sexuality.
"I've received a lot of really positive feedback from men saying they had access to perspectives they had never gotten from their experience approaching women or having sex with women," said Goldman. "For them, it was nice seeing a human picture of women's sexuality."
The journey from wanting to find out the truth about what girls think about sex to showing her documentary around the country was not easy for Goldman, but it allowed her to connect with unexpected groups of people.
"It's been a really fun process, and also difficult and grueling," she said. "It's allowed me to have a lot of really interesting conversations with my friends and all the people that I've met over the course of this. Sharing something that you feel passionate about is exciting to people."
Through making the film, Goldman said she discovered a newfound ability to communicate subjects she previously could not.
"I feel much freer to express myself, and that's been really useful in my personal life and the way I relate to other people," said Goldman. "I had to confront things I was uncomfortable with head on, things I didn't even realize I was uncomfortable with."
Bowdoin first became aware of "Subjectified" when Rachel Goldman '10, cousin of the filmmaker, brought it to the attention of leaders at Safe Space.
Leah Pepe '11 immediately connected with the subject.
"I'm involved with Safe Space, Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention, and the Women's Resource Center," said Pepe. "One of the recurring themes that does not get addressed is that sex, even when it goes right, is a big factor in girls' lives."
Pepe got in touch with Melissa Goldman to bring the documentary to campus.
Said Pepe, "Whatever your experience is, whether it's abstinence, whether you have a lot of sex or have had a bad experience, or whether you have a child—all of these experiences are things that contribute to everyone's emotional development."