In the summer of 1994, I signed up for a one-week course in screenwriting, taught by Andrew Horton of Tulane University.
On the first day, he gave us an assignment to write a one-page story told in purely visual terms. There was to be no dialogue, but something should happen in the story/scene.
Whenever someone tells me ``Write a story,'' I immediately go into a panic. In a way, this panic is useful to me, though, in that it makes me think about the assignment very intensely. In this case, I tried to think in terms of watching a television with the sound turned down, something I frequently do in bars.
In any case, I did come up with a story before the next class, about three pages long rather than one. It was inspired by a scene I had once watched in Anna Bannana's.
I was one of only a few people who actually had a story to bring to class the next day. Andrew Horton pointing out several respects in which it was inadequate, and I thought, ``My god, don't you understand what an accomplishment it is for me just to have written anything at all?'' But at the same time, I knew that his comments were useful feedback.
But the really interesting comment was made to me at the break by one of my fellow students, a woman in her forties. She said, ``Of course you know that your story is completely sexist.''
At first, I didn't even realize what she was talking about, but she went on saying that of course I must understand that things like racism or sexism should be shown in a story only if they are clearly labeled as such and shown to be wrong.
I finally just resorted to saying, ``We see things in different ways,'' to each of her comments.
I didn't want to have a discussion with her because I didn't think I would find any pleasure or value in such a discussion. As far as I was concerned, she was a person with a very limited view of the world, who was unwilling to step outside her own belief system even for a moment to see what the world looks like from other perspectives.
The scene below is written in terms that are appropriate for the milieu it describes, a milieu which I am very familiar with, a milieu where many people come primarily in order to look at each other as sex objects.
A very primitive and important part of our brain is always ready to look at other people are sex objects. This part of our brain is one of the things that enables our species to reproduce itself and thus survive. And I think that someone who has taught him/herself to be deaf to that part of the brain has considerably diminished his/her life.
As I grow older, though, more and more what interests me is being able to look at a woman such as the one described in the story below -- someone who has managed to present herself totally as a sex object -- and see the person underneath the image, like someone dressed up in a Halloween costume, a person who is often insecure and maybe even a little bit frightened at the fact that men are responding to her as if she were the image she has worked to create. It's a little like watching an actress who one has just seen give a really good performance, and being able to see her as she takes off her make-up and jokes with her fellow cast members. When I am doing this really well, I can even see the little girl inside the woman behind that image, the little girl playing dress-up, pretending to be a grown-up and worried that she won't manage to fool everybody.
What I find really fun is being able to watch the image being created. Being able to see a woman I know as a friend, starting out in her usual jeans and T-shirt, strip down to the skin and then gradually build up her costume, whether it be stockings and heels and a business suit, or a formal gown for a Black and White Ball. I know this woman, and I have just watched her create the illusion that I now see, and yet even so I am a little intimidated by that image, by the new self she has turned herself into. And then she turns to me with a little look of insecurity and asks, ``Do I look okay?''
It is strange to me that women think that men who want to see them naked, as they really are, are treating them as objects, but that it's perfectly okay for men to look at a woman when she's dressed up and presenting an image that is very different from the real person she is. To me, it is in the second case that the woman is being objectified.
Here is the movie scene I wrote.
She was not beautiful, she was not really even pretty. The face was the problem. As she walked into the bar a guy sitting at a table took in the body first, then looked at the face, and after she passed he turned to his friend, held an open palm up to his own face and made a circular motion, an indication of rubbing the face clean. It was a cruel gesture.
The man who came in with the woman wasn't paying attention to the face, though. As they stood looking around the room he stood up close to her and so he could look straight down the low neckline of her dress. It was obvious that he was seeing just about anything there was to be seen.
The dress was bright red and came about as high on the legs as it did low on the chest. It was what some women call a get-laid-dress and it certainly showed the woman off to her best advantage. Apart from the face, the body was pretty good and the breasts were excellent. But what was best of all was the flesh. The flesh was luscious. The sort of female flesh that looks like it would be good to taste.
She was pretty drunk and the when the man sat down at the bar with her he moved his barstool right against hers and kept leaning against her, putting his arm around her hips. She was pretending not to notice. She ordered something expensive and the man fished out enough to pay for it with a stupid smile as the cost were not problem, ordering a beer for himself.
She paid attention to everything and everybody but him. She was making small talk with the bartender, asking him for a menu, turning and getting into an animated conversation with the middle-aged man sitting on the other side of her. Her companion took advantage of the fact that she didn't seem to be noticing to run his hands over her ass, her waist, her back. He wasn't brave enough though to try and make a real money try, for the breasts.
She wanted to order food and another drink. She had a very lively conversation about the menu with the bartender and the man on the other side of her, also consulting a couple farther down the bar, occasionally turning to her escort with a super-bright smile to ask questions which he had to pretend to take seriously. She didn't seem to notice when her escort looked a little worried, checked the money in his wallet several times, then brought out a credit card.
She got up and wandered around the room, looking at all the things on the wall, stopping to exchange comments with a few of the people sitting at tables. Her escort was sitting on his barstool uncomfortably watching, wanting to follow her as she walked around the room and keep putting his hands all over her, but not able to figure out how to do this without being too obvious.
She came back when the food was ready, and before she sat down she walked past her escort so closely that her breasts almost brushed his face.
He wanted to get her to leave when she finished eating, but she asked for another drink. He looked worried again but ordered it and another beer for himself. Then she got into another animated conversation with the bartender, leaning way over the bar while she walked to him. Her escort decided that this would be a good moment to make a trip to the bathroom.
While the escort was still in the bathroom, a cab driver came in and asked if anyone had called a cab. The bartender turned away from his conversation, looked around the room, made an announcement, then shrugged. The cab driver turned away and walked back out. But as the cabbie was going out the door, the woman made a quick decision, grabbed her purse, reached out a hand for a moment to touch the bartender's and then, looking considerably less drunk and stupid than a few minutes ago, followed the cabbie out the door.
By the time her escort came back from the bathroom she was long gone.