By Alice Wilder
This summer, there was a movie in theaters all over the country that featured a young woman
telling a guy that she wants to be on top during sex because “it increases her chances of orgasm by 40%.” It was called The To-Do List, and that scene alone made it feel miraculous to me. But I also couldn’t help but struggle with the idea of a young woman feeling pushed to be overtly sexual. How could I be okay with the premise of The To Do List, for example, but dislike the hit song “Blurred Lines”?
The To-Do List came out just as “Blurred Lines” hit the airwaves. This song is just one in a string of pop songs where guys sing about turning a “good girl” bad by “educating” her sexually. It’s a condescending attitude–here hu
n, let me help you out, make you less vanilla, show you what you really want since I obviously know best. But while The To-Do List is about a girl being educated sexually, but it’s Thicke’s song is not.
The To Do List tells the story of Brandy Klark, a high school grad who panics when her older sister tells her that college is a “sexual pop quiz.” Fear of seeming inexperienced to college guys
spurs her to make a sexual to-do list. Her journey is fueled by desire for a guy–but there’s no guy sitting her down telling her she needs to learn how to give a blowjob, stat.
In fact, the most complex and interesting relationships in the film are between Brandy and the other female characters. There are countless scenes of Brandy and her sister talking and connecting. Brandy’s quest for sexual experience is one thing the two have in common, and they bond through it. The film is also really honest about the way a lot of girls talk and learn about sex with one another. Brandy’s friends are very up front about the fact that most guys don’t know what to do. Fiona describes getting fingered as a guy “digging for change in a couch” (yikes!). TDL isn’t a super sexualized fantasy version of teenage desire, where things are a tad awkward at first but ultimately wonderful and everyone gets to have an orgasm. Instead, Brandy’s friends are very frank about being uncomfortable and often unsatisfied and wanting more, something not a lot of media make room for.
These girls want to have satisfying sex lives, and they want their friends to have them too. Like most girls, Brandy and her friends likely grew up feeling shame about their bodies and sexuality. Discussing their desires and experiences is a radical act. Thicke sings that he knows what women want, but Brandy and her friends aren’t asking for his advice—they’ve heard it before (from the dudes in their lives) and they don’t need it. They know better, and they’re doing just fine by themselves, thank you very much.
Brandy’s character could have easily been like Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, an uptight female lead who just needs to take off her glasses and get laid, but she’s so much more complex than that. She has the selfishness of a girl who grew up being praised for her accomplishments, but she’s also kind and remarkably honest. She knows that she doesn’t have to trade being sexually experienced for being capable and driven.
Most of all, I felt like Brandy is an honest portrayal of a teen girl. I saw this movie with a good friend of mine and as we walked out she said that she hadn’t seen herself reflected in a movie with such clarity. Good girls who turn in their homework on time and use summer jobs as resume items want sex too!
I also love that Brandy’s fixation was a hot but dumb guy. He’s the guy who brings his guitar out at parties. He’s kind of a douchebag and she likes him anyway. And I like that the film doesn’t judge her for this. After she *spoiler alert* has sex for the first time, with him, she says that even though she didn’t have an emotional connection she doesn’t regret it because he’s “super hot.” Without such a capable writer/director she would have been judged as a misguided, desperate prude. But as the film points out, she’s a teenager. So what if she wants to have sex with a guy because he’s hot? The movie never preaches that sex without emotion isn’t worthwhile, or that Brandy should regret her list. Instead, they allow it to be the grey area that it really is: sometimes sex is a big deal, and sometimes it’s not. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing and try to figure it out on your own terms.