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In a piece called “Dirty Words From Pretty Mouths” (did that make you cringe, too?), Dowd touches on shows like “The Mindy Project” and “Girls,” along with a smattering of Sundance films, to deduce that there is a “small but significant trend of women writing, directing and producing more sexually explicit movies and TV shows.”
If you’re wondering whether Dowd has ever watched “Sex and the City,” based on the intro, she has at least read the show's Wikipedia page and acknowledges this is not wholly new. She refers to the work of Carrie Bradshaw and Judd Apatow on pop culture as "a vulgar truth universally acknowledged," and views "women bringing raunch culture to the screen on their own" as the trend.
Except, this is also not a trend. It's evidence of a new generation emerging in the industry. As Elisabeth Donnelly put it in a piece for Flavorwire: "What older viewers may see as a boundary-pushing depiction of sex looks a whole lot like simple honesty to younger viewers." (It’s always so strange when New York Times trend pieces tell us about our world. Sort of like an old alien deigning to slip off its intergalactic pearls and mingle with us earthlings. “Wow, cut up lettuce!,” the alien might say, walking past a Fresh & Co. on a hot summer afternoon. “Men in sleeveless shirts. Women being explicitly sexual beings! All for the first time.”)
Kidding aside, there are bigger issues at play here than whether or not this can be seen as a "trend" (even though it's definitely not). The biggest failure of Dowd's piece is its inability to dissect the lack of freedom women have in expressing themselves, calling the sexual version of expression “raunch.” In the hands of a man, what is "raunch" comedy exactly? Is it just "being a dude-bro."
Dowd describes "raunch" comedy as women being "blunt about what turns them on and off" -- hardly something new for men. What's happening here is that women are continuing to move into a realm of sexual expression that has traditionally been occupied by men. That's where the need to label and cite trends comes from. Any time women execute tropes, archetypes, forms of comedy (whatever the "inherently male," as Dowd puts it, thing may be), this kind of reductive packaging becomes just one more way of limiting any "inherently female" ownership of that space.
We live in a world where women's behavior is constantly criticized in terms of double standards (see: Mike Huckabee getting his sensible briefs in a bunch over ladies cursing at work). To discuss this without even bothering to dissect the inherent sexism or oppressive gender norms at play is irresponsible (in general but especially in the hands of a New York Times critic). Yeah, "dirty words" are great, but speaking out about the deeper impact of these distinctions is what our "pretty mouths" should be for.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca