Feminist Criticism / Women Film-makers

How ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ tackles sexual taboos

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Last year’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl had the potential to be pretty distasteful – the story is set around a 15 year old girl named Minnie and the sexual relationship she enters into with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe; who is much older than her. With that being the central plot-line it is easy to write the film off as another sleazy, predatory ‘romance’ that is there to fulfil lots of men’s desire to be in a relationship with a much younger woman. There is no avoiding the fact that their relationship is inappropriate and not forgetting to mention; illegal. But what The Diary of… manages to do is turn that into a character study of a frustrated and insecure teenage girl who amongst other things breaks one of society’s big taboos – being a woman and enjoying sex.

The fact that the film has a female director (Marielle Heller), I believe has a great impact on how audiences respond to Minnie and whether or not the content is construed as being exploitative and sleazy. By having the vision behind the film being driven by a woman whilst also being based on the graphic novel written by Phoebe Gloeckner means that we are shown the story through Minnie’s eyes, and not those of the man she is involved with. A narrative that is frustratingly all too common in stories involving this type of relationship – one of the most famous examples being Nabokov’s Lolita – which is written entirely from a male perspective, therefore making the twelve year old Dolores, a sexual object and nothing more. Minnie however is shown to be a multi-faceted character, who although naïve is seen to have her own principles and desires. In fact it is her exploration of her sexuality, how she goes about doing so and the consequences and questions her actions raise that sets The Diary of… apart from its peers that also attempt to tackle young women’s sexuality.

At no point is Minnie shamed for her desires, even when they lead her into situations that would have been better to avoid, something that I believe occurred because of Heller. By having her at the helm, the usual negative double standards that men and wider society place upon women when it comes to sex are avoided. Instead, it is the adult characters that are judged and their actions condemned. Minnie’s mum is careless, self-absorbed and too obsessed with staying ‘young’ to take notice of her daughters, Monroe is predatory and projects his own issues onto Minnie even though he is the adult and the woman that Minnie has a short relationship with chooses to exploit her – thus showing her true manipulative and immoral nature. This is just one of the things that makes The Diary of… so refreshing to watch and – in spite of its initially off putting plot-line, a film that I believe does young women a great service, because it shows us as real, flawed people who are in fact worth more than just our bodies – no matter what society may tell us – highlighting the importance of having female identifying creators within the industry and the positive effect they can have on the people who consume their work.

by Megan Gibb


meganMegan Gibb is a 19 year old from Cambridge, based in Manchester for university and has been in love with all things film ever since she can remember. Her fave films are The Terminator, Drive, Forrest Gump and Fight Club but she also has a huge soft spot for 1980’s John Hughes films. Her main interests include shopping for vinyl, eating too much carrot cake and making wall collages of 80’s bands for her and her friends. She can be found on twitter @megang96 and blogs atpopdunk.

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