Liberated or Further Repressed?


A review of Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution, a documentary about the hook-up culture

Netflix has recently added a film titled, Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution, described on Netflix as an exploration into “how pop culture shapes a new generation’s beliefs about gender, sexuality and violence on display among students on spring break." Essentially, it followed several groups of young people as they indulged in spring break revelries while also asking them about their views on sexual intercourse and the hook-up phenomenon. I found it to be an incredibly interesting watch with a plethora of things to think about and apply, not just in the world around myself, but in my own behaviours as a young-adult female.

Before I get into why it is that I found the documentary eye-opening, I must make a brief preface; I have written, and continue to write, my thesis on a hook-up culture and attitude. As such, I watched this documentary without needing to be convinced of the questionable nature of the hook-up mentality as I have already been arguing this exact topic on a philosophical level. However, I was still able to appreciate Liberated, and the following are reasons why.

1.      It explicitly critiques the fundamental issues with hooking-up that need to be addressed. Why is it okay that one can simply use a person for their sexuality only to discard them without thought? One interaction captured in the movie is a young man walking up to a young lady, to start the wooing process. The entirety of the interaction, from introduction to completion, is said to have lasted about 30 minutes at most, and includes: him complimenting her, plying her with alcohol, drawing her into his room, and then him boasting to his friends about having hooked up with her. The most horrifying part of it all is that after the crew has captured all of this, it turns out the young man has failed to even remember the girls name – after only 30 minutes! Why is it that this type of behaviour has become acceptable – even worth of praise and encouragement – in our society? Why have we allowed humans to become tools of personal pleasure in another’s fantasy rather than multi-faceted beings, worthy of the dignity and respect that comes with it?

2.      Liberated points to the horribly controlling gendered norms and expectations which are demeaning, to both men and women. Women and men are both faced with unique hegemonic gendered expectations that control how it is they are able to relate to each other as well as view their own bodies and sexuality. Men face a culturally reinforced idea of what it means to be “a man”; they must constantly assert their masculinity and, as an obvious point of reference, the number and nature of women on has hooked up with serves this exact purpose. Hooking-up is a system created by men for men, thus when women attempt to participate, it is – more often than not – simply to fulfill men’s needs. They are put in an inferior position while merely attempting to assert their own sexuality. In a study conducted Elizabeth Armstrong, Paula England and Alison Fogarty in 2012, upon a first hook-up, women only achieve orgasm 11 per cent of the time – a dismal statistic. Liberated, the title of the film, points to the irony of such a phenomenon; as Donna Freitas says in her book, "The End of Sex", the "great irony of hookup culture" is that "it's ultimately a culture of repression".

3.      The film directly points to the correlation that exists between a hook-up mentality and that of sexual violence. Because of the imbalanced relationship between men and women, which is reinforced by the hook-up culture, there is greater power placed in men. This results in men being able to dictate and direct most hook-up situations. This was seen especially in the spring break setting as multiple girls were surrounded by large men all chanting or yelling at them to remove clothing or perform sexual acts. The documentary ends by recounting the case of a violent sexual assault that occurred over spring break on the beaches of Panama City. This horrific act occurred in front of a crowd of people, many of whom filmed the situation without helping the girl who was being taken advantage of in the worst way. Not only does this speak to the major imbalance present in the hook-up system, but also how normalized it has become. One can literally get sexually assaulted without anyone so much as moving to check if one is alright.

4.      It is a call to action to challenge the standing norms and values within our society. The entirety of the documentary is a critique of the culture and its fostered attitudes. Not only is the expressed conduct problematic, but also of the media images and popular culture that only serve to heighten the cultural beliefs. We should not continue to allow this type of communication and behaviour to exist unquestioned. And there might also be a need to abandon the practice altogether, instead choosing to find a partner one respects, cares for, and perhaps – a crazy idea, I know – loves. Or as my mom aptly put into an alliterative phrase, “Respect, restraint, responsibility.”

Despite the important message and incredible dialogue it creates, the movie is quite graphic and disturbing at times, so if you do watch, be aware. But it is all there because it is capturing real life events and extremely relevant problems that affects young people today.

StFX students need to watch Liberated; it deals with a phenomenon that is rampant on our campus. Particularly poignant after certain events of this past year, we are in a place where a documentary like this means more than just a passing picture. We have had to face issues that are the result of hooking-up within a party culture that constantly calls for gendered roles. We need to question the practices that we allow to occur in our community. I think that there is a worthy audience for this film at StFX, and that students at all universities would benefit from seeing Liberated. Further, we must collectively ask why it is we go out on the weekend, engaging in the practices that come with it.