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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution puts out a disturbing analysis of the hookup culture that's now said to dominate high school and college-age sex. According to experts quoted here, taking cues from the mainstream and social media, boys believe having many partners without emotional involvement is masculine, and girls are taught that getting attention through the display of their bodies is the way to be feminine. The result is a lot of disastrous sexual conquests by boys with reluctant girls who feel demeaned but also don't feel they can say no without losing their social relevance. One expert calls it a "rape culture." The film advises women to ignore messages urging them to be sexual objects. It also advises that men can be liberated only when they let go of rigid, media-defined norms of masculinity. Interviews with experts dominate the film's end, but early scenes focus on the insights of bathing suit-clad, drunken students on beaches, where boys shout "show your t-ts!" at random girls. Men pull down bathing suit tops to expose women's breasts without their permission. Women's breasts are exposed but digitally obscured. Men are seen "motorboating" random women on the beach; that is, getting the women to lift their bathing suit tops so the men can put their faces between and on their breasts. A brutal gang rape committed in broad daylight in front of scores of partyers is highlighted as a negative consequence of the hookup culture. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and "d--k." One partyer says that if you give women Percoset, Vicodin, and alcohol, they will then willingly "drop their panties."
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What's the story?
LIBERATED: THE NEW SEXUAL REVOLUTION surveys a homogeneous group of spring break revelers, all seemingly hitting the Florida beaches to drink and, in the case of the men, have sex. It takes a while but eventually it becomes clear that the title is ironic. Although the women dress seductively, they seem surprised at the aggressiveness of men who pull their bathing suits down and urge them to have sex. Some women claim they don't necessarily want to have sex. In one filmed case, a woman says no to a man and then, almost immediately after, enters his room for sex. Experts point out that this culture is dominated by males who set the tone for anonymous, commitment-free sex, but that it requires the participation of women who seem to go along in order to receive validation in the form of the attention of males, even if it's not the kind of attention that they really seek. At large beach parties hosted by MCs, women take the stage to twerk and dance seductively in front of large crowds of shouting men. The MC urges them to take their tops off for extra appreciation from the audience. Some women do so. A woman speaks of feeling empowered by such behavior, but later, crying, feels demeaned and worries that her younger sister will grow up in a culture that values appearances over other human traits and values. Music videos show Miley Cyrus naked on a wrecking ball and Beyonce dancing and grabbing her genitals as examples of how the media promotes objectification of women and persuades youth to accept it as normal.
Is it any good?
This documentary has its heart in the right place, but because of editing misjudgments remains a disturbing and somewhat misleading film. At first it feels like an instructional video straight from the spring break beaches of Florida on how to have as much sex with as many people as possible with as little commitment as possible. But interviews at the end with humiliated women and experts communicate a different message, that in struggling to conform to media-imposed definitions of masculinity and femininity, young people are losing their freedom to be themselves. Owing to the film's awkward structure, its first two-thirds seem to celebrate the hookup culture in those interviews with reveling, drunken guys happily on the hunt for willing and even not-so-willing sexual partners. Not until late in the film do alarmed psychological experts get to forcefully describe the psychological damage done by the widespread acceptance of rigid definitions of masculinity and femininity. And it isn't until the very end that girls themselves admit in heartfelt speeches how demoralizing it has been to conspire with boys to objectify themselves.
But, more important, where are the interviews with students who stay away from beaches at spring break, who don't drink too much while wearing tiny bathing suits in public? What do they think? How do they maintain their self-esteem without adhering to the pressures of fantasy-based, media-dictated role models for masculinity and femininity? Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution never asks what happens if you remove alcohol from the equation. Are men suddenly forced to feel their feelings? Do women suddenly have the wherewithal and consciousness to say no when they mean no? But that's another movie. The ignorance of the interviewees is staggering. One guy says if you give women Percoset, Vicodin, and beer, they will "drop their panties," apparently unaware that this practice is exactly what Bill Cosby was indicted for. Parents may want to have a follow-up conversation after viewing to share their own take on sex, body image, and gender roles.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to stand apart from the crowd if the crowd is inviting you to do something you don't want to do. How can you find the strength to accept being labeled "uncool"?
What does Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution suggest about masculinity and femininity? Why don't more kids reject defining masculinity by how much sex a boy has, and femininity by how willing girls are to dress and act a certain way to attract boys who want anonymous sex?
Why do you think ordinary teenage girls are willing to dress and dance provocatively in front of large crowds of drunken males shouting for nudity? Why do girls succumb to pressures to demean themselves?
Media messages play a big role in shaping gender norms, ideas about sex, and body satisfaction. How can you feel good about yourself despite these messages?
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