Paint me like one of your French boys

Should male and female nudity be treated differently in film?


The references to “male” and “female” throughout this piece, following the initial references of “cis male and female,” are meant to describe the cisgender male or female body. 

Most people would consider the infamous line, “paint me like one of your French girls,” between Jack and Rose in the 1997 film “Titanic” one of the most romantic scenes ever portrayed between two young people on the big screen. 

It’s practically common knowledge that, in this scene, Rose poses completely nude, while she is respectfully drawn by her love interest. The dynamic between these two characters carries sweetness and innocence that resonates strongly with most fans, despite the overt sexual overtones coming from Rose. 

But what if Jack had asked Rose to paint him like one of her French boys?

On its release, “Titanic” was only given a PG-13 rating, but I’m willing to bet if we were seeing Jack in his birthday suit, the film probably would have earned an R rating instead. 

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a privately-owned film rating system, is used to rate all major movies released in the U.S. It is notorious for giving non-sexualized, full-frontal cis male nudity an R-rating while giving cis female nudity, with a comparably explicit nature, a PG-13 rating

And personally, I believe male and female nudity shouldn’t be treated any differently in the media, and the apparent guidelines the MPAA rating members follow say almost the exact same thing. 

The MPAA rating guide, found on its website, states that “More than brief nudity [in films] will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented.” While in contrast, for a movie to get an R-rating the content must be “sexually-oriented.”

But who’s really behind the MPAA, and why do they seem to have a small set of keys, capable of unlocking what’s considered socially acceptable within the cinematic world?

The answer might come as a surprise.

Each movie is reviewed by a handful of randomly selected parents residing in Los Angeles, who give their opinion on what films should be rated. The only qualification for those selected is that they have a child between the ages of five and 15. 

Essentially, they’re no different than you, me or anybody else walking around campus. So what makes this very small pool of people the only ones who determine the indecencies associated with nudity?

There is no place in their official rulebook that states that male full-frontal nudity is considered inherently more sexual than female frontal nudity. Yet, male nudity appears significantly more often in R-rated films than those with PG-13 ratings. 

The appearance of male nudity in R-rated films could of course be attributed to other variables in the movie, such as language and violence, that push the film over the teetering edge separating PG-13 and R. 

But the fact that you can’t see dongs in more PG-13 content, while female nudity is readily available, just goes to show the disproportionate relationship between the male and female bodies in Western culture. 

Hiding male genitalia behind the mystic lure of the R-rating in some ways shows the greater respect for male decency over female. A woman’s body can simply be thrown around willy-nilly in the media, almost like one of its main purposes is for viewers’ pleasure. 

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with women being proud of their body and being able to portray themselves as they please, but I think it is a huge problem that as a society we see the fundamentals of nudity between different sets of genitalia so drastically different. 

Creating this division in film also goes to enforce the idea that there is something inherently wrong with the nude human body. In the ‘French girls’ scene from “Titanic,” Rose’s body is treated with complete respect and decency in a way that highlights how beautiful nudity can be in the right context. 

If we had more exposure to male nudity in the same kind of non-sexual and considerate way, we would be more inclined to talk about sexuality on a wider scale and close the gap between female empowerment and male taboo. 

It’s time for the film and rating industry to wake up and realize that our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of because nudity is one of the few things that is almost completely universal. 

The opinion desk can be reached at opinion@ubspectrum.com