Maria Finitzo’s documentary The Dilemma of Desire uses Sophia Wallace’s art as a jumping off point to explore how patriarchy has shaped women’s relationship to sexual desire.
The work of artist Sophia Wallace is the jumping off point for The Dilemma of Desire, a documentary about how patriarchy has shaped women’s relationship to sexual desire. Wallace’s work revolves around the idea of ‘Cliteracy’, aka increasing awareness around scientific and cultural facts about the clitoris; one biologist in the film admits it wasn’t until recently that she knew what a clitoris even looked like. The film uses Wallace’s work as a jumping off point to talk to several women about their relationship to desire and their bodies, from scientists, to sex toy designers, to strippers.
The Dilemma of Desire is a fascinating and exciting watch for how it gives the viewer new context and language with which to talk about desire. At the very beginning of the film, it’s established that the word ‘clitoris’ has been erased even from textbooks about human biology. You’ll find plenty of mentions and diagrams of penises, as well as tens of thousands of studies of the penis online, but only a fraction of that is dedicated to the clitoris. In part, the documentary suggests, this is due to the overwhelming dominance of men working in scientific fields. But it’s also about ingrained patriarchy: the women interviewed in the documentary talk about how they’d never thought to ask those questions, and for many of them, it took a wake-up call like Wallace’s art to start asking them.
The Dilemma of Desire goes in all sorts of fascinating directions in its 110-minute runtime — although that length drags in stretches where the film goes down rabbit holes and loses sight of the bigger picture. The film is at its most fascinating when it digs into scientific and commercial aspects of women’s desire that I hadn’t even thought to consider. I particularly loved the time the film spends with Ti Chang, a sex toy designer who co-founded the company Crave. She talks about creating sex toys designed with people with clitorises in mind, rather than the majority of sex toys shaped like dicks — which are actually not the optimal shape for sexual pleasure, shock horror. Her design process is so much about unlearning the patriarchal idea of what sex toys should look like and finding a new way of thinking about sexual pleasure.
Since the film is so extensive in its exploration of various areas of sexual desire, it’s a shame that it makes only glancing references to gender diversity. The film grounds itself in facts about the clitoris, but not only women have clitorises; we get little insight into trans or gender nonconforming people’s relationships to their bodies. It feels like a missing piece of an otherwise captivating and vital puzzle. Hopefully, The Dilemma of Desire is only the start of a conversation.
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