From the “Golden Girls” to “Girls”: Female Sexuality On Screen

Golden_Girls_cast_miami_songI am a big fan of any film or television show that gets funny, sm-exy (that is:  smart and sexy) women on the screen. Traditionally that’s been a monumental task.

In 1985, Susan Harris did just that with her groundbreaking television show, The Golden Girls. She dared to create a sitcom about women in their sixties –and older–who actually discussed their sex lives. And they were insightful, likeable and comical –not the butt of a distasteful joke.  I can only imagine how difficult that premise must have been to sell to the studio executives at that time. Thankfully, that show is still in syndication and has a huge following.

Looking at the history behind the GG is interesting in terms of the evolution of the film business. Early on, when the film industry was based in New York, screenwriters were mostly women, fabulously talented women like Anita Loos and Dorothy Parker. And the films were made independently and inexpensively.

But by the 1920’s, things changed. The industry moved to the West Coast and the studio system ruled. This was the end of female dominance. Prior to the 1920’s, women accounted for 10% of the writers, but by the 1930’s that number dwindled to 2%. The studio heads wanted proven writers and they recruited male novelists and playwrights.

Today, I’m delighted that we are seeing a resurgence of women having some control over how women are portrayed on the screen. Although the numbers are still paltry at 15% of Screenwriters and 10% of Directors, the female presence is looming larger and women are bringing issues of female sexuality to the forefront. The guys no longer have a monopoly on letting it all hang out.

Sex and the City, which began in 1998, was another major advance for getting sm-exy and funny women on the screen. Susan Seidelman directed the pilot episode and set the tone for the long-running series. Fans still enjoy watching the four friends discuss their sex lives and deal with their relationships.

With the premiere of Girls in 2012, Lena Dunham grabbed the baton and is running with it and outpacing her predecessors in terms of getting female sexuality on the screen. These four friends discuss their sex lives too, but in a raw open way that’s sometimes uncomfortable to watch, but often hilarious and always astute.

Broad City created and written by Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson is the newest entry into the pantheon of television shows that depict female sexuality. What makes it unique is its off-beat droll take on the young female Brooklynites’ life.

Women are seizing more active roles in the producing, directing and writing of films and television shows today. Brash, bold and extremely talented women like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Sarah Silverman are creating and producing shows for the big and small screen that portray the sm-exy, funny women that we all know in real life.

I can’t wait for what’s next!

Miami-based author Shelly Gitlow‘s first novel, Dispatches from Paradise began life as a screenplay. Though not produced, the screenplay Everything’s Fine led to an incredible film writing opportunity as the co-writer of the hit movie Boynton Beach Club. In her former life, Gitlow was a family therapist and several books on quality management. For more on Shelly, visit her website

Image via Wikimedia

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