The Other Sexist Double Standard In Hollywood No One’s Talking About: NC-17 Ratings

Sexism remains a prevalent issue in Hollywood, where actresses continue to struggle against the wage gap, male leads remain the norm, and female directors and producers are the minority. But if this situation isn’t dismal enough, even more sexism exists in the way movies are rated by the Motion Picture Association of America, commonly known as the MPAA. The association has a justified reputation for being lax with sequences of violence but aggressive with sexuality.

Just last month, the MPAA’s questionable standards were called out by actor James Franco. “It’s just funny to me that zombies getting their heads blown off, and monsters being hacked and stabbed to death are okay for children, but when tits and sex are involved it’s suddenly for adults,” Franco said in an interview with Indiewire. “We allow violence much more readily than sex.”

Director Kevin Smith also recently took issue with the MPAA when it initially assigned his teen horror-comedy “Yoga Hosers” an R-rating for the brief appearance of a cartoon drawing of male testicles.

However, the MPAA’s policing of sexuality is only amplified where female pleasure is concerned. The outcry against NC-17 ratings being assigned to movies involving women receiving head and not movies featuring male characters receiving head reached its height back in 2013 when actress Evan Rachel Wood and filmmaker Leslye Headland fought the MPAA and its double standards.

The #MPAA gave my kids movie @YogaHosers an R rating for a cartoony drawing of testicles on a book cover. So now, for the 4th time in my 22 year career, we will hold an appeals screening with the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board and try to get the R overturned for a less severe (and far more appropriate) PG-13. I also ran afoul of the MPAA the first time I made a movie set in a convenience store, when they initially slapped Clerks with an NC-17 rating for language. Back then, Harvey Weinstein hired mega-lawyer Alan Dershowitz and turned our rating appeal into a Free Speech case. But on the day of the actual appeals screening, it was just me and the Miramax lawyer getting up in front of the appeals folks to argue for a less restrictive rating without having to change or trim any shots. We won that day and Clerks received the R rating without a single cut. The next two occasions I fought an MPAA rating was on Jersey Girl (won a PG-13 instead of the R they gave us) and Zack and Miri Make a Porno (which went from an NC-17 to an R, without cuts). I don't mind doing this dance with the MPAA a fourth time (hey – at least they even OFFER an appeals screening) but this #YogaHosers R rating is riDONKulous. The core audience for the flick is tween girls (it's Clueless meets Gremlins!), so I refrained from salty language to make a totally kid-friendly movie. And while it's a "horror" movie, there's no blood on display: when our Bratzi bad guys get killed, concentrated sauerkraut explodes everywhere – not guts or entrails. Honestly, this movie is TAME (or "lame" according to some reviews). Even so, next week I'll screen the flick for the MPAA appeals audience and, lawyer-like, plead my case for why the film is really PG-13 – all so that I can keep the graffiti drawing of nuts on a fictional library book in my goofy girl-power monster movie. Weird life. Mind you, this is NOT a First Amendment issue at all; instead, it's the very definition of a First World Problem. But before I can tour the movie in June & July and release it in theaters this August, I'm gonna have to win #TheBattleForTheBalls! #KevinSmith #harleyquinnsmith #lilyrosedepp #johnnydepp

A photo posted by Kevin Smith (@thatkevinsmith) on

But with male stars like Franco and Smith getting worked up without even noting the prevalent sexual double standard, and HBO’s Game of Thrones back in full throttle after social media outrage at its portrayals of rape, rampant female nudity alongside fully-clothed powerful males, and, most relevant, its glossing over of scenes involving female sexual empowerment, the entertainment industry’s attitudes toward female pleasure compared to, say, female objectification and violence, are worth taking another look at.

One ripe example of the industry’s suppression of female pleasure exists in a Season 4 scene on Game of Thrones involving Daenerys Targaryen. The steamy scene between Dany and Daario Naharis is cut off just after she initiates the encounter by candidly asking him to take off his clothes. That the show’s writers chose to not even provide screen time for a scene featuring a woman sexually in power, but repeatedly make time for scenes in which a woman is sexually assaulted, objectified, and dominated for mere shock factor is pretty telling.

I can only imagine that were Dany a male and Daario a female, not only would viewers get a comprehensive, nude view of him being seduced, but also of all that followed.

via GIPHY

Further, according to ATTN:, films like Blue Valentine, Charlie Countryman, The Cooler, Boys Don’t Cry, and Two Girls and a Guy all received NC-17 ratings for featuring females getting eaten out, because it might be the 21st century but apparently a woman being orally pleasured and sexually submit to is completely repulsive. Seeing someone get their head cut off would obviously be nowhere near as traumatic as seeing a woman get head.

At any rate, back in 2013, Charlie Countryman’s Evan Rachel Wood wasn’t having any of it, and she made some points that are still pretty relevant now:

In tweets that have since been deleted, Wood continued:

…OR had the female character been raped it would have been cut. Its time for people to GROW UP. Accept that woman are sexual beings…

…Accept that some men like pleasuring woman. Accept that woman don’t have to just be fucked and say thank you…

…We are allowed and entitled to enjoy ourselves. Its time we put our foot down…

In summation, to Wood, the MPAA’s strict ratings where females receiving head are concerned, and with portrayals of female sexuality as a whole, reflect how in society we continue to shame women for enjoying sex, owning their sexuality, and just being sexual beings, and portray this as taboo.

Simultaneously, Headland’s movie Sleeping With Other People opened with a man eating a woman from behind, resulted in her also butting heads with the MPAA. And director Jill Soloway further contributed to the dialogue in 2013 about attitudes toward on-screen female pleasure: “I wish you could say it’s a double standard, but it’s too gentle of a phrase. I think female pleasure must have the potential to explode the entire planet,” she said. It must be that dangerous because people are working so hard to make sure that no one sees it.”

NC-17 ratings are altogether pretty destructive for films which, according to Steven Zeitchik of the Los Angeles Times, not only face stigma but also struggle to find theaters that will show them and outlets that will carry ads for them.

Female pleasure isn’t the only thing the MPAA has been known to be antagonistic toward, though. The gay teen comedy G.B.F. received an R-rating despite having no trace of nudity or violence. Director Darren Stein responded to the MPAA’s rating in 2013 in a Facebook rant:

“I always thought of G.B.F. as a PG-13 movie, but we were given an R ‘For Sexual References’ while not having a single F-bomb, hint of nudity or violence in the film. Perhaps the ratings box should more accurately read ‘For Homosexual References’ or ‘Too Many Scenes of Gay Teens Kissing.'”

So while we continue to collectively seethe at pay inequality and casting gaps in the entertainment industry, it’s also about time we add sexist/homophobic rating methods to that list, too. Who knows, maybe more exposure to women being on the receiving end of head would help close the disappointing gap between how much head the average college male receives from females and how much the average college female receives from males.