Representation of female celibacy in Television and Film

After a recent discussion explored the representation of women in film punished for their choice to have sex versus men, another question sprung to mind – what is there to say about representations of female celibacy in the media? The choice not to? Today, young women are more punished for their choice to say yes, than to refrain and remain a virgin, but interestingly representations of the latter in today’s media are also few and far between.

Sex sells. This is a statement that rings true for (especially western-centric) society. It is one mired in the images present in our advertising, and the media we watch. The place of television and films in this are no exception, and a woman of consenting age succumbing to sexual temptation is a narrative that is common.

Not to be confused with asexuality, or aromanticism – orientations of which there are a small, but thankfully increasing representation across books, film and television – female celibacy in film and television are less than common. Celibacy in the media when it comes to women are either done for religious reasons (think Sister Act), a mere stop-gap before puberty and relationships really take hold, or older female characters (Minerva McGonagall in Harry Potter) most-times of the evil variety (Gothel in Tangled). For younger female characters, the choice not to have sex is one that is rarely taken seriously, and there hasn’t ever been (good) representation of a female character who abstains from sexual encounters and sticks to her decision (rather than being ‘seduced’ by a wily, virile female or male character).

When trying to think of female characters to use as examples, it is often difficult. A reason for this is that celibacy might largely be seen as uninteresting, or juvenile – especially if you are focusing on a woman in a plot above consenting age. Indeed, the lists of self defining females who fit this category are largely children or young adults. They are ‘celibate’; not that we could really be imagining Disney’s Moana or Elsa to be exploring their sexuality – or acting on it – in films such as these; murky waters that are best left far below the abstraction layer.

A show which inverts tropes of ‘waiting before marriage’ in satirical, comedic ways.

However it is worth noting that being ‘celibate’ is not the same as ‘omission’ – i.e. just because the actions of any given character is not discussed, it does not mean they are celibate. A well known TV show Jane the Virgin trades in on this premise of celibacy; the first that does so in any largely recognisable way. The titular character, Jane, is a devout Catholic women waiting until marriage, the TV series plays on this trope and inverts it after she (spoilers!) finds herself accidentally artificially inseminated. This is a plot device that drives the opening series’ narrative, and one played for satirical laughs. Yet, it is worth noting that this subverted ‘waiting for marriage’ trope is used as a plot device – and whilst it takes a different avenue for comedic value – it is still an important and interesting diversion from the norm.

Strong female protagonists?

Character from Disney films, like Merida from Brave, Elsa from Frozen, or Moana from, well…Moana, are all characters on the cusp of adulthood; all of whom reject the stereotypical sexualised gender roles other female protagonists in past Disney films have explored. Unlike Disney female protagonists of the past, they are given no romantic partner. They are the lead in their own narrative; a welcome change that has a different important love explored – love of family and friends – but still one that has yet to fully take hold in wider media.

“I’ll be shooting for my own hand!”

Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien is another character that springs to mind; a stalwart figure in sci-fi. She has been discussed at length in many critical contexts, her celibacy and “virginity” being analysed as key aspects of her character. Her sexual ‘chastity in Alien […] is matched by her maternal role in a manner that evokes the mythological’ one literary criticism work reads.

Then, there are more recent, and incredibly popular TV series, like HBO’s Game of Thrones. Whilst a book series, the TV series – like the novels it is based off – is one that is filled with sex. Yet, the characters of Arya and Brienne are excluded from this. It is not that they are not subject to sexualised remarks (G.R.R.Martin’s world rarely allows for them not to be) but by being more tomboyish in character, or ‘uglier’ than the other women in the series like Sansa or Margaery, they are separated from the other women in the series as decidedly ‘non-sexual’, veering on masculine. Importantly, they are both physically strong women who take up a sword – in the Game of Thrones world, this is a decidedly masculine role. Their femininity is flattened, and so points about their celibacy is quashed (or mocked in the case of Brienne).

This begs the question; why? Why are certain representations of ‘strong, female characters’ linked to abstinence? Does this make them better for it? More popular? Possibly not. After all, the briefest of Google searches for terms like “celibacy” and “female characters” yields comparatively little in the way of helpful information. Yet, it makes a refreshing change and one that more representation of could not hurt.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Thank you for accurately describing what I’ve always found problematic about these movies and TV shows. Sometimes we make excuses for our problematic favs, when those excuses were never explicitly there and are based subtleties the original creators probably never envisioned.

  2. Natashia

    While in the latest films, women are at the forefront and center, this issue remains.

  3. My eight-year-old nephew is starting to become a huge film fan. I love the idea he will experience new stories where women are active participants, not helpless damsels or eye candy.

  4. Lucretia

    We are seeing great female characters in Star Wars recently.

    • I would like to make one point about Rogue One. I enjoy this movie and having a great female in the lead like Jyn, that could as written have also been played by a male is great. Here is the thing, though, she is really the ONLY female in the movie. Mon Mothma as quick bit in the middle and Leia at the end, but none of the ground fighters or Saw Garrera fighters are female. A couple of x-wing fighters are female, but no where near 50%. My point is, yes having a female lead is great, but don’t give Rogue One too much credit on that front. We also need women in these other rolls. Why couldn’t the guy Cassian kills giving him the info have been a woman? Stuff like that.

  5. Stan Owens

    It seems that women who are about violence aren’t inclined towards sexuality.

  6. JamesBKelley

    An interesting, well written piece!

    Our movies and TV shows certainly seem at times to be saturated with sex, but I’m not sure that it’s an entirely modern trend to focus on non-celibate characters in stories. Isn’t sexual activity (or even the conflict between celibacy and sexual activity) at the core of much of the earlier literature? See, for example, the story of Gilgamesh and the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. See, for more examples, the medieval tales “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and The Tale of Genji. Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight — that bestselling series of books and films — would be a more contemporary example.

  7. Good subtitle for this article: How Not to Write like Stephenie Meyer.

  8. Really good work with this writeup. I hope to see the day when people stop believing that everything has to be either the one or the other…

  9. Thank you for your perspective! I hope more people will be aware of this and better characters will be written.

  10. I’ll never understand people who limit their characters and their own stories in the name of “realism,” especially when their idea of what realism means is so far from the truth.

  11. Love this, and it’s made me want to do further reading on a number of the characters mentioned.

  12. Arnulfo

    I’m often baffled by broad statements about women in media but I can relate to this.

  13. I am a mother with two small children, and I’m currently working on an epic fantasy where what happens between mothers and daughters and sons isn’t just a side story – it’s central to the story, it is the story, and I have no shortage of “interesting” things to draw upon. I’ve found being home with small children to be a pretty interesting adventure into places that are both dark and light. And children have such a natural sense for wonder, for the otherworldly, for the true, and for adventure; why can’t their mothers join them?

    Considering the domestic life of women and their children too boring and unimportant for an epic fantasy tale is a failure of imagination.

    Anyway, I am adapting your notes into one of the lead female characters (as we follow her growing up and becoming a hero figure).

  14. Part of the solution is: more female characters! And more diverse characters in all other respects to address this same issue with their tropes.

  15. I feel like Ripley kicked off action women, but it somehow funelled down into a really specific trying-to-please-everyone, sexy-emotionless-buttkicker trope that she never actually embodied. Instead of recapturing the magic of Ripley, the book/movie industries (and urban fantasy subgenre in particular) took the personality of Vasquez and stuck her in stiletto boots and called it a day.

  16. In some other life were I have more time, I want to write the illustration version of this article. GREAT job.

  17. I feel that sometimes people feel all this pressure to write a woman ‘perfectly’ because of a fear that it will seem like they are saying something about all women.

  18. When I think of a good female character, I think of the character’s ability to affect the outcome of the story.

  19. Blair Hsu

    Literature has some great female celibacy characters but I realize in movies they are more limited.

  20. Thanks for such a thoughtful article.

  21. Authors should create interesting and vivid cultures with original elements, but it’s also important for the structures of those societies to make sense in the context of the setting. Do you see where I am going. Creating stories need to reflect our society…

  22. I’m a male writer who prides himself in his ability to write fleshed-out, believable women, and I think I manage that by setting aside the character’s gender and just writing a person. However, I believe there is one subtle, key difference between men and women–and this is just speaking in general, plenty from both sides can break the rule–but women tend to be a bit more calculating than men. Men are tacticians, women are strategists. Aside from that, there’s no difference between writing men and women. They both require the same things–backstory to provide motivation, emotional and psyhological consistency on their responces to stimuli, and of course personal growth in their journeys.

  23. We need to try to get inside a woman’s head and see her how she sees herself, rather than making her “cool” by giving her more stereotypically male traits (and making her fit into the male fantasies at the same time).

  24. Ellenaz

    You make a very good point.

  25. wilburn

    Thank you. I can’t tell you how badly I needed to read this today. I have shared it with my friends and family. Hoping for a change.

  26. I loved that there is a stronger focus and more female characters in fiction.

  27. Stephanie M.

    Thank you for this article and the questions it raises. If you want to do a follow-up, you could go a lot deeper into the reasons behind celibacy and the representation of celibate characters from certain backgrounds. For instance, I am above consenting age but choose to remain a virgin for the foreseeable future. This is partially because I am a devout Christian, and as you know, the narrative there is, “Until you are wed, you do not go to bed” (paraphrase). But I’ve often found it hard to hold the attention of men, even Christian men, because I also have cerebral palsy.

    Let me be as blunt but polite as possible: These are the men who I was told all my life, “won’t care if they really love you.” Yet my religious stance, which I chose, has proven far less of an obstacle than the disability I didn’t choose.

    These guys, these “church guys” who put up such a great front on Sunday morning, apparently care. Or if they don’t, I’m more their kid sister than potential partner. Which, ugh. Every time I get that reaction I just wanna say, “You know I’m not 8, right? You know I could qualify for Mensa?”

    I also find it disheartening that there are almost no representations of disabled females having/enjoying sex in the media, let alone choosing not to. It’s as if women with disabilities have no sexuality or sexual inclinations–which let me tell you, we do. We may be on the right track, but that group of women in particular continues to get the short end of the stick, because they are expected to remain celibate. The same may be true for other groups, such as women with chronic illness, women who have been abused, etc. I’d be interested to hear other thoughts–and let’s be honest, hoping I’m not crazy.

    • Jos

      Stephanie M., your statement that “there are almost no representations of disabled females having/enjoying sex in the media” made me think of one: Svetlana in “The Sopranos.” She’s pretty hot!

  28. You misuse “begs the question”. I think you mean “raises the question”.

  29. Slaidey

    I’m happy Brienne from Game of Thrones was included. The series does a great job of developing her personality and sexuality. Although she was as eager as any teenage girl to find love, bullying led her to the life of a knight and although those feelings are not gone, it’s in constant question whether she is willing to pursue them at this point in her adult life. The fleshing out of her lifestyle choices leaves a large grey area of “ifs” in terms of her abstinence. Pride and honor in fantasy works always play an interesting role in the decisions of characters and their primal instincts.

  30. Sarai Mannolini-Winwood

    An interesting conversation to prompt. I think in many ways it is not only women that are lacking in representation, but the concept of celibacy itself. Outside of a premise of religious discussion it is not a concept largely supported by a society built on the primary need to beget progeny. To my mind I don’t know if celibacy should be any more celebrated than sexuality, but rather the issue returns to that of representation. What are the representations of women in relation to sex revealing about our culture, our society and our values? Does the idea of celibacy promote a healthier mindset towards sex? I don’t believe it does, but I do agree that it is a justified choice and so should be present in the popular culture zeitgeist.

  31. nolarmade69

    Well obviously since woman are so much more associated sex in modern day media, it’s a natural transition to have abstinence play the role of liberation. It’s here for now, but definitely going to shift again.

  32. I think this issue is linked with a few others-namely our concepts of gender and sexual roles. So while femininity in a sexual sense is still linked to submission, it is hard to have a strong female character who is sexual, since it is a popular opinion that to be female and sexual is to take an automatically submissive role. I believe this is one reason why strong female characters are usually linked to abstinence. Does this make them better for it? One could argue either way, I suppose.
    In the case of representations such as Brienne in GOT-there is a small part in the book series that sort of explains why she is celibate-not necessarily by choice. In her youth she was rejected for being so tomboyish. So her celibacy is not really by choice, but because she has been rejected so horribly that she chooses to not pursue anymore relations in that sense (as was stated above).
    I am much more preferential to female characters who actively make their own choice regarding their sex lives. While off the top of my head I cannot think of a strong female character not mentioned who chooses celibacy, I am a fan of representations such as Celine from Underworld who remains abstinent and strong willed until she meets Michael. When she is pursued by Kraven-she simply rebukes him and carries on with her day.
    Anyway, great article! Good read.

  33. I’m new to the Artifice and hopefully would like to have my own work published. This is the first article I’ve read and it’s a good read! Just some thoughts I had:

    I agree the Alien franchise is an interesting one to look at. I’m not sure if I would say Ripley’s ‘celibacy’ is a key aspect in her character. After all, in Alien 3 she does have a brief relationship with the doctor, and in Alien 2 it is subtly hinted she and Hicks expressed some kind of interest in each other. I would like to think these events were included to show she was in control of her decisions, that she was able to express her desires etc., but prioritise them well when an alien is running around! I would say that Ripley is one of the best examples of women who defies the poor stereotype that aromantic/aseuxal = strong for women.

    I also like your Game of Thrones examples – however when I think of the strong female characters, I think immediately of Daenerys. She leads armies and conquers lands – a role she is frequently undermined for AND simultaneously enters relationships. Sure she can’t wield a sword (she has dragons for that!) or express herself very well physically like Arya or Briene, but I think her leadership is strong, confident and commanding. One could argue her relationships and scenes are very sexualised however, but I think Game of Thrones doesn’t entirely categorise women into separate sexual or feminine or strong boxes.

    Great article!

  34. I 100% agree, I have a Pre-teen daughter and I am very disappointed that every character in the media has to adhere to age old ‘gender roles of sexuality.

  35. Interesting article! I am not sure whether we should assume all of these characters to be celibate, though. I feel like deciding a female character is celibate because she doesn’t pursue a relationship throughout the period of a movie may be a product of previous misrepresentations of women. I don’t think your Disney examples are of strictly celibate women, but just of women who don’t confine to highly exaggerated stereotypes.

  36. A very interesting read. Thank you for shedding some light on the subject. To answer your question, “Why are certain representations of ‘strong, female characters’ linked to abstinence?” I believe this may be associated with the still-yet-existing hold on the idea that females are “the weaker sex,” and therefore, submit to lust, food, shopping – you name it! Despite all that has been done to combat this notion, if women are viewed as “the weaker sex,” in every sense of the word (Eve gives in to temptation and eats the fruit; The Bennett girls (save for Lizzy, though that could be an entirely different conversation that would fit in here quite interestingly) in _Pride and Prejudice_ are obsessed with courtship and marriage; The meek and quiet Pam from _The Office_ takes years to ditch Roy, her no good, chauvinistic fiance), then the ability to abstain from something that – let’s face it – our bodies naturally desire and something that feels pretty darn good, then they possess some considerable strength. To resist such a powerful, natural urge may suggest they can do anything…maybe.

  37. Yvonne Tapia

    Great piece. I would like to point out that recent films and television shows have definitely removed sexuality to be explicitly shown on-screen.

    For instance, Wonder Woman has definitely left a lot to be excited about by not showing physical (more than a kiss) romance scenes, leaving the audience with the free choice to decide whether Diana and Steve actually had intercourse. This not only benefits the younger generations (i.e., heroism being the sole focus of the film), but it speaks volumes (perhaps unintentionally), that a woman’s intimacy is to remain in the privacy of her mind, unless she wishes otherwise. Perhaps we will get a scene in Wonder Woman 2, where Diana Prince explicitly states if anything ever happened with Steve, other than a kiss. But until then, I believe it does justice to the representation of what Wonder Woman should be focused on.

    In addition, ABC’s Once Upon A Time (OUAT) has the protagonist named Emma Swan focus on figuring out how to build her relationship with her son, Henry Mills, and find her ultimate happiness, as well as aide others find their own joy. OUAT does not focus on Emma’s sexuality, but rather, her self-fulfillment.

    Many films and tv series on-screen should follow this example, which may open doors of higher proportions, for many more interesting stories.

    • I agree!! Wonder Woman is an excellent example. So is OUAT. Emma does have a relationship later on, but after she is clearly defined as a hero and leader in her own right, which I think was a cool move. Emma is one of the strongest female leads I have see in modern tv. Also, her relationship with Hook (my otp <3 ) is really great. It focuses on both their issues of trust and builds from there, which is a good role model for kids, and adults, I think.

  38. I think the point is valid that sex sells and that our age expects to see strong women who are sexually active and celebrated for doing so. We have come to expect it. Yet when I see the contrary, a female celibate heroine, a rare gem, I actually root for her to continue in her mission and remain faithful to the cause without the sexual dalliance.

  39. Great article! It makes me question the restricted film industry narratives. In so much that currently as films are trying to promote female protagonists, they are restricted to thinking that if women are not dealing with sexual issues on screen then they can only be cast in a male role. Thus the women become tomboy-ish and ‘lone wolf’ character. I think celibacy is a difficult concept to get across because a film dealing with not having sex is really a film discussing sex.

    I would like to bring a point that I came across some time ago known as the Bechdel test, which is a 3 question test which serves an indicator for the active presence of women in films. I think if these fulfilment can be achieved more often in Hollywood, it would enhance the stories written for female leads or supports that are not just dealing with male issues or sex and would produce more richer and deeper layered films.

  40. Shivani

    I find your question of why certain representations of ‘strong, female characters’ are linked to abstinence? and if it makes them better, to be an extremely interesting- albeit concerning one, to ponder upon. This uses the concept embedded in our social psyche that having sex makes women weak and men powerful. Of course the counterexamples some might pose to this is that we have examples of fictional women who are cast as spies and such that use their sexuality as a weapon to seduce and kill or procure what they need- as a means to an end, but my argument for this is that sexuality in these cases is not used in a context of true intimacy and the woman is never fully involved in it, she never actually loses herself in the sexual passion- thereby retaining a sort of detachment from sex even in the midst of a sexual act. What worries me is that these women have to have that distance from sex, as not really ever wanting it, to be perceived as powerful or “badass”. However, I think Jane The Virgin does an excellent job of portraying a woman with sexual desires that is not a warrior, whose abstinence isn’t linked with the maintenance of any perceived power.

  41. A character does not have to have sex to be memorable. For me, Aunt Lydia from “The Handmaids Tale” comes to mind. She isn’t sexual at all, in fact, quite the opposite. I found her utterly terrifying, and her sexuality (or lack thereof) didn’t add or take away from how memorable she is.

  42. While I wholeheartedly agree that Ripley from the Alien franchise was a very strong female protagonist, referring to her as celibate or virginal is way off the mark. In the first movie, she is shown more than once in skimpy underwear with her nipples protruding through her singlet. In the second she flirts with Corporal Hicks throughout the film, taking part in sexual innuendos. In the third movie, she has sex with the ex-prisoner doctor. And don’t even get me started on the fourth movie, lol!

  43. Jos

    To describe Brienne in “Game of Thrones” as ‘non-sexual’ is to misread her portrayal. She does not conform to Westeros’ idealized concept of femininity, which is why Jaime Lannister’s mind tells him he should not be attracted to her; his body tells him something different! Jaime’s sexual arousal in the presence of Brienne is perhaps more clearly defined in the books than in the TV show. Their relationship is intimate and highly sexually-charged, (think of the scene in which they swordfight, the scene in the bath at Harrenhal, the scene in which Jaime rescues Brienne from the bear). In “Game of Thrones”, (as in life), the act of sexual intercourse does not define romance. Sansa and Ramsay have plenty of intercourse; Brienne and Jaime have none, but their relationship is the more sexually romantic one!

  44. I think variety in female characters is very important. We see many versions of male sexuality, for example in Game of Thrones; there are heterosexual., homosexual, and celibate men. Yet in this world all females are expected to either marry respectably, and if they don’t they are expected to be used for sex, as a prostitute. However, as we know there are many female characters who break this rule and norm. The celibacy of Arya is an important one as her father told her she would have to marry, but she said she wanted to be a sword fighter instead. For Arya she had to choose between one or the other, she couldn’t have both, so she choose fighter. However, Dani our Mother of Dragons is able to do both given her power and situation. She gains power after marrying and then makes her own rule after her husband dies. But she still dates men that she wants to. Also we have Lagertha, in the series, “Vikings”, who is a mother, wife and shield maiden.

    Therefore, it is important to have this diversity of female (and male) characters, so as to not box the female sex into being only there for the sexual entertainment of men (which many female characters are in Game of Thrones, I might add, which is extremely annoying to watch, imo).

  45. Female celibacy is often the butt of a joke, too. “I’m swearing off of men” – in the next episode their out there dating someone, or all of their friends in the show make fun of their decision.
    Great analysis of this. It’s too bad there aren’t more examples of women in media making a choice about their bodies.

  46. I totally agree! I really believe that what we see in our entertainment affects how society acts. If we have a higher representation of celibate women in film, real-life women can feel comfortable with their choice to remain celibate without feeling juvenile.

  47. I love your analysis of this. It’s important to know how much the media and entertainment affects society, and the depiction of female characters embodied in specific archetypal roles is particularly important (since it creates models that many people may attempt to emulate). This particular examination is a great interpretation and acknowledgement of the way most of our current media displays female characters. I appreciate the insight :).

  48. I love this article and all of the points it encompasses. That is something I myself have always found angering about television and movie today. For myself I am a 25 year old women who has never had sex before in my life and someone who wants to wait until I’m married because then I know it will be with someone who I love. The one thing that I’m sick of hearing when I tell people I’ve never had sex is “Really? Why not?”. Sex before marriage and sexualized representations of women in media has become so common that it has made the act of NOT having it became weird or abnormal and sadly more often then not women and also men like me who don’t want to have sex before they’re married are looked at as prudish or snobby. But it goes both ways and men and women who do indulge in sex are often looked at in a negative light by many people as well. I don’t understand why this is something we need to judge or group people by. Everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and beliefs about sex and I think there should be representation for both sides of the spectrum that are not only badass, relatable, and inspiring but also regarded and respected for the decisions they made by all society. One day we’ll get there…. hopefully.

  49. This a topic that boils my soul – seriously. And what you said about Game of Thrones – I honestly felt goosebumps. The way women have been sexualised in the media, first as they are made to look sexual rather than be sexual beings, and second – they are made into active sexual beings to ‘settle the score’. If you’re rolling your eyes just as much as I am, we can both be called Emily Rose. I honestly cannot stand the over-sexualisation of everything except Cereal and truthfully, there will come a day when even that is sexualised. But even more so, it is now a skin-gnawing trope that you’re a weirdo if you abstain from sex or you’re a normal (NORMAL!) woman who goes on countless sexual escapades and has endless guy problems. Not to mention the stereotype where girls have to use sex as a weapon to wield a man you’re dating or married too. I’m Emily Rose again. Even Jane the Virgin made this devout girl who has paused sex for her religious beliefs, but more so for her Abuela – and she was willing to give this up at one point because her life didn’t fit her ideal anymore. It’s honestly bullshit. Absolute bullshit. I am a young girl right in the smack middle of my youth, in my early twenties, and have chosen to remain celibate. This is a religious commitment, but more so this, and much more importantly, this is my stand against sexual openness that leads to nothing but unwanted pregnancies, STDs, feelings of worthlessness that comes strictly with lack of being wanted and offering yourself up to complete losers that you will later regret. We as women are taught that sex is the only thing we are worthy of, it’s all men desire in us and it’s all we will amount to. I’d rather live my whole life celibate than give into these bullshit notions. Sex is special, and should be an act done by two people that wish to honour one another through their love. Not something you do on a night out because you’re bored and want to feel good for just a second. Because only then will you feel worthy, loved and respected. And if you happen to get pregnant, at least you’ll know who the goddamn father is. Okay. Rant is over. For now.

  50. Love this. Far too often, the sexuality of women in media is either overly policed, overly romanticized, or ignored entirely.

  51. tclaytor

    This is a great topic! I hope some creative writers out there will take up the challenge to explore female protagonists who are celibate but not masculine in a modern setting. Older works had no problem with celibate characters of both genders as being perfectly normal and acceptable. Our overly sexualized culture cannot imagine a purposeful celibate lifestyle as possible or desirable. However, for a Christian not called to marriage, this is a reality. We need heroes and heroines who embrace this and aren’t tragic figures.

  52. Thank you for this article. This issue is omnipresent in today’s society, movies and artwork. I hope that we will get to a point where women aren’t categorized or put in one box or another and rather given the freedom to chose, live and improve. Most of all, I hope that their freedom would be well represented in films and all art forms.

  53. Nice job on a thought provoking article. What it made me think of was the idea of agency. There’s a lot of talk, especially at the moment, about women’s agency over their own bodies, our rights to make choices for ourselves and our bodies. I’m so glad that this is a discussion that’s happening but I think this is perhaps part of that discussion that, I at least, am finding falling to the wayside a bit. Understandably the idea that women should be able to explore their sexuality without judgement is pressing because of the prevalence of slut shaming and such but this is an important flip side. Women’s agency over their bodies and their sexualities has to include the choice not to engage in sexual relationships or activity also without judgement (i’m thinking of the paradox of young female sexuality that Alison brings up in tha classic Breakfast Club scene). I think it’s definitely something that does need further exploration in media, especially outside of the usual explain aways like religiousity (not that there’s anything wrong with that of course) or even worse, assault trauma.
    Thank you for raising these questions.

  54. This is an extremely thought-provoking topic and one that I wish was discussed more often. It is unfortunate that, as you stated, celibacy is most often portrayed in film through women who are more ‘masculine’ or ‘tomboyish’. Although it is always good to see women having the freedom to express their sexuality I definitely think that allowing for women to express their choice to remain celibate is equally as important. Feminism is not only representing one kind of woman but the totality and complexity of women. This is why I admire women such as Tamera Mowry-Housley who openly talks about her choice to stay celibate until marriage. It shows people that sexuality is something a woman has control over and is ultimately HER choice.

  55. Hey!
    This is an interesting question and I agree that there is definitely a lack (or non-existence) of celibate female leads. Sure we may see these people as minor characters, but we have hardly seen these sort of characters in the spotlight (other than in Jane the Virgin). Even if we do somehow encounter these characters, there is not much depth given to them.

  56. Pamela Maria

    Very thought-provoking article. I think that these negative aspects of females and abstinence are linked to the greater view of how women are still treated and viewed in society. Despite becoming more literate in the negative portrayal of women from films, roles, ads, etc. subtle sexism is still entrenched in everything. Even stereotypes such as: if a man sleeps around its good but if a woman does she’s a slut or how ambition looks better on men are still prevalent in everyday mentalities. It’s as if a woman is to take upon a more ambitious role, she must give up her feminity (by being a tomboy). Regardless, I’ve never thought of how celibacy can be linked to this overall destructive stereotyping that still exists in our society. Thank you for writing this!

  57. Thanks for writing this! While not a big fan of Disney, I’m glad they are creating independent female protagonists. It would have been great to have more of that growing up, and especially to see more of a range of sexuality presented on screen in female characters. It took years to figure out that it’s okay (and perfectly normal) to not want sex – but it’s not something you see often. If you do, the reasons seem to be a crucial part of the character – they’re religious, a-sexual, etc… and it’s never really treated with a casual nod. It’s presented as almost one extreme or the other, instead of “hey, it’s just not that big of a deal to some people, and that’s fine.”

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