Are You Ready for the Sex, Girls?The Mixed Messages of Kids

Kids has been hailed as a film that breaks the teen-movie mold and shows a long-hidden side of young life. But, while it may be more graphic and harsh than other movies, it basically covers the same ground: voracious young male sexuality. The only innovative element of the movie—an honest portrayal of female sexual pleasure—is conflicted at best.

Two opposing dynamics of sexuality are illustrated, one by Telly and his virgin conquests, the other by the scene—perhaps one of the best in modern screenwriting—where a group of girls talk raunchily and gleefully about their sexual experiences. Since it addressed the girls’ pleasure from their own point of view, that scene gave me hope that the movie might actually affirm female sexuality. Unfortunately, it was the only glimmer of female subjectivity in the place. The rest of the movie was all about boys convincing girls to get fucked. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that per se; what’s disturbing is the stereotypical choreography of Telly’s moves.

Telly’s two seductions are mirror images of each other—the two girls say the same things in the same whiney, needy voice: “Do you care about me?” they ask, needing an emotional hook to make sex all right. That Telly says the same lines to both of them is unimportant; it’s just his m.o. But the repetition of the female dialogue is not so simple. While blending the two characters into one, it implies that all girls and women have sex for the same reason: a desire to secure love, not the physical desire that motivates boys like Telly.

This view of female sexuality as based in emotional need is strongly contradicted by Ruby, Susan, Diane, Linda, and Jenny talking about sex. They know that they don’t need love to get physical, and they sure as hell recognize the pleasure that’s in it for them. They have no trouble at all verbalizing it; their words ring absolutely true:

Ruby: He was, like, sucking my tits. He was fucking fingering me. But that shit was nice and hard. (She pounds a fist into her palm.) I was like ripping his hair out. And we kissed like so hard that our lips were busted. And that shit was so good. It was crazy. He was like ripping my hair. It was like, oh yeah (She moves her hips.), work it.
Susan: You know why I decided to go out with Alex?
Jenny: Why?
Susan (laughing): He has the best fucking fingers I’ve ever had. (She makes an illustative gesture.) I was like, yes! I’m going out with him.

The exuberance that permeates this scene is a powerful alternative to the passivity and whininess of Telly’s conquests. These girls don’t need to be assured that they are cared about in order to have sex:

Diane: I like sex and I like fucking.
Ruby: Hell, yeah. I love, I love sex.
Susan: It’s like the best thing.
Ruby: No, I don’t love sex.
Jenny: Foreplay, foreplay.
Ruby: No, I don’t love sex. I like hard-core pound fucking.
Susan: Yep.
Linda: Yep. That’s the best way. It’s that boom boom boom.

A comparison of this scene with the ones in which Telly woos the young objects of his carnal affections poses the question: which of these two radically different views of female sexuality does the film position itself to support? Can it support both at once? Can the viewer choose for herself? For himself?

The film shows a clear recognition of the difference between male perception of what girls want and the reality: while the girls talk about how gross giving head can be, their discussion is cut with shots of the guys saying how much girls love to suck dick. Obviously, the audience is being clued on to the fact that these guys often don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about; viewers can then be encouraged to take all male statements and actions with a grain of salt. By making visible the fallacy of uninformed and steretypical thinking, the film undercuts traditional notions of female sexuality. Furthermore, maleness and masculine sexuality—as represented by Telly and Casper—is problematic. The audience is shown graphically that Telly is a lying, disease-spreading jerk, and Casper’s a drunken rapist.

This may interfere with both audience identification and filmic alignment, but it remains clear that the movie comes from a male viewpoint. Telly’s voice literally opens and closes the film; we see the world through his eyes throughout. We may get a few glimpses of life from Jenny’s point of view, but there’s no doubt about it—Kids is Telly’s story. So where does that leave us? While it’s great to see and hear girls speaking frankly and joyously about their own physical experiences of sex—that’s all too rare in mainstream media—that one great scene is sandwiched between images of girls whining about being cared for and guys treating them like shit. The parallel seductions serve to show the audience that male sexuality is predatory and female sexuality is passive and victim-based. Female viewers can listen to Ruby, Susan, Linda, Jenny, and Diane, but they’ll still leave the theater with the other girls’ whiney plea for emotion ringing in their ears. —lj.

This article was published in Premiere Issue #1 | Winter 1996
by Lisa Jervis
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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Over a decade later

I just came across this coincidentally while on your site. I'm an avid reader, I'm a teenager, and I recently saw this movie. Over a decade after it was made, here I am in a era where too many teen movies surround males just trying to get laid, and I was surprised by how "ahead of his time" (i hate clichés) Clark was in his brazen depiction of young female sexuality in the scene described above. At the same time, I think it would be unfair if he depicted all of the girls in the movie like Ruby, Susan, Linda, Jenny and Diane who were only interested in the physical aspects of sex. I also believe that Clark's purpose in mirroring the two female victims of Telly's dialogue was somewhat necessary in portraying the intensity of Telly's heartless actions. The mirroring dialogue at the beginning and end of the film also seemed to me to be an artistic choice to provide symmetry and sort of have the story come full circle and show that the cycle and the spread of STDs continue.

Whether or not Larry Clark did this to perpetuate a stereotype for young females wasn't really the question for me- it's a situation that exists and Clark just chooses to expose it and not make it into something it's not. Clark might be doing it to send out a strong message to females not to let themselves become victimized - not to point out how weak young females are. Perhaps Clark's use of this stereotypical dialogue in the young females is a stab at previous teen films or previous depictions of females in entertainment-who's to say? Then again, a lot of people accuse him of being a pervert, so with that argument, where does the intellectual or artistic elements of the film even come in? I can’t speak for his artistic reasons behind this element of the film so i'm not going to attempt to do so.

Clark also doesn't make an effort to portray the range of male emotions regarding sex- he just shows them as "predatory" jerks and rapists- which not all men are. But at the same time, it's okay that he doesn't show more of a range. Because this film is simply a glimpse into the lives of a handful of teenagers - they don't and can't represent us all. Even though I can't argue that scenes in this movie became eerily accurate portrayals of what i've witnessed in my generation. The film's overall statement about HIV and STD awareness is successful and his depiction of the dangers of boredom and carelessness of teens seems spot on at times - even over a decade later.

I may consider myself a strong feminist, but I know that there are vulnerable young girls out there- keep in mind, the virgins Telly deflowers are in their early teens- they aren't as mentally mature as the older female characters who openly discuss the physical pleasures of sex. They're inexperienced and afraid- It would be unrealistic to depict them as otherwise in my opinion. But still I see the points of this response, as the film is widely unpolished in its presentation and open to criticism. But despite whether stereotypes are exaggerated by the movie's depiction of teen life, they exist and continue to be perpetuated in real life. To not include them in the film would be a false representation of Clark's subjects.

New To Bitch: Recognizing Kids

As a newcomer to the magazine and website, I thought it would be wise to read back and see what I missed. Ironically, this was the first article that grabbed my attention, though all are quite the interesting read. I recall watching this movie with my older sister and my father, somewhere around 12 years old. My dad helped me to understand what was happening and to be comfortable in my skin while learning about the world through someone elses eyes. On a sad note, it was my mother who freaked, labeling my dad some sort of monster, the movie was just another dignified porn in her eyes. She played the "do you know what I went through as a child card," which didnt even seem relevant to me. As a child of abuse, I didnt understand what her past had to do with a movie. Even more so, I didnt understand what was so wrong with me wanting to watch the film. But even back then, my mother couldnt comprehend that a young girl of 12 was curious about that thing called sex, it had to be that big bad wolf called my father. Reading this article made me think about not only the images we see but how we take them, how we process these things and who we allow to influence us into believing curiousity can be dirty and crude.
"If Its Wrong, Make It Write"

Run from the prophecy!


I don't really think that what you called "the stereotypical choreography of Telly’s moves" is at all disturbing. I really think that Clark does not perpetuates heterosexual male points of view.
In this film i think more important than the relations between female and male views on sex is the fact that the characters spend the day talking about sex. This reminds Foucault and his idea that modern society has not been sex repressive on the fat that it built mechanisms to produce sexual discoure.
In this movie we can see different discourses about sex and sexuality. One, more related to how to get pleasure from it in a personal way (girls conversation), other searching a truth in sex (conversation between Telly and Casper) and other as a intuitive performance in order to produce gender identity (similar to the processes J. Buttler describes) (conversation between boys in diferrent locations, aggressive behavior) and other is the confession that the girls make to the nurses reminding us the adaptation of a mechanism (catholic confession) to a new institution of power: science and medicine. If you want to get medical attention you have to confess what you did in order to get more knowledge over sex.
Of course there are lots of other interesting stuff (like girls talking in a bedroom and boys in a living room, etc) but what i think it is great about it is the fact that he shows this different discourses (with a certain degree of critic) but without being much afected by it. This can be good if he wants to escape the "traditional functions of prophecy" - "the good sex is tomorrow" (Foucault) And prophecy has led us in many bad paths!

I think it's important not

I think it's important not to give Larry Clark too much credit, or Harmony Korine for that matter. In light of their later work, it's pretty safe to assume neither of them were explicitly trying to depict Telly's behavior as terrible.

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