FOR YEARS film directors have implied sexual content by showing a nude woman climbing out of bed. Or taking a bath. Or brushing her hair.
Men, meanwhile, have remained fully clothed and/or covered by the sheets, voyeuristically chaste as the filmgoers themselves.
Men may not have noticed this detail of contemporary cinematography, but few are the women who haven't. Many women tired of the sexual inequality in film are mad and they aren't taking it anymore. They're staying home to watch TV or read a good book.
It's not that we're dying to see men run around naked, any more than men are dying to see women run around naked. We just wouldn't mind it, is all.
And besides, fair is fair. If you get to see what's-her-name in "Presumed Innocent" pull down her top, pull up her bottom, and lie across a desk for carnal consumption by Harrison Ford, why can't we catch a little glimpse of Mr. Ford in some comparable degree of undress?
And no, seeing a man's chest is not the same as seeing a woman's chest, so forget it. The similarities are strictly biological.
Culturally speaking, seeing a man's bared chest is about as titillating as seeing a man's kneecap peeking beneath the cuff of his Bermuda shorts.
We see kneecaps and pecs all the time. Ergo, they are not sexually exciting! (Unless you truly haven't seen one in a long, long time, in which case even an earlobe can be pretty riveting.)
Under usual circumstances, however, it is the unseen, the unfamiliar, the forbidden that titillates.
Which is precisely why this will be remembered as the summer female filmgoers abandoned their TV Guides and returned to the theaters.
We're treated to men who actually disrobe, though not necessarily for sexual purposes. They're doing normal things, like walking to the shower (Ron Howard's Backdraft) and taking a swim in medieval times when bathing suits were not considered a fashion statement (Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).
Actually, this is not be the first Robin Hood derriere to grace the screen. An earlier version starring Sean Connery as Robin Hood and Audrey Hepburn as Maid Marian included a scene in which Robin drops from a tree to the ground. He is wearing a tasteful, medieval skirt and nothing more.
It was a mere glimpse, ladies and gentlemen, but memorable. Memorable.
In the current version, Kevin Costner whose earlobes, fingertips and kneecaps actually have been known to prompt a hormonal revolt takes a skinny-dip. (Costner has said the bared flesh belongs to his stand-in.)
I don't know about you, but I've always been extremely interested in Robin Hood.
In other films, Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently will reveal more muscle than usual in "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." And, in "Switch," Jimmy Smits arises from bed without apparent modesty. We could do without the gratuitous scratch, that being somewhat on the biological side.
The fundamental difference between these male glimpses and the female orgies we're accustomed to is that these men will be sexual only in the eyes of the beholder. Unlike their female counterparts, they're still not performing as sex objects. They're just men doing natural things in natural ways.
For example, when a man takes a shower, he gets wet, gets soapy, gets out.
A woman taking a bath, on the other hand, doesn't just jump in the tub, lather up a washrag and quickly skim her legs with a Bic disposable razor.
She lingers in the suds and caressingly cleanses her perfectly molded body as though she is being bathed not by herself, but by the man smoldering in the seat beside you.
Playboy critic Bruce Williamson opines that this male hind-side trend is a Hollywood backlash.
"For years, women have gotten out of bed nude while men were shown wearing shorts under the sheets," he is quoted as saying in a recent issue of USA Today. "What's happening now is an effort to achieve equality."
I wouldn't start feeling smug yet, fellas. This is not exactly equality in my book, but hey, it's a start.