Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt centers on the female researchers at the fictional News of the Week magazine who sue the publication in 1970 in order to become reporters. But for one character in particular, Cindy Reston (Erin Darke), the lawsuit sparks more than a social and political awakening; it inspires her to embark on her own sexual revolution.
In the second episode of the show’s first season, which debuted on Oct. 28, Cindy attends a consciousness-raising meeting alongside some of her colleagues and other women outside of their office. In the middle of a conversation, the host of the meeting announces to everyone in the room, “Ladies, circle back up for our final exercise. Please bring your compacts; we’re going to be celebrating our beautiful bodies by looking at our vulvas.”
Later that night when Cindy goes home, she takes a compact with her into the bathroom, pulls down her underwear, and examines herself privately; it’s clear from her face that she’s looking at her vagina for the very first time. Two episodes later, after some conversations with trusted friends and a romantic interaction with a co-worker, she masturbates alone in bed while her husband is in the next room watching I Dream of Jeannie.
“I was so happy when we got to that episode and I got to film the masturbation scene because I feel like that is something that is so rarely seen [on television],” Darke told BuzzFeed News at a press event in October.
For Darke, depicting women seeking their own pleasure is one of the most empowering things about Good Girls Revolt. “It was this woman coming into herself and realizing, ‘I deserve pleasure for me,’” she said.
There’s a deep history of women not being encouraged or empowered to understand their own bodies, in part because they’ve historically belonged to other people. During Cindy’s young life, sex was presumably geared toward male pleasure or for the purpose of reproduction; rarely, if ever, was sex discussed in terms of women’s pleasure.
In Darke’s opinion, portraying Cindy’s sexual awakening is crucial because it’s also something “women still struggle with today.” Darke, for example, said she didn’t masturbate until she was in her twenties. “I didn’t know, I’d never been introduced to it. Nobody ever talked to me about it,” she said. “My mother certainly never told me about it. I never saw it in pop culture.”
The actor cites Sex and the City, which premiered on HBO in 1998, as a “huge moment” for her and the reason she started exploring her own body as a means of achieving sexual pleasure.
“Starting to watch these women take control over their own pleasure was a huge thing for me. I went out [and] bought my first vibrator,” she said. “In some ways, I feel like we had this landmark thing and then we still just don’t see [masturbation] that much.”
Not only does Darke think that masturbation and sexual empowerment are absent in pop culture, but she also sees a lack of that kind of discussion among friends.
“We don’t talk about it, we never talk about it. I was probably 25 before I had a conversation with another female friend of mine, of like, ‘Do you masturbate?’” she said. “There’s literally nothing wrong with it. Why is it this taboo thing? I’m so happy that the show owned that.”
While observing her own vagina in a compact mirror may seem like a minor moment for Cindy on Good Girls Revolt, it’s indicative of her growth as a character and it speaks to her desire to challenge what she’s long been told.
“What I love and relate to most about Cindy is the fear that you don’t deserve what it is that you want, or you don’t deserve to be happy,” Darke said. “I know I struggle with that sometimes, and she’s suffering from that to an extreme degree. I think there’s just this person in Cindy trying to fight its way out against everything she’s been taught her whole life.”