This is a short paper I wrote for my class on the New Hollywood period of American cinematic history. It is based on two clips, one from each movie: the scene where a naked Mrs. Robinson locks Benjamin inside a bedroom with her, and the scene where Frank and Margaret are engaged in intercourse while being broadcast throughout the unit on the radio.

The clips from The Graduate and MASH both depict the image of a “sexually liberated” woman, in the characters of Mrs. Robinson and Margaret, respectively. Yet each sexual encounter evokes a different reaction from the audience due to the manner in which female sexuality is portrayed.
The Graduate depicts Mrs. Robinson as a fairly unpleasant, manipulative, yet somehow inescapable source of sexual intrigue. Without even being present in the shot, she uses the threat of discontent with Benjamin to get him to climb a staircase and enter a bedroom, when consciously and verbally he is undesiring of doing either. He doesn’t fully know why he can’t resist this threat, although it has something to do with her authority as a person older than himself. One intended purpose of this film, then, is to challenge the authority of age.
Entering the room, she locks him into unavoidably seeing her nude body. His discomfort is, in all likelihood, a source of pleasure for her, because it is through effecting and controlling emotional (read: hormonal) responses in men that she gets her own feeling of power over them.
Margaret, on the other hand, meets Frank within more of a context of apparent equality. They share the same views and have worked well together to implement them. Their initial non-platonic encounter (for lack of a better phrase) occurs immediately after writing their letter of disapproval regarding the state of the unit.
After the quick encounter, Frank wears an expression of randy disappointment at its lack of conclusion, but also of mild conflict. Such encounters directly contradict his, and Margaret’s, supposed demand for more discipline within the unit, among other values. Yet, despite these characters serving as general targets of ridicule within the film, Altman wants the audience to feel numerous reactions towards this scene, one of which is the shared excitement that comes with “being bad.” Hence we are not in the least surprised when he suggests coming back later to “see if she’s all right.” (Though it is left up to the audience whether the sexual pairing of these two haughty, repressed characters is meant to strike us as titillating or off-putting.)
Getting back to Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson, we are equally unsurprised that Benjamin is ultimately unable to resist Mrs. Robinsonn; she makes herself so unambiguously available, and is an attractive and willing woman. The moment-long cuts to her various bodyparts use the mechanism of fetishistic fragmentation to underscore the extent to which she is objectifying herself in order to seduce Benjamin, and accordingly, us. What person could resist such an advance? Again, the conflict created by her marital status adds to the excitement that Benjamin, and we as the audience, derive. And, as with the authority of age, The Graduate also seeks to challenge or critique the institution of marriage as it exists within our society as a moral framework.
The second, more conclusive, sexual encounter between Frank and Margaret in the MASH clip is used as a source of ridicule for the other men and women in the MASH unit. They actively disdain Frank and Margaret’s self-righteous, Captain Queeg-like attitudes as officers. Elliot Gould’s character, Trapper, acts in the capacity of the artist and elevates Altman’s critique of authority and conventional morality by literally broadcasting the officers’ profane and unprofessional sexual shenanigans for all to hear. In this way, female sexuality is portrayed within a context of ridicule.
Furthermore, Margaret uses her body to unequivocally invite Frank (with the words, “His will be done!”) into the sexual encounter that will soon be heard issuing from radio speakers throughout the camp. Consequently, the concepts of institutional authority, religion, and general morality are questioned and ridiculed against a depiction of the fulfillment of visceral human lust. And Margaret will receive the nickname of Hot Lips as part of the “slut-shaming” that comes with a woman enjoying sex.
Similarly, Mrs. Robinson’s advances highlight the moral decay within a superficial and unashamedly consumeristic society. To reflect her own insipid boredom and lack of purpose within this society, she takes advantage of Benjamin’s coming-of-age confusion for her own amusement. Therefore, in both films, female sexuality is used to invite criticism of the current social order, and is generally portrayed in a negative light.
At the end of the MASH clip, however, the compromising sounds of Frank and Margaret’s encounter are sent through an echo effect, creating a menacing and disturbing sensation in the audience, which divests the scene of its humor. Trapper and his cohorts suddenly appear bored almost to the point of sadism or at least inhuman exploitation, while Margaret and Frank (the former targets of ridicule) appear victimized. Altman does this as a concomitant part of his basic agenda: to highlight the general inhumanity of penning a bunch of red-blooded human beings up in tents in a foreign country and forcing them to engage in legal murder of another people, and the dehumanizing effect it has on them. Margaret’s repression of her sexuality—until the encounters with Frank, of course—may symbolize another effect of such mixed-up values.
In contrast, Benjamin’s “horror” at the sight of Mrs. Robinson’s body is notably humorous to the audience. His top priority is not getting caught by Mr. Robinson, while Mrs. Robinson seems to not care one iota. Mike Nichols, the director, is ridiculing the greater context of the situation: a bored married woman seducing a young man who is deeply anxious about his future, and all the young man wants to do is not get caught by the woman’s husband. Mrs. Robinson’s sexuality being used as a tool for this ignoble purpose, then, may also be seen as a symptom of a faulty, patriarchal society that gives women no other sense of control than with their bodies.
However, a feminist critique of these films would probably yield an inquisition as to why Nichols and Altman couldn’t depict female sexuality in a positive light, furthering true sexual liberation, rather than reinforcing the stereotypes of seductress and slut.