Archetypes of femininity

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Presentation given at the 14th annual FSAC Grad Student Colloquium at the University of British Columbia.

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  • Archetypes of femininity

    1. 1. Archetypes of femininityA Reassessment of the Representation of Woman in Film Louis-Paul Willis (Université de Montréal) FSAC Grad Colloquium
    2. 2. Past reflections
    3. 3. Past reflections• Johnston, C. (1973). “Women’s cinema as Counter Cinema” ‣ Semiotic perspective on the representation of Woman in film ‣ “Despite the enormous emphasis placed on woman as spectacle in the cinema, woman as woman is largely absent”
    4. 4. Past reflections• Johnston, C. (1973). “Women’s cinema as Counter Cinema” ‣ Semiotic perspective on the representation of Woman in film ‣ “Despite the enormous emphasis placed on woman as spectacle in the cinema, woman as woman is largely absent”• De Lauretis, T. (1987). Technologies of Gender ‣ Woman = “a fictional construct, a distillate from diverse [...] discourses in Western culture” ‣ “this femininity is purely a representation, a positionality within the phallic model of desire”
    5. 5. Past reflections
    6. 6. Past reflections• Cowie, E. (1978). “Woman as Sign” ‣ Inspired by Claude Lévi-Strauss’ The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949) ‣ Woman = a sign communicated through her exchange within social structures founded on kinship ‣ “Once posited within kinship structures, i.e. as a category which is not-men, women are ‘produced’ as mother, daughter, wife, sister”
    7. 7. Past reflections• Cowie, E. (1978). “Woman as Sign” ‣ Inspired by Claude Lévi-Strauss’ The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949) ‣ Woman = a sign communicated through her exchange within social structures founded on kinship ‣ “Once posited within kinship structures, i.e. as a category which is not-men, women are ‘produced’ as mother, daughter, wife, sister”• Generalized (post-Mulveyan/Lacanian) feminist perception: ‣ Woman = a fantasy that contains a threatening underside ‣ Thus, often presented in a dichotomous perspective
    8. 8. PLAN AIM: to rethink this dichotomous perspective1. The “angel/whore” paradigm2. Proposal of an archetypal paradigm3. Example(s)
    9. 9. The “angel/whore” paradigm
    10. 10. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Hughes, G. (1998). An Encyclopedia of Swearing “The historical evolution of the word-field for women has produced an extreme dichotomy or binary opposition between a few terms of praise, such as virgin, maiden, and goddess, set against a multitude of derogatory terms, of which bitch, fishwife, quean, virago, witch, and whore have their own expanded entries. This division, often termed the angel/whore dichotomy, is conspicuously apparent from the Middle Ages onward, and the imbalance has attracted much critical attention in recent decades, notably from feminists. In many ways it continues to this day”
    11. 11. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters “Although all women are seen as inferior, some women are denounced as particularly “dirty” – women of color, prostitutes, poor women. They are “whores”. Select other women are designated […] as “virgins”, impossibly chaste and pure – for example, upper- and middle-class white women who are installed as the closely guarded symbol of white purity, white culture, of whiteness itself”
    12. 12. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Churchill, B. A. (2003). The Lolita Phenomenon: The Child (femme) Fatale at the Fin de Siècle (PhD thesis) ‣ Argues that the sexualized young girl = a femme fatale “Film, like all cultural forms, has documented a veritable tug-of-war between the two poles of femininity, between the virtuous virgin and the femme fatale, in the cultural psyche”
    13. 13. The “angel/whore” paradigm
    14. 14. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Mother figure = also dichotomous
    15. 15. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Mother figure = also dichotomous• Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters “The fantasy [of the angel-mom] inevitably contains the splitting that is endemic to masculine subjectivity and egocentric consciousness. Just as the “whore” lurks behind every “virgin”, so too the mad, bad, and devouring monster-mother is the perverse underside of this idealized maternal fantasy.”
    16. 16. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Mother figure = also dichotomous• Caputi, J. (2004). Goddesses and Monsters “The fantasy [of the angel-mom] inevitably contains the splitting that is endemic to masculine subjectivity and egocentric consciousness. Just as the “whore” lurks behind every “virgin”, so too the mad, bad, and devouring monster-mother is the perverse underside of this idealized maternal fantasy.”• Example: Cronenberg, D. (2002). Spider
    17. 17. Cronenberg, D. (2002). SpiderNurturing mother Castrating mother
    18. 18. The “angel/whore” paradigm
    19. 19. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Very rarely problematized
    20. 20. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Very rarely problematized• Not universally operative ‣ Where to situate the sexualized young girl? ‣ Wyman, L. & N. Dionisopoulos. (2000). “Transcending the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy” ‣ “this dichotomous perspective is self-limiting, and can benefit from a re-examination and expansion”
    21. 21. The “angel/whore” paradigm• Very rarely problematized• Not universally operative ‣ Where to situate the sexualized young girl? ‣ Wyman, L. & N. Dionisopoulos. (2000). “Transcending the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy” ‣ “this dichotomous perspective is self-limiting, and can benefit from a re-examination and expansion”• Actual dichotomy = pure/impure? ‣ necessity for another paradigm
    22. 22. The archetypal paradigm
    23. 23. The archetypal paradigm• Inconsistent existing vocabulary ‣ Examples: ‣ The virgin as figure ‣ The femme fatale as icon ‣ The housewife as stereotype ‣ The mother as archetype
    24. 24. The archetypal paradigm• Inconsistent existing vocabulary ‣ Examples: ‣ The virgin as figure ‣ The femme fatale as icon ‣ The housewife as stereotype ‣ The mother as archetype• Archetype = appropriate term ‣ no relation to the jungian concept ‣ more inclusive than “figure” or “stereotype”
    25. 25. The archetypal paradigm
    26. 26. The archetypal paradigm• Holman, C. H. (1972). A Handbook to Literature “[the term archetype] applies to an image, a descriptive detail, a plot pattern, or a character type that occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion, or folklore and is therefore believed to evoke profound emotions in the reader because it awakens a primordial image in his unconscious memory”
    27. 27. The archetypal paradigm• Holman, C. H. (1972). A Handbook to Literature “[the term archetype] applies to an image, a descriptive detail, a plot pattern, or a character type that occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion, or folklore and is therefore believed to evoke profound emotions in the reader because it awakens a primordial image in his unconscious memory”• Archetypal images: implicit in cultural manifestations of all types (Knapp, 1990) ‣ Present in the collective cultural (patriarchal) unconscious ‣ collective unconscious = trans-historical and trans-cultural ‣ cultural unconscious = specific to a (patriarchal) culture
    28. 28. Archetypes of femininity
    29. 29. Archetypes of femininity• Aim: ‣ approach Woman with regards to her relation to the male character(s) ‣ Similar to Cowie’s (1978) approach
    30. 30. Archetypes of femininity• Aim: ‣ approach Woman with regards to her relation to the male character(s) ‣ Similar to Cowie’s (1978) approach• Postulate: ‣ The media representation of Woman can be articulated around three predominant archetypes: the mother, the lover and the young girl. ‣ Each archetype is articulated around the pure/impure dichotomy
    31. 31. Archetypes of femininity pure impureyoung girl the angelic virgin the “child (femme) fatale” lover the good housewife the seductress mother the ideal mother the abject mother
    32. 32. Archetypes of femininity pure impureyoung girl the angelic virgin the “child (femme) fatale” lover the good housewife the seductress mother the ideal mother the abject mother ‣ “Appearing as Mother, Virgin, and Mistress, the feminine is, thus, defined in relation to masculine needs and desires and also in terms of mutually exclusive roles” (Rushing, 1995).
    33. 33. Examples
    34. 34. Examples• 3 Women (Altman, 1977) ‣ Analytical model; validates the archetypal approach ‣ Close proximity with 1970s feminist reflexions ‣ Radical rethinking of the representation and roles of Woman
    35. 35. Examples• 3 Women (Altman, 1977) ‣ Analytical model; validates the archetypal approach ‣ Close proximity with 1970s feminist reflexions ‣ Radical rethinking of the representation and roles of Woman ‣ 3 characters: ‣ Pinky: young nursing home attendant ‣ Millie: initial mother figure to Pinky ‣ Willie: enigmatic; ultimate mother figure in the film
    36. 36. Archetypes in 3 Women• Pinky: ‣ from innocent young girl to seductress
    37. 37. Altman, R. (1977). 3 Women(innocent) young girl seductress
    38. 38. Archetypes in 3 Women• Pinky: ‣ from innocent young girl to seductress• Millie: ‣ from mother to candid and clumsy lover
    39. 39. Altman, R. (1977). 3 Womengood mother clumsy lover
    40. 40. Archetypes in 3 Women• Pinky: ‣ from innocent young girl to seductress• Millie: ‣ from candid and clumsy lover to mother• Willie: ‣ asexual yet highly abject mother ‣ refuses the gaze
    41. 41. Altman, R. (1977). 3 Women mysterious, asexual mother
    42. 42. Altman, R. (1977). 3 Womenrefuses the gaze: shoots the spectator
    43. 43. Archetypes in 3 Women pure impure the angelic virgin the “child (femme) fatale”young girl the good housewife the seductress lover the ideal mother the abject mother mother
    44. 44. Archetypes in 3 Women pure impure the angelic virgin the “child (femme) fatale”young girl Pinky ??? the good housewife the seductress lover Millie Pinky the ideal mother the abject mother mother Millie Willie
    45. 45. Archetypes in 3 Women pure impure the angelic virgin the “child (femme) fatale”young girl Pinky ??? the good housewife the seductress lover Millie Pinky the ideal mother the abject mother mother Millie Willie The sexualized young girl
    46. 46. Other filmic examples• Lynch, D. et al. (1990-1992).Twin Peaks + Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me ‣ binary tensions within the archetype of the young girl
    47. 47. Lynch, D. (1990-1992). Twin PeaksDonna: innocent young girl Laura: young seductress
    48. 48. Lynch, D. (1990-1992). Twin PeaksLaura: young seductress Laura: idealized young girl
    49. 49. Other filmic examples
    50. 50. Other filmic examples• Lynch, D. et al. (1990-1992).Twin Peaks + Twin Peak: Fire Walk With Me ‣ binary tensions within the archetype of the young girl• Stone, O. (1997). U Turn ‣ the young girl replaces the mother as the father’s object of desire
    51. 51. Other filmic examples• Lynch, D. et al. (1990-1992).Twin Peaks + Twin Peak: Fire Walk With Me ‣ binary tensions within the archetype of the young girl• Stone, O. (1997). U Turn ‣ the young girl replaces the mother as the father’s object of desire• Egoyan, A. (1994). Exotica ‣ binary tensions between the idealized young girl and the seducress
    52. 52. Egoyan, A. (1994). ExoticaChristina: young seductress Christina: young and vulnerable
    53. 53. Other filmic examples• Lynch, D. et al. (1990-1992).Twin Peaks + Twin Peak: Fire Walk With Me ‣ binary tensions within the archetype of the young girl• Stone, O. (1997). U Turn ‣ the young girl replaces the mother as the father’s object of desire• Egoyan, A. (1994). Exotica ‣ binary tensions between the idealized young girl and the seducress• Reitman, J. (2007). Juno ‣ 3 archetypes superimposed onto one character
    54. 54. Reitman, J. (2007). Juno Juno as young girl
    55. 55. Reitman, J. (2007). Juno Juno as lover
    56. 56. Reitman, J. (2007). Juno Juno as mother
    57. 57. Reitman, J. (2007). Juno Juno as lover/mother
    58. 58. Reitman, J. (2007). Juno Juno as young girl/mother
    59. 59. Archetypes of femininity
    60. 60. Archetypes of femininity• Archetypal approach ‣ tool to approach the sexualization of young girls
    61. 61. Archetypes of femininity• Archetypal approach ‣ tool to approach the sexualization of young girls ‣ the archetype of the “objectified Woman” has dangerously shifted ‣ from lover/mother to young girl ‣ Oedipal implications?
    62. 62. Archetypes of femininityA Reassessment of the Representation of Woman in Film Louis-Paul Willis FSAC Grad Colloquium

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