The important development in film feminism was the shifting of the debate away from seeing capitalism as the major problem of inequality.
Feminist film critics examined the question of ‘feminine identity’…see Molly Haskell’s ‘From Reference to Rape: the Treatment of the Women in the Movies.’ Haskell suggested that film reflects society, through ideological and social construction of women who are either to be revered (as the virgin) or reviled (as the whore)
Secondly, the role of the female spectator led to a renewed discussion of genre. (This was then developed in the 2 nd period of feminism)
Along with Marjorie Rosen (1973) & Joan Mellen (1974) Haskell was the leading US feminist during this period. They adopted a sociological & empirical approach…intended to expose the misrepresentation of women in the film.
In 1973, Claire Johnston edited a pamphlet called Notes on Women’s Cinema. This was groundbreaking work which foregrounded the importance of iconography. How was the female framed, lit, dressed and so on? Also, what was the positioning of the female within the narrative? (denotation and connotation was discussed…the image as SIGN)
Johnston asked why women become the object of desire for male fantasies.
She discussed the idea of a counter-cinema which was able to draw upon female fantasy and desire.
Laura Mulvey: Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema (1975)
Was interested in the relationship between screen and spectator. (Perceived as the key text in the foundation of psychoanalytic feminist film theory)
She suggested that cinema operates through its codes and conventions and that the ‘point of view’ constructed is a male one which sets up women as objects to be ‘looked at.’ The spectator therefore identifies with the male protagonist. She describes this process of viewing as SCOPOPHILIA- the pleasure in viewing.
This represented a major departure from earlier sociological work.
It addressed issues such as identity and memory; it also led to the discussion of femininity and masculinity as socially constructed as opposed to biologically based binary opposites. The construct could therefore be changed! This knowledge combined with a structuralist approach meant that feminists were ready for deconstruction.
Genre films and narrative structure became key areas of study. The melodrama, western, film noir and horror movie all came under the microscope.
The melodrama had traditionally adhered to the dominant ideology in which the family prevails at all costs. However, at least in their narrative construction, these films gave a space for a woman’s point-of- view. Conflicts within this genre were always revolved and status quo established but in reaching this stage, the male character at the centre of the conflict had to soften and see the value of domestic life.
Issues of SHEP were applied to the texts of study. This broadened the debate around spectatorship and allowed the issue of class to resurface. Silverman (1981) had moved Mulvey’s theory on to suggest that the male position was actually masochistic.
Even more importantly was De Lauretis’s re-reading of a 1982 Modleski essay in which she claimed that the female spectator enjoyed a ‘double desiring’ position. (Desired both mother and father figure)
As a result of the mother/daughter relationship, in which the daughter never fully relinquishes her desire for her mother, the female spectator is positioned bisexually. This shifting means that women can never fully be socialized into patriarchy. (This causes men to fear women and leads to very strict boundaries between the sexes.) The previous female oedipal trajectory had summarized the notion of envy over not having a penis, as nothing more than a male construct to maintain male dominance.
By the end of classical Hollywood films however, this shifting back and forth will and must be brought to an end and desires for the female supressed in favour of desire for the male.
Michael Foucault (French philosopher)- Theories of power
This broadened the debate and meant that femininity no longer had to be defined in relation to masculinity. Doane (1982) suggested that femininity can now be seen as a position constructed ‘within a network of power relations.’ (Heavily influenced by Foucault)
Foucalult suggested resistance to any ideology could be viewed as ‘counter-investments’ and therefore the opposite of what occurs within power. In this light, counter-cinema counters the workings of power relations in mainstream cinema.