Feminist Film Theory


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An introduction to IB Film feminst film theory of the 1970s.

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Feminist Film Theory

  1. 1. Feminism Key Film Theories (Taken from Cinema Studies: the Key Concepts (2 nd Ed.) by Susan Hayward
  2. 2. The 70s <ul><li>Feminist film theory really began in earnest during the late 1960s. This was part of the 2 nd Wave of feminism, the first being the ‘Suffragette’ movement of the early 1900s. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Feminist Eras <ul><li>1. The Suffragette movement. </li></ul><ul><li>2. The early 1970s. </li></ul><ul><li>3. The mid 1970s through until the early 1980s. </li></ul><ul><li>4. The early 1980s through until the present day. (Post-feminism or third generation) </li></ul>
  4. 4. Radicalism <ul><li>The ‘radical’ movement of the late 60s culminated and crashed in 1968. Subsequently, women began to look in more detail at women’s history. </li></ul><ul><li>Annette Kuhn (1982) points out that feminist theory from this period is difficult to summaries as a coherent whole but is rather a collection of viewpoints. </li></ul>
  5. 5. … from CLASS to GENDER <ul><li>The important development in film feminism was the shifting of the debate away from seeing capitalism as the major problem of inequality. </li></ul><ul><li>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) </li></ul>
  6. 6. Haskell…part 2 <ul><li>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) </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Feminists in the UK <ul><li>The main theorists from the UK were Claire Johnston, Laura Mulvey, Pam Cook & Annette Kuhn. </li></ul><ul><li>These feminists were influenced by the more scientific and definitely anti-empirical approach offered by semiotics and structuralism. </li></ul><ul><li>1972 saw the first feminist film festivals in the UK & USA </li></ul>
  8. 8. 1975-83 <ul><li>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) </li></ul><ul><li>Johnston asked why women become the object of desire for male fantasies. </li></ul><ul><li>She discussed the idea of a counter-cinema which was able to draw upon female fantasy and desire. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Laura Mulvey: Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema (1975) <ul><li>Was interested in the relationship between screen and spectator. (Perceived as the key text in the foundation of psychoanalytic feminist film theory) </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Psychoanalysis <ul><li>This represented a major departure from earlier sociological work. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Textual Analysis <ul><li>Genre films and narrative structure became key areas of study. The melodrama, western, film noir and horror movie all came under the microscope. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Feminist Film theory 1984-90s <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>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) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Teresa De Lauretis & The Oedipal Trajectory <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  14. 14. Michael Foucault (French philosopher)- Theories of power <ul><li>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) </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  15. 15. 1990+ <ul><li>Added to the debate in recent years has come the voices of black & Asian women etc to counter the white, middle class views expressed in previous feminist discourse. </li></ul>