Lecture 12 gender crisis in the 1990s
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Lecture 12: Gender Crisis in the 1990s. Professor Michael Green. Thelma and Louise (1991) Directed by Ridley Scott. Previous Lecture. Black Masculinity and Culture Eddie Murphy and Black Representation in 1980s Hollywood ‘Hood Films and the Black New Wave

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Lecture 12: Gender Crisis in the 1990s

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Lecture 12 gender crisis in the 1990s

Lecture 12:Gender Crisis in the 1990s

Professor Michael Green

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Previous lecture

Previous Lecture

  • Black Masculinity and Culture

  • Eddie Murphy and Black Representation in 1980s Hollywood

  • ‘Hood Films and the Black New Wave

  • Writing About Film: Using Sources II

This lecture

This Lecture

  • Gender roles in media and society

  • Waiting to Exhale and Black women in the movies

  • Thelma and Louise

  • Writing About Film: Constructing a Bibliography

Gender roles in media and society

Gender Roles in Media and Society

Lecture 12: Part I

Boys on the Side (1995)

Directed by Herbert Ross

Historic gender role expectations

Historic Gender Role Expectations

  • Gender roles are historically conditioned – with men seen as breadwinners who are expected to maintain power within their relationships; and women expected to focus mental, physical, spiritual, emotional and social energies on their primary relationships.

Learned behavior

Learned Behavior

“Societal members are covertly and overtly conditioned to adopt social constructions of gender role expectations, “ideal” beauty, and normative behaviors that may otherwise not be learned. Consequently, these internalized beliefs in conflict with one’s life experiences may adversely effect the interpersonal relationships one develops.”

  • Tina M. Harris and Patricia S. Hill, “Waiting to Exhale” or “Breath(ing) Again”: A Search for Identity, Empowerment, and Love in the 1990’s”

Five western female roles

Five Western Female Roles

  • Wife – support the husband’s career goals, provide ego-enhancement, preserve the relationship “at all costs.”

  • Mother – responsibilities include child-rearing, taking care of the household, strengthening family bonds.

  • Nurturer – facilitates the emotional needs of friends families and others who need guidance and support.

  • “Superwoman” – balances career and family.

  • Sex Object – sexually appealing, yet “feminine,” “ladylike,” and “fragile.”

Roles for black women

Roles for Black Women

  • Wife – standard wife responsibilities; also demands support of black men no matter what.

  • Community Mother – responsibilities include providing care and support for other African Americans in the community – has contributed to the stereotype of black women as “happy domestics,” “mammies” and “matriarchs.”

  • “Superwoman” – balance career and family and “contribute to the uplift of their race.”

  • Sex Object – objectified but in a “savage, animalistic” manner.

Even more oppressive standards

Even More Oppressive Standards

“Double oppression of race and gender . . .has taught Western culture members to view ethnic and racial female group members as possessing qualities deemed unattractive in comparison to dominant culture standards. Hence, it is plausible that gender role expectations and racist stereotypes embedded in Western culture will be even more oppressive for African American women living in an historically patriarchal and racist society.”

  • Tina M. Harris and Patricia S. Hill, “Waiting to Exhale” or “Breath(ing) Again”: A Search for Identity, Empowerment, and Love in the 1990’s”

Gender socialization

Gender Socialization

  • Gender roles are learned through many venues: family, friends, school, church, media, etc.

  • Media in particular – cinema, television, Internet, publishing and recording – contributes to gender socialization.

Waiting to exhale and black women in the movies

Waiting to Exhale and Black Women in the Movies

Lecture 12: Part II

Waiting to Exhale (1995)

Directed by Forest Whitaker

Black women on film

Black Women on Film

  • Oscar Micheaux, the pioneering black filmmaker of the silent era, worked to create realistic and complex portraits of black people and relationships onscreen.

  • Overall, however, black women have been traditionally marginalized, stereotyped and silenced since the inception of Hollywood.

  • We earlier looked at their roles as caretakers to white women in films of the 1930s – 1950s such as Blonde Venus, Gone with the Wind and Imitation of Life.

Little agency

Little Agency

  • Even contemporary depicters of black women onscreen – such as Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X) and Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple) – have been criticized as rendering them as one-dimensional stereotypes.

  • In general, black women have much less agency in the film industry and less varied representation in films even than black men.

  • There are no major black female directors.

Black gender inequality

Black Gender Inequality

  • Though there are several black male superstars – Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, among others – there are few black female stars; and there have been few historically: Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Lena Horne.

Established in familiar social roles

Established in Familiar Social Roles

  • Black women often star in films only after they have already become stars in the music business. Examples include Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Queen Latifah and Tina Turner, though none have had sustained cinematic success.

1990s cinematic paradigm shift

1990s Cinematic Paradigm Shift

  • In the 1990s, there was a change in the portrayal of underrepresented groups in media – from the Black New Wave, to more films by gay filmmakers such as Kimberly Pierce and Todd Haynes.

  • This shift included more films by and about women – such as Girl 6, The First Wives Club, A League of their Own, Set it Off, Girl Interrupted, Boys on the Side, Little Women and Waiting to Exhale, among others.

    Pause the lecture and watch the clip from Boys on the Side

Waiting to exhale

Waiting to Exhale

  • Waiting to Exhale (1995) was directed by Forest Whitaker and stars Whitney Houston and Angela Basset.

  • The movie was written by black female author Terry McMillan, based on her novel.

  • Like Imitation of Life and other melodramas, the movie tries to resolve the tension between the personal and professional roles of women – in this case black women.

    Pause the lecture and watch clip 1 from Waiting to Exhale

Black feminist thought

Black Feminist Thought

  • Black Feminist thought emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as black women began to define a collective standpoint about black womanhood.

  • It was constructed to provide consciousness for oppressed groups, specifically African American women.

  • Black feminist thought shares values with feminism in general, but derives from a particular place of historical subordination.

A medium for voice

A Medium for Voice

  • Waiting to Exhale is a venue for black feminist thought; it gives black women voice and affirms black solidarity and sisterhood while also providing a means for black women to communicate their “lived experiences” to the masses.

Pause the lecture and watch clip 2 from Waiting to Exhale

Challenging stereotypes

Challenging Stereotypes

“Each character challenges female gender role expectations held by society, men, and the African American community. The characters in the book and movie are African American, yet the movie is inclusive of women’s experiences across racial and cultural backgrounds within Western culture . . . [The movie] challenges long-held stereotypes of African American women perpetuated in the U. S. and by Hollywood.”

  • Tina M. Harris and Patricia S. Hill, “Waiting to Exhale” or “Breath(ing) Again”: A Search for Identity, Empowerment, and Love in the 1990’s”

Thelma and louise and chick flicks as feminist texts

Thelma and Louise and “Chick Flicks” as Feminist Texts

Lecture 12: Part III

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Thelma and louise

Thelma and Louise

Thelma and Louise was directed by Ridley Scott. It stars Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel and Brad Pitt.

The movie was written by Callie Khouri, who won an Oscar for her original screenplay.

The hit movie struck social a chord; it was controversial for its representation of women as violent outlaws; it drew heated and mixed responses from feminists and women in general when it was released in 1991.


Some of the responses

Some of the Responses

  • Charla Krupp called the movie a “cathartic revenge fantasy” for women.

  • Feminist film scholar Patricia Mellencamp argued that the movie frees women spectators from the “expectations and limitations” of the fairy tales they are “taught to make of [their] lives.”

  • Margaret Carlson argued that the movie represents a betrayal of feminist values because female freedom comes only through self-destruction.

Shifting the gaze

Shifting the Gaze

“The movie’s popularity with women can be explained [by] the film’s alternative cinematic gazes that challenge and resist patriarchal construction, opening the film’s text to a feminist reading. . . Thelma & Louise turned the tables on traditional Hollywood chauvinism, appropriating for its female protagonists as well as for its female viewers the male gaze that Hollywood films have long used to subjugate, objectify, and trivialize women.”

  • Brenda Cooper, “Chic Flicks as Feminist Texts”

Origin of the gaze

Origin of “The Gaze”

The concept of “The Gaze” derives from an article called “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975) by Laura Mulvey, a feminist film theorist.

It is one of the most widely cited and anthologized articles in film theory.


Lecture 12 gender crisis in the 1990s

“Visual Pleasure in the Narrative Cinema”

  • Feminist critic Laura Mulvey’s theory revolves around the pleasure involved in looking at other people’s bodies as (particularly, erotic) objects. In the darkness of the cinema auditorium we may look without being seen either by those on screen or by other members of the audience.

Visual pleasure continued

“Visual Pleasure” (continued)

  • Drawing on psychoanalytical theory, Mulvey argues that cinema facilitates for the viewer both the voyeuristic process of objectification of female characters and also the narcissistic process of identification with an ‘ideal ego’ seen on the screen.

  • She declares that in patriarchal society ‘pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female’.

A few more points

A Few More Points

  • The gaze implies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.

  • Mulvey argues that one must accept the viewpoint of the camera (which is normally male, because most filmmakers are male).

  • She argues that patriarchal hegemony dominates Hollywood and a feminist sensibility can only be found in counter-culture cinema.

The female gaze

The Female Gaze

“ . . . through the use of female protagonists and women-centered themes, for instance, media narratives may resist patriarchal construction by appropriating the male gaze, representing instead a female gaze that ‘articulates mockery of machismo’ (p. 15). As a narrative strategy, mockery expresses a ‘coherent, if not controlling, female gaze’ that effects ‘a fissure in the representation of power itself’ thus disrupting male dominance.”

  • Brenda Cooper, “Chic Flicks as Feminist Texts”

Challenging patriarchy

Challenging Patriarchy

  • Callie Khouri wrote her screenplay to challenge patriarchal boundaries.

  • She made it antithetical to normal Hollywood (and social) gender role construction; she wanted women protagonists who were strong and active.

  • The film presents a narrative and alternative gaze that encourages viewers to feel through the “female figures on screen.”

    Pause the lecture and watch clip 1 from Thelma and Louise

Cooper s argument

Cooper’s Argument

  • According to Cooper, female gazes are developed in the narrative of Thelma and Louise in three key places:

  • Resistance to male objectification and dominance, as articulated through the protagonists’ mockery of the key male characters - Darryl, Thelma’s emotionally abusive husband; the film’s law enforcement officers; the leering truck driver; and Harlan, the would-be rapist.

Cooper s argument continued

Cooper’s Argument (Continued)

2) ‘Returning the look’ by making men spectacles for women’s attention, particularly J.D. (Brad Pitt)

3)The celebration of women friendships.

  • These three female gazes challenge the traditional cinematic association of activity with masculinity.

Pause the lecture and watch clip 2 from Thelma and Louise

Author s final point

Author’s Final Point

“ . . . The “archetypal masculine gaze isn’t a thing of the past,” . . . However, films such as Thelma & Louise that disrupt the patriarchal power structure by effecting a “fissure in the representation of power itself” . . . can serve as a model for future feminist filmmakers who want their oppositional voices to reach main- stream audiences, thereby increasing the films’ challenges to the limitations of patriarchal construction.”

  • Brenda Cooper, “Chic Flicks as Feminist Texts”

Writing about film constructing a bibliography

Writing About Film: Constructing a Bibliography

The First Wives Club (1996)

Directed by Hugh Wilson

Lecture 12: Part IV



Attribution: The acknowledgement that something came from another source.

Bibliography: A list of sources used in preparing a work.


1) A short, formal indication of the source of information or quoted material.
2) The act of quoting material or the material quoted.

From Carleton College website: http://apps.carleton.edu/campus/doc/honesty/terms/

More definitions

More Definitions


1) to indicate a source of information or quoted material in a short, formal note.
2) to quote
3) to ascribe something to a source

Common Knowledge: Information that is readily available from a number of sources, or so well-known that its sources do not have to be cited.

From Carleton College website: http://apps.carleton.edu/campus/doc/honesty/terms/



Endnotes: Notes at the end of a paper acknowledging sources and providing additional references or information.


“4.Research indicates that most women in American society fear sexual violence (Gordon & Riger, 1991), and one 1985 study found women under 35 feared being a victim of rape over fears of robbery, assault or even murder (Warr).”

Mla style

MLA Style

  • Critical film writers use MLA-style (Modern Language Association) bibliographies.

  • “Documentation conventions vary because of the different needs of scholarly disciplines. Generally simpler and more concise than other styles, MLA style features brief parenthetical citations in the text keyed to an alphabetical list of works cited that appears at the end of the work.”

    • MLA home page: http://www.mla.org/style

Example of mla citations

Example of MLA Citations

  • In the text of your paper:

    “Rapping asserts that the primary significance of Thelma & Louise resides with its ability to challenge the “longstanding assumptions of classic Hollywood genres, which have always reinforced the gender inequalities upon which this society depends” (66).

  • In your works cited list:

    Rapping, Elayne. Mediations: Forays into the Culture and Gender Wars. Boston: South End Press, 1994.



You will need to cite a number of different kinds of sources from your research, including edited books, journal articles, newspapers, popular magazines and web pages.

There are a number of online guides to proper MLA citation – the Owl at Purdue is a good one: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/.

For most accurate and up to date information, use the MLA Formatting and Style Guide.

End of lecture 12

End of Lecture 12

Next Lecture: Latina Stars in the 1990s and Today

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