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Feminism and film theory. To understand and critique gender hierarchies and patriarchal ideologies in commercial narrative cinema. To define the terms of an alternative, feminist aesthetics; the search for a “feminine” style or language. in popular films (e.g., Arzner)

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feminism and film theory
Feminism and film theory
  • To understand and critique gender hierarchies and patriarchal ideologies in commercial narrative cinema.
  • To define the terms of an alternative, feminist aesthetics; the search for a “feminine” style or language.
    • in popular films (e.g., Arzner)
    • in experimental or avant-garde films by feminist filmmakers.
  • To define the specificity of female spectatorship; i.e., forms of identification, understanding, and pleasure that are appropriate to the psychology and cultural experience of women as opposed to men.
feminism and film theory2
Feminism and film theory
  • 1972: the first two women's film festivals organized in New York and Edinburgh;
    • Women and Film begins publishing in California.
  • 1973: Season of women's cinema organized by Claire Johnston at the National Film Theatre in London; publication of "Notes on Women's Cinema."
  • 1975: Screen begins publishing feminist film theory, beginning with Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”
  • 1976: Camera Obscura, Frauen und Film.
feminism and film theory3
Feminism and film theory
  • Essentialism: a core identity that defines women psychologically. That there is a repressed, integral experience appropriate to women's bodies and lives that is no less powerful because of its invisibility or marginality in patriarchal culture.
    • The objective of women's filmmaking (and history) is to restore the visibility of women's experience to the screen, or to replace negative images of women with positive ones.
  • In contrast, the anti-essentialist position argues that sexual difference was constructed in language and through aesthetic forms.
laura mulvey
Laura Mulvey
  • A feminist (counter)aesthetic must examine, challenge, and transform the form and position of identification offered by dominant cinema.
  • “A politics of the unconscious”:
    • The structuring of desire in relation to lack is most often articulated as an imaging of women from the point of view of male fantasies.
      • The forms of visual pleasure and point of view in Hollywood cinema work for the control of the male subject by objectifying images of women.
      • Construction of these images is meant to contain a threat that can be a source for a potential feminist counter-cinema.
laura mulvey5
Laura Mulvey
  • “An active/passive heterosexual division of labor controls narrative structure.”

Male Female

Active Passive

Origin of look Object of look

Narrative Spectacle

laura mulvey7
Laura Mulvey
  • Fetishism overplays the woman's objectification, puts her on a pedestal, builds up the glamour and physical beauty of the female store, invests in her the potential for erotic satisfaction.
  • Voyeurism is associated with a fantasy of mastery and control,
    • "asserting control, and subjecting the guilty person through punishment or forgiveness. The sadistic side fits in well with narrative. Sadism demands a story, depends on making something happen, forcing a change in another person, a battle of will and strength, victory/defeat, all occurring in a linear time with a beginning and ends" (205).
feminism and counter cinema
Feminism and counter-cinema
  • The feminist critique of Screen’s project.
  • To define the terms of a feminist counter-cinema
    • Popular cinema expresses contradictions concerning sexual difference that it fails to master.
    • The aggressivity of looking can be turned against the spectator.
    • The female image given as lack "constantly endangers the unity of the diegesis and bursts through the world of illusion as a one-dimensional fetish" (209).
feminism and counter cinema9
Feminism and counter-cinema

Voyeurism Fetishism

Sadism [Negation]

Narrative Spectacle


Linearity Stasis

Unity Disunity

Action Interruption

Depth Flatness

Illusion Defamiliarization

mary ann doane
Mary Ann Doane
  • Address. How the “woman’s film” targets a female audience through marketing, themes, plot structures, and prominence of female protagonists.
  • Spectatorship. What Doane calls “the projected image of the female spectator”: How films organize scenarios of looking in order to outline how they prefer to be read.
    • (In the woman’s film, the activity of looking on the part of the female protagonist is often punished and returned to the male.)
  • Subject-position or identification. What psychoanalytic concepts best characterize femininity or feminine identification?
film and the masquerade
“Film and the Masquerade”
  • The woman as image is assigned a special place in narrative cinema, yet positions of point of view, identification, and pleasure seem to be denied to her.
  • “What, then, of the female spectator? What can one say about her desire in relation to this process of imaging?”
doane on the female spectator
Doane on the female spectator
  • Proximity and distance
  • Female spectatorship as transvestitism
  • Female spectatorship as “masquerade” of femininity.
    • “The masquerade, in flaunting femininity, holds it a distance.”
    • “Masquerade . . . constitutes an acknowledgment that it is femininity itself which is constructed as mask . . . . To masquerade is to manufacture a lack in the form of a certain distance between oneself and one’s image.”
doane on the female spectator13
Doane on the female spectator
  • The characterization of femininity as closeness or over-identification is a cultural stereotype closing off other possibilities of identification.
  • The options of female spectatorship in this respect:

1. Adopting masculinity.

2. The masochism of over-identification or losing one’s self in the image.

3. Narcissism in becoming one’s own object of desire. This too is a fantasy of being one with the image; in Hollywood cinema, this often mean’s becoming one with the fantasized image of masculine desire.

  • “The effectivity of masquerade lies precisely in its potential to manufacture a distance from the image, to generate a problematic within which the image is manipulable, producible, and readable by the woman.”