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Feminism and film theory

To understand and critique gender hierarchies and

patriarchal ideologies in commercial narrative
To define the terms of an alternative, feminist
aesthetics; the search for a feminine style or

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 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 Mulveys Visual Pleasure and
Narrative Cinema.
1976: Camera Obscura, Frauen und Film.

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

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 countercinema.

Laura Mulvey

An active/passive heterosexual division of

labor controls narrative structure.
Origin of look

Object of look

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

The feminist critique of Screens project.

To define the terms of a feminist countercinema

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-cinema


Mary Ann Doane

Address. How the womans 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 womans film, the activity of looking on the part of the
female protagonist is often punished and returned to the

Subject-position or identification. What

psychoanalytic concepts best characterize femininity
or feminine identification?

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

Proximity and distance

Female spectatorship as transvestitism
Female spectatorship as masquerade of

The masquerade, in flaunting femininity, holds it a

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 ones image.

Doane on the female spectator

The characterization of femininity as closeness or overidentification 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 ones self in the
3. Narcissism in becoming ones own object of desire. This too is a
fantasy of being one with the image; in Hollywood cinema, this
often means becoming one with the fantasized image of masculine

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.