Term Paper, 2006
13 Pages, Grade: 2,3
I. The image of men and women in society
II. “Woman as image, man as bearer of the look”, Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema
1 Laura Mulvey criticises Hollywood film because of representing women as objects for the male gaze
2 Subordination of women because of male and female distinctions
3 Women as male desire and fear
3.1 Female castration and women as castrators
3.2 Women's image in male unconsciousness
4.1 Functions and effects of the cinema
4.2 Representation of women as image in the film
4.2.1 The male protagonist has power over the events and over the woman
4.2.2 Woman influences the man's feelings and his acts
III. Hollywood cinema still exploits the image of women
In a time of rapid technological progress and development, everything changes quite fast. These changes can be seen in every field of life. For instance, the way of supplying basic needs or the way how to make own life better, but also certain norms and values are quite different today. Instead of visiting a theatre in order to be entertained, people can watch TV or use the internet. If a man and a woman live together unmarried, hardly anybody will be shoked about that fact.
But often certain attitudes are anchored in society and can hardly be changed. One example is the detemination which individual role men and women are likely to play as members of a society and how their image appears in every culture. It is especially interesting to see how the media represent women, the so called “weaker sex”.
The following pages respond with the representation of women through the years. Additionally, they deal with problems and consequences coming up because of the difference between men and women.
The British feminist film-maker and theorist Laura Mulvey, born in 1941, wrote her essays, when Women's Liberation widely started to criticise discrimination of women. In Visual and Other Pleasures, published in 1975, Laura Mulvey investigates the content, the form of the film and the language of the film, combined in relation to the Gender. She looks into the subject of women represented by Hollywood cinema. In doing so, the author criticises the way female identity is formed by media. According to Laura Mulvey, mainstream film satisfies especially the male spectator by projecting his desires on the screen. Women are regarded as objects of fetishistic display for male viewers' pleasure.
Fundamentally, a woman presented on the screen scene should be very erotic, so that she attracts the spectator`s attention. But a woman shown in films does not only appeal to the male spectators as a sexual object, furthermore, the female figure is regarded as a menace of castration, because a woman does not have a penis (21). To emphasise her opinion, Laura Mulvey alludes to Hollywood films shot between the nineteenthirties up to the nineteensixties.
Laura Mulvey associates male position with “active” and female position with “passive” (19). Due to the fact that women tend to exhibitionism, they are the object that men look at. The author transfers the terms of passive and active to the audience and the narrative cinema. The spectator embodies the subject, so to say the active role, while the narrative film stands for the object which is the passive position.
Beyond that, Laura Mulvey brings out in her essays mechanisms and codes of the Hollywood cinema which display heroes and heroines. In addition, she looks at its impact on spectators that serves both scopophilia, “pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object” and narcissism by identification with the male protagonist (25).
Talking about “Gender”, first of all, it is important to mention that “Gender” does not stand for biological differences. Rather, this term corresponds to “any social construction” that has to do with the difference of men and women, such as “personality and behaviour” (British Literature and Culture 1, Semesterplan SS 2005-03-30, p. 138). “Cultural ideologies and institutions” annul the equality of men and women and stress that both are different (139). In particular, the difference becomes apparent when women make culture or represent culture.
One of the writers who targets the subordination of women is Sherry B. Ortner. The feminist historian and Professor of Anthropology was born in 1941. Her essay Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture? was published in 1974, almost parallel to Mulvey's Visual and Other Pleasures. Sherry B. Ortner refers to the subordination and devaluation of women all over the world. According to her, oppression and devaluation result among other facts from “cultural ideology” influenced by patriarchal order, by relating women to impurity, but also by prohibiting to be part, e.g. of certain ceremonies (493-494).
As an example for subordination she sets China. Despite the fact that the ideology of Taoism combines in its “yin” and “yan” both female and male elements in order to create balance and even, in spite of the fact that Kuan Yin is the central divinity and women's powerful and influential status, patriarchy still dominates China (492-493).
Moreover, Sherry B. Ortner finds out that the treatment of women, the degree of their influence and how much they do for the community, are different in every culture (492). In her opinion, there are three major problems of women's situations in all societies. Women have a global “second-class status”, “ideologies, symbolizations, and socio-structural arrangements” concerning women look diverse in different cultures and anything contributed by women is incompatible with “cultural ideology” (493). It is neccessary to mention that a woman is simply a “bearer”, not the creator of relevance like a man, because women live in patriarchy (Mulvey, 15).
Then, Sherry B. Ortner points out why men are oppressing women by emphasising that differences of men and women, above all strong and weak points developed by culture, establish the opinion that men are predominant, while women are inferior (495). From her point of view, each culture is preserving and protecting important forms such as “symbols” by methods that give the power to control nature. In rituals you can see, that culture has control over life and regulates everything that is happening in the world (496).
In every culture exists the thought that uncontrolled natural energies pollute anything that crosses its way. So, rituals of purity take a strong effect on the operation of natural energies. As culture wields power over nature, culture dominates. Because of “their body and its functions” and their “psychic structure” which are both closer to nature, social roles played by women are not that important than a man's cultural role (497). Therefore, women are related to nature, while men are related to culture (496-497). Since nature is inferior to culture, women are subordinated to men. The result is that women have to suffer from subordination and devaluation.
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