Women, Film Won’t Protect You Anymore

The woman on screen, in our western patriarchal society, is, outrageously, still little more than an object. She is love interest, muse, femme fatale, she is familial, a sister or a mother.  Rarely is she portrayed anywhere near an equal, rationally or intellectually, even in integrity, which is a position reserved for another male, someone not dissimilar to the protagonist. A woman is too much the other, too subordinate and too different, for this role, besides her desirability and her lack of masculinity, proves the protagonist’s machismo, and thus worth.  This notion may seem extreme, trite, or dated even, but in an industry where actresses have blurred into little more than wide-eyed, insipient, and undernourished commodities, passed around by the fat cat male bastions of the industry, we are yet to truly experience the medium of film through the female gaze, regardless of how earth shattering a female winning the academy award for best director is.  Hollywood after all, is a spin machine, though not to detract from Katherine Bigelow’s deserved win, she is the exception that proves the rule.  At the dawn of Hollywood, men and woman were treated similarly, as property, owned by the studios, stuffed with pills, their imperfections public and private smoothed over, at some point men broke away from their clutches, but the women stayed behind.  If the philosopher Judith Butler’s idea of gender performance is to be applied to film, actresses perform not once, but twice for the cameras. Butler’s credo is that gender is a performance played out by woman and men, a social patriarchal indoctrination to ultimately result in ‘breeding,’ or the procreation of man.  The female gender, historically certainly the subordinate one, is manipulated by the patriarchy, their performance is secured from birth so as to procure a mate, to be mother.  The female is defunct and passive, whereas the male is active, assertive, and empowered.  In many films the female part is an object of desire, the holy grail of the chase, she is constantly being observed, rarely is she actively perusing or pursuing.  Woody Allen’s Annie Hall is an example of the male gaze, capturing the female performance.  It is a subversive film, yet it maintains the classic Hollywood prescription, boy meets girl, and girl breaks away.  Annie (Diane Keaton) herself dresses so as to deflect from gender stereotype, she wears mannish trousers and blazers, she toys with her femininity, however it is inherently her character that divulges her gendered insecurity.  At one point she plays on her gender to get what she wants, she calls Alvy (Woody Allen) over to her appartment when she sees a spider, a definitive effeminate phobia.  What is most concerning in surmising the female gaze, is the reality of the overwhelming omnipresence of the male gaze, woman have, in truth, learnt only to look at themselves from the male perspective.  A film like Barbara Loden’s Wanda is so revelatory, and so important in the western film cannon, because it offers a female director portraying a female character, and one so strange and fragile, that the film is as though the pretence of gender has been stripped away, leaving just the core of the character.  Woman need more Wandas.


2 responses to “Women, Film Won’t Protect You Anymore

  1. jacobwilliamson

    You should see more Almodovar!

    • hi jacob,
      thanks for your comment,
      There will always be the exception. Almodovar, I agree, is certainly a contender many of his characters overtly don’t perform to their gender stereotypes. Take ‘bad education’ for example, Judith Butler cites the transvestite as someone who is aware or ‘performing the gender wrong’ and in doing so of the ‘act’ of gender. But essentially Almodovar’s directorial gaze is a male homosexual one and thus doesn’t objectify woman in the same sexualised way as a male heterosexual one. I think ‘Tootsie’ skims the surface of this far superior to any film i can think of.

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