Feminist clichés and hyperbolical stereotypes” that only further

Feminist film theory started developing in the 1970s as a result of absence of women’s voices and point of view from the mainstream cinema. The criticism focused on marginalization and exclusion of women both from depiction in films and from the creative production. The then-present two schools of thought were the American sociological approach and the British tradition. The first primarily focused on the sociological perspective, connecting a direct relation between films’ inherently assumed quality of reflecting upon society through the notion of ideology. Haskell and Rosen, two of the most prominent film critics in the United States, argued that Hollywood produces false consciousnesses of the dominant fantasies of the “eternal feminine, sexist clichés and hyperbolical stereotypes” that only further persecute the stereotypical images of an ideologically laden femininity. Therefore, the female audiences cannot achieve an authentic recognition through the female characters apart from escaping into the fantasy via identifying with stereotypes. The effect it produces is alienating, not liberating. The British Tradition advanced this theory by not exploring only the ideological fundament of the patriarchal societies reflected in film’s content but also how films create meaning. Incorporation of psychoanalysis and semiotics was crucial in mechanisms and devices for the production of meaning in film, such as structures of desire, subjectivity. Feminist theory as an analysis of an active creation of meaning about women and femininity was pioneered by Claire Johnston and Laura Mulvey. Johnston saw cinema as a semiotic sign system. By perceiving the female character as a structure, code, convention, she established that the notion of a ‘woman’ in films is a myth. Because she is negatively represented only as not-man, she means no-thing in relation to herself. Her constructed image of ‘woman’ is representing an ideological meaning, connoting natural, realistic, attractiveness. Spectators naively believe this representation, she concludes, and identify with or succumb to the fantasy. Laura Mulvey attempts to demonstrate the specific way the unconscious of patriarchal society structures the form of film, and for this goal uses psychoanalysis and social criticism not only as an instrument of film criticism and theory but also as a political tool, in her paradigmatic essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. She introduces the notion of women being the image and men the bearers of the look, an implicit power dynamic of the object and the one objectifying. She argues that classical cinema stimulates the desire to look by integrating structures of voyeurism and narcissism into the story and image, creating visual pleasure from the two. Voyeuristic pleasure is derived from viewing the character, figure, or the situation as an object. Such a representation connotes women as their “to-be-looked-at-ness”, a spectacle. Such a view is, according to her, a male privilege, an entitlement achieved through the function of the male gaze. The narrative structure canonizes the tradition of western art and aesthetics by perfecting a visual machinery suitable for male desire. The representation is addressing an imaginary/ideal spectator, who is implicitly assumed to be male, and positioning the woman as his object. Automatically, often unconsciously, the spectator is made to identify with the male look, because the camera films from the optical and libidinal point of view of the male character. This accomplishes a multi-perspective objectifying gaze, that of the man behind the camera, that of the characters within the film representation and that of the male spectator.  Narcissistic pleasure comes from identifying with the figure and image. Lacan, ego formation, mirror stage. Film spectator derives the pleasure from identifying with the perfected image of a human figure on the screen. This identification is not a lucid form of self-knowledge/awareness, but rather blinded by the very narcissistic forces that structure them in the first place (Lacan-meconaissance). Ego formation and cinema are structurally characterized by imaginary functions. Cinematic identifications also come through the sexual difference: the more perfected, complete, powerful, ideal ego is represented in the form of the male hero, whereas the distorted image of the powerless and passive ego is the female character. The spectator thus readily identifies with the male rather than the female character in film. Both of the two aspects (voyeuristic-scopophilic gaze and narcissistic self-identification) of visual pleasure are negotiated through sexual difference. Hollywood cinema is tailor-made for male desire.


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