Gender issues in Hollywood movies

After leaving our last meeting on Tuesday morning, I worked on a potential plan I could maybe complement with Sanjana (notably regarding the first part where I define whether or not Hollywood is a community). My part in our project considers the intrusion of gender issues in Hollywood movies from a political perspective.

  1. Is Hollywood a community?

Use of Hegel’s definition of a community (at the basis of his future political theories)

  • paragraph 150 Philosophy of Right: ‘In an ethical community, it is easy to say what man must do, what are the duties he has to fulfil in order to be virtuous; he has simply to follow the well-known and explicit rules of his own situation.’
  • This definition is close to the definition of a state community. Thus -> a good person is a good citizen who follows the rule of the law
    • Hollywood would be a subcategory of the US community
    • How does Hollywood (as an organization/business)’ embeddedness in social and cultural communities influence its behaviour? -> related to both Sanjana’s and my part
    • People within the US film industry – often called Hollywood – are citizens who answer to US laws (Sanjana), politics, ideological and normative changes
      • National Film Registry: selection of films deserving of preservation (25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” each year)
      • Sexual harassment laws
      • Labour laws -> Sanjana
      • Promotion of monogamous marriage/ middle-class white family/ etc
      • Trump is almost seen as an outlaw (Access Hollywood records), psychopath -> Hollywood people do not want to respond to him anymore, actresses in women march, mocked in Hollywood
  • Hollywood movies increasingly criticized by the American population – like politicians – when do not represent variety of identity communities  (black, Latino, transgender, gay etc.)
  • Film industry important in the US, source of soft power since the beginning of the 20st century, highest annual grosses in the world
    • Endorsement letters from leading actors, radio appearances, printed ad, friendship of Kennedy and Sinatra -> new era of glamour
    • Actors= performers inside and outside movies -> can fit with different roles= empathy dvped= understand others = are vocal, public, created a political movement #metoo
    • Roosevelt first president to use Hollywood power: Melvyn Douglas toured Washington in 1939 and met the key New Dealers
    • Hollywood as a powerful expressive tool, platform, to be part of Hollywood community helps to increase your voice -> promoted/exhibited/ almost no private life
      • Jane Fonda against the Vietnam War on TV 
      • Ronald Reagan= former actor, became Governor of California and then President
      • Arnold Scharwenegger, Cali Gov in 2003 -> see MeToo + Scharzenegger on Twitter -> tweets about his sexual assaults
      • Donald Trump used to be a reality star
    • But open community: people watching movies and/or behind the camera’s statements fell empowered, close to same interests, common interests as US citizens ->  means that you do not have to be part of the industry to feel part of the community
    • Women are reunited by same interest in empowerment
    • Laura Mulvey (1975) and the male gaze: Male spectator and his cinematic surrogate- unified coherent, comforatble (secure with their life on the screen as voyeur and fetishist)
  • Hollywood= liberal politics

2. And how does it proceeds to silence/exclude its female members while being a creative community?

  • Today: creation of super empowered women
    • Less toxic masculinity
    • Independent, self made
  • BUT these recent movies reflect postfeminist thoughts
    • Postfeminism= discourse (set of ideas about how the world is organise which are expressed in policy, practice and culture) highly knowing about sex and gender but also invest in conventional modes of feminist= quite ironic in tone (Radner and Stringer Feminism at the Movies : Understanding Gender in Contemporary Popular Cinema)
    • Difficult to define, many different ways
      • Scholarly= now involves more gender identity
      • Journalism= feminism done, other topics now
    • Historical relationship to feminism (poitical movement and philo that points to the pervasive impact of gender hierarchies and argues for gender equality)
    • Anchored in images
  • Specific femininity and masculinity representations/images which changed according to politics
  • Turning point in the 1980s: Reagan patriarchal politics (Traube – Dreaming id: Class, gender and generation in 1980s H movies)
    • Reagan: “remasculinization and rebarbarianization ” -> rebirth of American power after humiliation of Vietnam, taking of American hostages in Iran, Carter rescue attempt
      • Also goes after rise of feminist issues in the 1970s -> Nature of men’s and women’s places= central to Hollywood, must reassure anxieties (Cohan and Hark)
      • Michel Foucault: repressive forms of social control historically displaced by the modern profusion of regulatory, “bio-political” discourses and their demand for increasing self-discipline
        • “private” spaces such as the family home and the intimate processes of rearing children increasingly became the object of state intervention
        • Thus: women were increasingly invested with forms of social responsibility and authority that were historically reserved for men.
        •  Powers became manifest so did cultural anxieties about the condition of men and masculinity. (p38)
    • Follows Laura Mulvey (1975): women= justification of every actions, fetishized issue, enable men to be delivered from the castration anxiety -> Hitchcock is the main target of her critique
      • Women-in-Danger films: early 80’s, important number of thrillers in which women are stalked and hurt or killed by a male character à at the time, analysed as a reaction of the male ego against the increasingly self-determined social status of women brought along by 2nd wave feminism; often described as “the greatest misogynist trend in American film”.
    •  Examples
      • Corporate: MIA, Wall Street, Working Girl, Cocktail, Kramer vs. Kramer,
      • Monstrous males in horror film -> supernatural, movie monsters such as Dracula, take on female biological traits while psychotic, mentally deviant serial killer attempts to clothe himself in the women’s body (Psycho, Dressed to Kill, The Silence of the Lambs) -> male spectator is punished, looks at the abject body of the other, his monstrous, feminised gender counterpart
      • Action films in the 1980s = pumped up icons, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger = the male body – principally the white male body – became increasingly a vehicle of display – of musculature, of beauty, of physical feats, and of gritty toughness” (Susan Jeffords”)
    • Alternative male figures:
      • Unacceptable maculinities are showed, the good mascilinity is performed as a spectacle
      • Fred Astaire= major turn in Hollywood cinema, dance and spectacle before= feminine, Astaire escapes the binarized economy of sadistic viewing and masochistic spectacle -> alternative style of masculinity (Steven Cohan)
      • Figure of the New Lad
        • Imelda Wheleha: “a nostalgic revival of old patriarchy; a direct challenge to feminism’s call for social transformation, by reaffirming—albeit ironically—the unchanging nature of gender relations and sexual roles.”
        • For others: is a response to the figure of the “new man,” a more caring, sharing, and egalitarian version of masculinity which achieved a certain media prominence in the 1980s.
        • Ben Crewe: emerged out of contempt for the “miserable liberal guilt” of the new man and his “hesitant and questioning stands on sexual relations.”
        • New man was condemned as unappealing, narcissistic, and above all inauthentic. Against this, lad culture is depicted as libidinous and refreshingly honest. (p39)
        • Example: About a Boy (2002), The 40-yo Old Virgin, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
  • from the welfare state to the neoliberal state (Radner and  Stringer)
    •  Welfare image = dependence, sex object, pretty vs. smart, success in marriage in the private spehre
    • Neoliberal image = strong, empowered, emphasize achievements and individual choices, pretty AND smart,  femininity as the asset to sell in the private and the public spehre
    • Example of the old woman figure
      • Imelda Whelehan: Historical construction of older women’s sexuality as taboo, “humiliating process of gradual sexual disqualification”(Sontag) OR cougar
      • Postfeminist turn in the 1980s -> more empowerment, ‘smart, sexy, independent and proud’ woman over 40 who is ‘not afraid to try new things, and even if she is, does it anyway.’ -> BUT how do you reach this liberty? And how do you define her power? Not actual feminist collective activism = “cougar discourse”= nexus between postfeminism and neoliberalism -> dislocate empowerment from feminist politics, but also disregard the wider structural imbalances and inequalities experienced by older women, the cougar is nevertheless framed and marketed as an enduring symbol of postfeminist agency
      • Kim Cattrall’s hypersexual Samantha Jones in Sex and the City (1998– 2004)
    • Example of the regressed child
      • Enchanted: plays on critiques of the central romance narrative but sincere presentation of ideas of true love on the other
      • Regression movies: men funny because sexual innuendo vs. women innocence
      • Giselle’s belief in the idea of “true love’s kiss” is first mocked—Prince Edward is something of a buffoon—and then ultimately endorsed through her romantic love for Robert who literally revives her with a kiss (she swoons after biting a poisoned apple). It offers gestures towards feminism while making full use of conservative gender stereotypes, such as the girl-woman, sexually pure princess, frustrated professional woman, and wicked stepmother.
    • Example of the super corporate woman
      • when super empowered professionally: often a lack of romantic stability behind : failure to grow up (Jane in 27 Dresses, 2008)
      • Find movie example
  • Women not really told how to reach independence, no collective action, very individual
    • Only images, serve ideologies (Steven Cohan; Ina Rae Hark) = social constructions, finished products
    • Do not reflect deeper power changes, social structure evolution
  • Empowered but not too far, enough civic and political rights
    • Suffragettes well represented but current feminists = hysterics
    • Find examples
  • Maintain stereotypes about femininity
    • Postfeminist movies lack of diversity in their images
    • Both welfare and neoliberal political contexts ask women to objectify themselves and work on their appearance, connotation associated with feminine appearance just shifted (Radner and Stringer)
    • strength only celebrated when figured in appropriately feminine terms: contradiction bewteen willingness, self definition and passivity/malleability etc.
    • ends up with accommodation to and acceptance of a diminished role for women (Radner and Stringer)

One thought on “Gender issues in Hollywood movies

  1. Thanks Julia – I know we talked about some of these yesterday but I thought I’d put down some of our conversation in relation to this before I forgot.

    I think we all mentioned the public/private paradox as it relates to a community as being particularly worth drawing out with our intertwined research – especially when it comes to the fact that Hollywood seems to operate on its own terms in terms of power norms and relations, but that it is grounded in the U.S., and as such is subject to the same laws. This is something we talked about yesterday because you’ve drawn on it quite a bit here so we should make sure we coordinate our information and examine the dates when some of those laws came into effect.

    With regards to looking at political conceptions of feminism, I really like the aspect of examining female characters and representations on screen by situating them in their larger historical and political context. Ana mentioned something along these lines in terms of looking at the timeline of female characters progression, and in terms of narrowing down to specific case studies of movies that we could use to highlight the disparity between what’s on screen and what’s off screen, within the context of secrecy/whisper networks.

    Thanks again!!

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