Exploring gender representations in the independent study

This post is an attempt to explain how one can approach the subject of representations in reading movie narratives, and to be taken seriously in the independent study. My primary intention is to offer some weight to those of you who might have students interested in exploring gender representations. Far too many independent study about gender representations confine themselves to the unfairness or narrowness of stereotypes as perceived through plot device. When what they should do is to use the wealth of feminist and other critical approaches as analytical tools to construct and support convincing arguments. The theoretical approach which most lends itself to the kind of textual analysis the Independent study encourages in support of arguments, is an exploration of Laura Mulvey’s ideas about how the tendency towards voyeurism in movie spectatorship is manipulated to position audiences with the ‘male gaze’, and it is interesting to explore how readings of cinematography and mise-en-scène support or subvert this, this in itself can raise individual insights for students prepared to put the effort in.

The second of the theoretical issue I think work well in an exploration of gender representations is the notion of Binary or structuring oppositions as proposed by Claude Levi-Strauss. The examples I often use to introduce this are demonstrate the fundamental oppositions of civilisation (humanity) and wilderness (nature) could be applied in the both the Searchers (John Ford US 1956), and Clueless (Amy Heckerling US 1995). However,these can be adapted from readings of how film narrative structures different groups to the characterisations of different genders.

What follows is a simple adaptation of these ideas to the characterisation in gender differences

Males are most commonly represented as; Females are most commonly represented
occupying open/public spaces
initiating events
occupying Domestic spaces
lacking confidence
reacting to events


You could add your own characteristics to this short list, or indeed ask your students to do so in the context of a screening.

However, this in itself is not enough; our task as students of film in this case would be to identify how film makers manipulate elements of film language; story structure, mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, and sound design in their construction of gender representations which can either conform to these patterns, or more interestingly subvert them.

Merely relying on plot, or description of narrative incident to point out narrowly defined and unfair stereotypes are not enough, as film students our study should be HOW stereotypical representations are constructed and what their significance is in the socio-cultural context of production.

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