Feminist Film Theory Examines Woman As Object

Film theory is the study of filmmaking from the mechanics to the theory behind it. Feminist film theory focuses on films made by women as well as the examination of women within traditional films. Generally, feminist film theory takes a look at how woman is seen as an object of make sexual desire and the fundamental theories and reasons behind this phenomenon.
Many people love to go to the movies and see the latest blockbuster, the newest groundbreaking independent feature film, or even an avant-garde art house film. However, when they sit down, munch on their popcorn, candy, and soda, they rarely think about the idea of film theory let alone feminist film theory. For most people, watching a movie is pure entertainment without any deep-seated thought or analysis surrounding it.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. From its inception in the late 1890s by the Lumiere brothers, filmmaking has been studied, analyzed, and theorized about. Film theory is the study of filmmaking. This aspect of film studies encompasses everything from the mechanics of making a movie including photography, editing, and film processing to the ideas behind the film including the scriptwriting, acting methods, and the film’s implications and effects on society and culture.

One of the most examined and studied areas of film theory is that of women’s cinema, or feminist film. It is commonly known that more and more women make up a large part of the film industry whether they are behind or in front of the camera, the subject of the film, or an idea behind it. In fact, feminist film theory is a major branch of film studies and education programs across the world.

While there are significantly less female directors within the film industry (only about 7% of the top 200 films in 2005 were directed by women directors), women have made a deep impact on the realm of filmmaking. Many female filmmakers make traditional films, however a majority of them focus on issues relevant to women or attack the typical patriarchy that is the world of film. For example, in recent years women like Rebecca Miller and Lisa Cholodenko are making films that examine important female issues including abortion, spousal abuse, lesbianism, and women in industry (art, music, business).

Throughout history, however, many feminist film theory critics and analysts have examined the use of the woman as “object” in traditional films made by men. These arguments focus on the objectification of woman in film as an object of desire through the male point of view. One of the most well-known theorists of this school of thought is Laura Mulvey who wrote an essay called “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1973. For decades since, Mulvey’s theory of “woman as object” and her incorporation of feminism, psychoanalysis, and film theory have been studied by film academics worldwide.

Laura Mulvey has influenced the work of many film theorists as well as female filmmakers to follow. One of her greatest arguments is that any female character in film is plagued with “to-be-looked-at-ness” in which the male sees a woman as either a whore or madonna. She emphasized the virgin-whore dichotomy of the woman within film. Many female filmmakers, after Mulvey’s essay, sought to reverse this phenomenon in film thus making man the object of “to-be-looked-at-ness”. While this is less popular, the theory behind such feminist film to take the viewing, voyeuristic pleasure from film was groundbreaking in the late 1970s to present day.
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