Is the gaze male?
Book Title: Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera. Contributors: E. Ann Kaplan author. Publisher: Methuen. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 1983. Page Number: 35.
Since the beginning of the recent women’s movement, American feminists have been exploring the representation of female sexuality in the arts—in literature, painting, film, and television. As we struggle towards meaningful theory, it is important to note that feminist criticism, as a new way of reading texts, emerged from the daily, ongoing concerns of women re-evaluating the culture in which they had been socialized and educated. In this sense, feminist criticism differs in basic ways from earlier critical movements which evolved out of reaction to dominant theoretical positions (i.e. out of a reaction which took place on an intellectual level). Feminism is unusual in its combination of the theoretical and (loosely speaking) the ideological (Marxist literary theory alone shares a similar dual focus, but from very different premises). The first wave of feminist critics adopted a broadly sociological approach, looking at sex roles women occupied in various imaginative works, from high art to mass entertainment. They assessed roles as “positive” or “negative” according to some externally constructed criteria describing the fully autonomous, independent woman. While this work was important in initiating feminist criticism (Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics was a ground-breaking text), feminist film critics, influenced by developments taking place in film theory at the start of the 1970s, were the first to point out its limitations. First, influenced by semiology, feminist theorists stressed the crucial role played by the artistic form as the medium for expression; second, influenced by psychoanalysis, they argued that Oedipal processes were central to the production of art works. That is, they gave increasing attention to how meaning is produced in films, rather than to the “content,” which had preoccupied sociological critics; and they stressed the links between the processes of psychoanalysis and cinema. Before summarizing in more detail the French theorists whose influence shaped currents in feminist film theory, let me deal briefly with the reasons for using psychoanalytic methodology in chapters 2 to 5 of this book, those devoted to the Hollywood film. Why, given many feminists’ hostile rejection of Freudian and Lacanian theory, do I see psychoanalysis as a useful tool? First, let me make clear that I do not see psychoanalysis as necessarily uncovering essential “truths” about the human psyche which exist across historical periods and different cultures. Making trans-historical generalizations about human psychic processes is difficult since the means for verifying those generalizations barely exist. Nevertheless, the history of literature in western
civilization does show a surprising recurrence of Oedipal themes. We could say that Oedipal themes occur at those historical moments when the human family is structured in specific ways that elicit Oedipal traumas; for my purposes here, since I am concerned with a recent art form, film, and the recent theory of Oedipal problems (dating back to Freud), I am prepared to make claims for the relevance of psychoanalysis only to the state of industrial social organization characteristic of the twentieth century. One could argue that the psychic patterns created by capitalist social and interpersonal structures (especially the late-nineteenth-century forms that carried over into our century) required at once a machine (the cinema) for their unconscious release and an analytic tool (psychoanalysis) for understanding, and adjusting, disturbances caused by the structures that confine people. To this extent, both mechanisms (film and psychoanalysis) support the status quo; but, rather than being necessarily eternal and unchanging in the forms in which we have them, they are inserted in...
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