Women, Power and Politics
Women, Power and Politics
Gender is a significant reflection in development. Through it we can analyze how social norms and power structures influence on the lives and opportunities accessible to different groups of men and women. Gender analysis explores the way power is distributed between women and men, how it function, who uses it and for what reasons.In contrast to men, women control less both economical and political resources, such as property, employment and traditional positions of authority. This uneven distribution of gender relation of power is also represented in the media.
Media, as a framework for interpretation and a message in the contemporary society, can have an imperative role in promoting or even obstructing gender equality, both within the working environment and in the representation of women and men. Women and men are often stereotyped and depicted unevenly by the media. Women and girls are positioned in underprivileged situations, for instance in passive and submissive roles whereas men and boys are portrayed to be more possessive in their occupations and more probable to thrive. According to Ferguson, the majority of female characters in the mass media “holds and uses private power as wives, mothers, partners” (Ferguson, 1990). Accordingly, traditional gender roles and power relations have been profoundly internalized in public’s sub consciousness through the mass media which limit the progress of both human personalities and social equality. Visual images especially, are arranged in a way that have the power to stir beyond the entertainment and evoke emotional responses by having a immense influence on our state of mind (Alcolaea -Bangas, 2008). As Berger (1992) pointed out “‘Like fish, we “swim” in a sea of images, and these images help shape our perceptions of the world and of ourselves”.
An essential derivate of visual images are films which are adhered images together in order to create a story that transmit certain ideologies or ideas and has an impact in peoples lives. As Gerald Mast, a film scholar, affirmed, “there are fewer cultural products more influential in contemporary life than films”. Thus, those ideologies also shape our everyday perception of women. According to Dutt, Hollywood films’ portrayal of women sticked to the patriarchal structures, but later on, have veiled these messages under the façade of female empowerment and independence (Dutt, 2014). According to many criticism power is at the central of a patriarchial society. Foss describes patriarchy as “ a system of power relations in which men dominate women so that women’s interest are subordinates to those of man and they view themselves as inferior to men” (Foss, 1989). The portray of women can be seen in the way of how a film is constructed. Male characters play an active role and are shown as mentally and physically powerful. They are dominant guardians looking to “gaze” at women. On the other hand women are passive, dependent and in need for support. Furthermore a major criticism from feminist perspective has been towards the “male gaze”. Laura Mulvey used this concept to show the gender power assymety in film. Mulvey states that female are objectified in film because heterosexual men are in control of the camera. Thus, the man becomes as the dominant power inside the created film fantasy. The woman is submissive to the active gaze from the man. The use scopophylia, sexual satisfaction through viewing, to communicate adds an element of ‘patriarchal’ system and it is regularly viewed in “iIIusionistic narrative film” (Mulvey, 1989).
A very controversial representation of women can be traced in the early beginning of Hollywood era. Film Noir, is a term which is used to describe Hollywood crime dramas in 40’s and 50’s with cynical attidues and sexual motivations. During these era the concept of femme fatale flourished. The archetypal femme fatale of film noir use her sexual attractiveness and merciless manipulation to trick men in order to achieve power, money, or independence, or all of them at the same time (filmnoirstudies, 2008). Femme fatale refuses the conventional roles of devoted wife and cautious mother that mainstream society set down for women, and in the end her disobedience of social norms leads to her own distruction and the destruction of the men who are attracted to her (filmnoirstudies, 2008). Film noir’s depiction of the femme fatale, according to film noir studies, aims to sustain the actual social order and especially its strictly defined gender roles by creating the powerful, independent woman, only in the end to penalize her.
Later during the period of 70’s and 80’s, in Hollywood, we had the muscle obsession. Blockbusters such as Rambo, Terminator, Leathal Weapon were produced where masculinity was over displayed. A dominant ideology of that time were the masculinist figure of gender that characterizes masculinity regarding the male warriorwith the attributes of great strenght, effective use of force, and military bravery as the main expressions. As Susan Bordo articulated ‘…muscles have mainly symbolized and maintain to symbolize masculine power as physical potency, regularly operating as a means of coding the naturalness of sexual difference. (Bordo, n.d). Genres as well assist in preserving stereotypes in cinema (Gledhill, 2012). For example, war, action, spy films are considered male film genres, and romantic, comedy film are female genres with a female protagonist. However, in the 90’s we saw the surfacing of some female actions heroes defined by a quality of “masculinity”. Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, confronted those cultural norms. She was putted as Judith Butler would call a “gender performance” where she was required to perform the stereotypical “masculinity” as a strong and dominant warrior. Tasker (1998) articulates this “as an enactment of a muscular masculinity involving a display of power and strength over the body of the female performer” (Tasker, 1998).
Nowadays, referring to Dutt, in most of the films women are obliged to incorporate everything. They must be tough and aggressive but also beautiful and sexy. This is the “empowered” woman of corporate consumer society’ (Dutt, 2014). For example in the film “The Devil Wears Prada”, women and power are main themes throughout the film. Female power relationships examined in the film shows how women exercise power effectively to race in the world of business. The film is a good illustration which shows how a women shatter through traditional gender stereo-types and exercise a leadership type associated with masculinity. The protagonist Miranda Priestley, is depicted as a powerful women often associated as the “devil” boss who is ruthless, demanding and very hard hard to please. The film prehending the way gender relations with leadership is practiced in the work-place.
On the other hand, Juno, an independent non-Hollywood film gives a more realistic representation of women’s. The film is about a young girl who becomes pregnant during the high-school by his teen boy-friend. According to Dutt her character signify an rising cultural formulation of girl hood that have as a attribute independence and strength (Dutt, 2014). Juno is someone who is unconventional and indifferent with her appearance. She doesn’t care what others think of her and takes the decisions for herself. For instance, she doesn’t listen to her mother and boyfriend and decides to keep the baby. As Dutt points out, her agency marks a considerable progression for female portrayals in films. She embodies the ‘visual characterization of newly emerging constructions of girls that fuse particular aspects of traditional “femininity” and “masculinity”’(Dutt, 2014).
Alcolea-Banegas, J. (2008). Visual Arguments in Film.Argumentation, 23(2), pp.259-275.
Berger, A. (1991). Seeing Is Believing: An Introduction to Visual Communication.The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 49(1), p.101.
Bordo, S. (1999).The male body. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Dutt, R. (2014).Behind the curtain: women’s representations in contemporary Hollywood. MSC. London School of Economics.
Ferguson, M. (1990). Images of power and the feminist fallacy.Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 7(3), pp.215-230.
Filmnoirstudies.com, (2008).Film Noir’s Progressive Portrayal of Women – A Film Noir Studies Essay. [online] Available at: http://www.filmnoirstudies.com/essays/progressive.asp [Accessed 12 Mar. 2015].
Foss, S. (1989).Rhetorical criticism. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press.
Mast, G. (n.d.).How to watch movies intellegently. [online] Bluffton.edu. Available at: http://www.bluffton.edu/~mastg/Watchingmovies.htm [Accessed 10 Mar. 2015].
Mulvey, L. (1989).Visual and other pleasures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Tasker, Y. (2002).Working girls. London: Routledge.