Cinema & the Flattening of the Female Form
“It is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article. The satisfaction and reinforcement of the ego that represent the high point of film history hitherto must be attacked. Not in favor of a reconstructed new pleasure… but to make way for a total negation of the ease and plentitude of the narrative fiction film” ~ Laura Mulvey
Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” challenges the issue of the objectification of women in cinema. In the world of law, language, and cinema, the role of women is fixed and flat. She is the bearer of the “bleeding wound”, therefore once she gives birth and “raises the child into the symbolic order…her meaning and process is at an end, it does not last into the world of law and language” (58). Mulvey states that in the dominant patriarchal order “woman… stands in a patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsession through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” (58) This is a man’s world, and woman becomes that which the dominant patriarchal order says she is.
Film is a medium where man can experience his fantasy and obsessions about women. Mulvey states that “the magic of Hollywood style at its best… arose… from its skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure”. Woman is the central object in this creation of visual pleasure. In the world of cinema, woman is the “passive/female”. Her role is to be “simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded with strong visual and erotic impact” (62). What is most important here is the lack of difference between the world of patriarchy and the world of cinema in regards to women.
Woman’s role is to stimulate scopophiliac behavior in men; to arouse their sexual desire. Meanwhile, women are objectified and subordinated by the male gaze. Mainstream cinema reinforces the language of patriarchy by objectifying the female form. In conclusion, woman’s character and form is sacrificed for the sake of man’s development.