An introduction towards theories of gender representation, couched in a summary of feminist critical thinking and applied to music videos, adverts and video games but equally applicable to all aspects of media, literature and cultural studies.
Systemic Societal Sexism?
Open this link to reflect on how (arguably) the most powerful position in the world – The President of the United States, talks and thinks about women. This would be known as MISOGYNY. This is a term that derives from psychoanalysis and essentially means a fear and hatred of women, or put simply: SEXISM, a mechanism used by males as a way of exerting power and control in society, otherwise known as PATRIARCHY.
Feminism: A critical articulation for equality
According to Michelene Wandor, ‘sexism was coined by analogy with the term racism in the American civil rights movement in the early 1960s. Defined simply, sexism refers to the systematic ways in which men and women are brought up to view each other antagonistically, on the assumption that the male is always superior to the female‘ (1981:13).
Barry makes the point that although the women’s movement was not the start of feminism, ‘the feminist literary criticism of today is the product of the women’s movement of the 1960’s’ (2017:123). In other words, the issue of women’s inequality has a history that pre-dates the 1960’s, see for examples: Mary Wollstonecraft, (1792) A Vindication of the Rights of Women; Virginia Woolf (1929) A room of one’s own; Simone de Beauvoir (1949) The Second Sex.
Nevertheless, feminist critical thought became much more prominent and pronounced during the counter cultural movements of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, which heralded, among other changes: the facilitating of birth control and divorce, the permitting of abortion and homosexuality, the abolition of hanging and theatre censorship, and the Obscene Publications Act (1959) which led to the Chatterly trial. Nevertheless, as Johnathon Dollimore wrote: ‘all this should not be seen as a straightforward displacement of dominant conservative attitudes‘ (1983:59).
This period is often termed second wave feminism – after the first wave of feminism, which was galvanised by organisations such as, the British Women’s Suffrage Committee (1867), the International Council of Women (1888), the The International Alliance of Women (1904), and so on who, in early part of the 20th Century, worked to get women the right to vote.
In contrast, ‘at the beginning of the 1970’s the Women’s Liberation Movement set great store by the process of consciousness raising’ (Wandor, 1981:13), ‘influencing everyday conduct and attitudes.’ (Barry, 2017:124) and ‘exposing the mechanisms of patriarchy, that is, the cultural ‘mind-set’ in men and women which perpetuated sexual inequality’ (123).
In the social, political and economic realm, this meant demands for equal pay, equal education, equal opportunities, free contraception and abortion, greater provision for childcare and so on. In the realm of culture, this meant an analysis of existing mechanisms of representation as well as an appraisal of existing relations of production. In other words, scrutiny of not just how sexual difference was represented but who was in the positions of power to represent sexual difference.
the camera becomes the mechanism for producing an illusionLaura Mulvey Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema, 1975
As a final part of this brief introduction, it is useful to draw upon Toril Moi’s (1987) crucial set of distinctions between: ‘feminist’, ‘female’ and ‘feminine’.
- Feminist = a political position
- Female = a matter of biology
- Feminine = a set of culturally defined characteristics
So in summary, this post is primarily focussed on drawing together a number of key concepts, ideas, approaches and theories, which can be applied to a range of cultural / media texts. For example, Jean Kilbourne‘s work at the Media Education Foundation looked at visual narrative media / culture, primarily in terms of advertising. The TEDx talk below gives an overview of both her work and the development of this strand of critical thinking, (a copy of her film Killing us softly, then and now is embedded at the end of this post).