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Vanessa Ewing Feminism In Mainstream Hollywood Cinema

Vanessa Ewing - Feminism In Mainstream Hollywood Cinema

Mainstream Hollywood cinema has for decades represented an erotic realm by using language and images of our patriarchal culture. It has satisfied and reinforced the masculine ego and repressed the desire of women. Feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey's essay, 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' published in 1975 has proved to be one of the most influential articles in the whole of contemporary film theory. Mulvey's essay is heavily invested in theory. The essay makes use of Freudian psychoanalytic theory (in a version influenced by Jacques Lacan) to not only highlight sexual differences and pleasures within cinema but to discover the patterns of fascination that have moulded us. She used it to ground her account of gendered subjectivity, desire, and visual pleasure. Mulvey has used psychoanalysis as a political weapon to uncover the ways in which patriarchal society has structured the sexual subject within cinema. It is citied as "the founding document in feminist film theory" (Modleski 1989), as providing "the theoretical grounds for the rejection of Hollywood and its pleasures" (Penley 1988), and even as setting out feminist film theory's "axioms" (Silverman, quoted in Byars 1991). (1)

In this essay in intend to briefly summarise Mulvey's essay and highlight what I consider to be her key themes and how they relate to psychoanalytic theory and perspectives of feminism criticism. In the second half of this essay I will apply these main themes from Mulvey's essay to Michael Powell's 1960 classic horror film, "Peeping Tom".

Mulvey begins her essay by saying that the patriarchal society is a phallocentric society. I believe this means that it recognises the male gender and the sexuality of men as the hegemonic norm. However, phallocentrism depends, in Freudian terms, on the image of the castrated woman. This image gives some sort of order to the world that the male dominated conception of society, suggests a masculine subject is at the core of all social interchanges. Since the woman represents the absence of a penis, ('lack' of phallus) she highlights the fear of castration. This is important for the foundation of the male subject. Women are second-class citizens, allowed only to participate in the male 'symbolic order' through having a child that is nurtured to accept the 'symbolic' norm.

One of Mulvey's first key themes is to do with the 'cinema' offering a number of sensual pleasures. She notes that Freud had referred...

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