Feminism and “Other”

After reading Mulvey’s article, I couldn’t help but think of the concept of orientalism. I’m pretty sure someone brought it up at the very end of class on Monday, and I think it’s an interesting and important discussion. In case someone hasn’t heard of orientalism, it’s a Western way of depicting Easterners; it’s done in a very demeaning way that makes people from Eastern countries (such as countries in Asia or the Middle East) seem either primitive or sexual in nature (or oftentimes both). It is a means for Westerners to define themselves because they are not this weaker “other.” These patronizing depictions were also used to justify colonization of the eastern world.

In her article, Mulvey writes that “woman then stands on patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by the symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions 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” (Mulvey 716). Essentially, Mulvey argues that women in films are defined by the fact that they are not a man; women are painted as “other.” Women are therefore only in a film to satisfy the male protagonist and to act as a passive spectacle that he can return to every so often between his moments of action. Thus, women cannot move beyond two-dimensional passivity because they are defined purely as “not a man” or “other.”

In the next section, Mulvey discusses how technology advances over the years that led to the Hollywood studio system have contributed to the limited roles women in film can play; technological advances have reinforced this “otherness” and made it mainstream. Mulvey points to avant-garde cinema as a way for women to break out of this constraining mold. However, Mulvey notes that “a politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint” (Mulvey 716). To me, this means that Mulvey sees avant-garde cinema as an avenue women can go down both in front of an behind the camera in order to showcase more dynamic female characters. However, this does not mean that avant-garde cinema completely breaks away from the studio system. Instead, the use of avant-garde cinema to portray women as more than “other” is still seen as an exception or “other” to mainstream cinema. Thus, while trying to break away from the studio system that reinforces the patriarchal culture, avant-garde cinema is still in conversation with it.

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