As these debates show, there was never any uniformity within cine-psychoanalysis about the gaze, or about what kind of psychoanalysis was most appropriate to cinematic modes. But with its binarisms, psychoanalytic film theories fitted the Cold War era in that they looked back to nineteenth-century Europe and reflected a world fixed on a framework in which communism versus capitalism was a subtext. Freud's theories enabled an understanding of the neuroses produced in the nineteenth-century bourgeois family—itself the anchoring institution for the Industrial Revolution. In this light, using psychoanalysis in a critique of capitalist ideology made sense. In the years since 1983, US culture and society have changed dramatically, as have international relations. It took the collapse of the Soviet Union to open space for rethinking imperialism and it took the increased flows of peoples across borders and into the academy to encourage new perspectives, such as postmodernism and its related postcolonialism.
As cine-psychoanalytic theories began to seem rather formulaic—despite the efforts of Doane and other scholars to underscore the complexities and penetrating questions that such theory involved, and despite Mulvey's own continuing "corrections" to her polemical 1975 essay—more resistance to gaze theories arose. In the 1980s B. Ruby Rich, Gayle Arbuthnot, Sue-Ellen Case, and other gay women offered strong critiques emerging from their alternate perspectives (even if these were not so explicitly marked as "lesbian" as in later work). It was primarily the dominance of French structuralism— Lacanian theories, Saussurian semiotics, and Althusserian Marxism—in gaze theories that troubled critics, along with the obvious heterosexual foundation on which the theories were based. It was this foundation that Teresa De Lauretis so profoundly interrogated. Working with Freud's and Luce Irigaray's theories among others, De Lauretis notes the intimate relationship of sexual and social indifference in Western culture for centuries—a link that served to bolster colonial conquest and racist violence—before turning to examine lesbian representation through diverse attempts of lesbian writers and artists to deploy their struggles in ways that engage the body as linked to language and meaning. Meanwhile, the so-called Stella Dallas debate, referring to the 1937 film in which Barbara Stanwyck portrays a woman who gives up her beloved daughter in hopes of giving her a better life among more "respectable" people, dramatized differences emerging in feminist film theory. Kaplan argued that filmic identification with the figure of Stella invited audiences to accept as proper her giving up her daughter and therefore forgoing motherhood through her internalization of patriarchal familial norms. By contrast, Linda Williams argued that the film invited audiences to share multiple points of view, and that Stella's actions could be seen as showing strength and agency. Responses published in Cinema Journal between 1984 and 1985 opened for debate and critique some of the
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