Martha Coolidge director Rambling Rose Introducing Dorothy Dandridge I think women want to see women portrayed in a more realistic way thats all That

doesn't mean you can't have bad guys as women, but I kind of resent that the big breakthrough was, "Hey, let's make the really bad guys women." That fulfills another male fantasy: Woman as Monster.19

Mariel Hemingway, actor (Personal Best, Star 80): This is a business run by guys who have fantasies about women and who want women to be a certain way. My way of dealing with it is to not be a part of it.20

Annette Bening, actor (The Grifters, The Siege): What we need are more human roles.21

Women in the movie business wish for violent female characters who do not look very much like violent men, and describe their wish in terms of "real" womanhood.

In her commentary on The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster offered similar thoughts about her feminist heroism:

I think there's something very important about having a woman hero who's a true woman hero, in the most archetypal sense of the word, and yet doesn't have to clothe herself in men's clothing. She's not six-foot-two; she doesn't kill the dragon by being mightier. She actually does it because of her instinct, because of her brain, and because somehow she's seen something, a detail that other people have missed. And that's a real side of female heroism that should be applauded and should be respected. . . . Clarice is a real female hero, not a bad imitation of a male hero.22

Foster explained, in another interview, "Male fantasy is interesting terrain. . . . Nobody is saying 'Don't make movies about male fantasy,' or 'Don't make movies about women who are complex and evil.' The thing to stress is that you want to create characters that are real."23 In this volume, Susan Knobloch looks at a violent actor, Sharon Stone, often accused of unrealistic performance.

The feminist study of popular culture often sticks at these issues of realism and progressive impact. In her review of 1970s feminist scholarship on sexism in the media, Suzanna Danuta Walters explains that those early studies described the persistence of sexist imagery and the relegation of women to home-and-family roles.24 Such work trains our attention on women's injury, oppression, or vilification as monsters. Feminist activists called our attention to the representation in the media of women's bodies as objectified and violated by the putatively more aggressive bodies of men. In the name of realism, feminists have neglected images of women as potentially active, violent, or vengeful.

Feminist scholars of film have rejected the simplest models of such socialist-feminist realism, rightly noting that one person's realism might amount to another's fantasy and that disputes over veracity lead nowhere because "realistic" images might not help activists anyhow.25 After all, stories of impoverishment and abandonment, abuse and endless workdays, however realistic, can't provide all of the imagery that a movement needs. Nor could depictions of women exploiting each other across lines of class or race prove very inspiring, however realistic they might be. Laura Grindstaff's essay in this volume considers tough women fighting across lines of age and social class. Images of women fighting for new rights might not always seem realistic, but they are worth circulating anyway.

Beyond asking whether images were true, analysts have asked what activists or their oppressors could do with them. Scholars have advanced more complex models in the interim, most famously Stuart Hall's reworking of Raymond Williams's distinction between the "dominant" and the "emergent."26 This model allows analysts to specify audiences who might read pop culture in particular ways that served the (proto-) political purposes of their communities. With this framework, analysts could distinguish between the "resistant" (i.e., feminist, antiracist) aspects of a movie or its audience, and the "dominant" parts to be reviled.

Unfortunately, this shift from realism to various audience activities retains the most serious problem of the putatively rejected "positive-image" framework. Both frameworks lend themselves better to moralistic denunciation than to building knowledge of complicated genres. For example, we can see Ripley's resourcefulness and ability to fight as "resistant" because we like that part of the film, and then interpret her handling of weapons or her bossing of black men as "dominant" because we were embarrassed by liberal guilt or outraged by the apparent racial subordination (see discussion of racism in Aliens below). In another context, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick pokes fun at this theoretical model ("kinda subversive, kinda hegemonic") as "the good dog/bad dog rhetoric of puppy obedience school"27 and dismisses it for its "intense moralism" and "wholesale reification of the status quo."28 The "dominance/resistance" framework pats some images or interpretations on the head as useful to "us" and slaps others as collaborating with oppressors, leaving aside the pesky matters of what anyone means by "us," how we know what "we" do with the images, and what any "dominant" group might do with them, mean by them, gain from them, and so on.

Like critics of dominant /resistant images and interpretations, we intend this volume to offer readers ways to use images—inaccurate, irreverent, or otherwise offensive as they might be. We have assembled this volume in the spirit of celebration more than diminution, not because we have divided the good dogs (feminist visions) from the bad dogs (male fantasies), but because we know that movies belong to both breeds at every moment for every audience, and we'd rather take space discovering patterns in film narrative and reception than bark at them. The skewering assessments of violent women in the rich film literature tend to leave one wondering what such heroes must do to escape derision as hollow, limited, male fantasies.

There must be more to analysis than condemnation, the perpetual unmasking of violent women as frauds whose "resistance" to some reified patriarchy must always be undercut by recuperation into a "dominant" order. We'd like to move beyond the objection that violent women are often unrealistic, sexy, nurturing, emotional, or working for the government. Thus, this volume explores uses of violent fantasies, and so moves beyond critiques of them as sexist and otherwise oppressive. Male fantasies abound in our male-dominated culture, and surely these violent women are among them.29 How could they not be, after all? They didn't drop from the sky pure of our culture's taint. Can't we find use for them despite their being unreal male fantasies?

Too Sexy

0 0

Post a comment