Stephanie Barron

Mulvey concludes in her article ‘Afterthoughts’ (Kaplan 1990) [for full references etc, see sources] that when asked to identify with a central strong female character, the female spectator becomes masculinised. The danger thus, is to view the female spectator's desire as a kind of transvestism. Identification with the female protagonist infers the spectator is passive or masochistic, and yet identifying with the male cinema protagonist requires the woman to become masculinised also. Does this imply that everyone desires to be a man. thus ‘normal’, instead of feminine? Or is this construction of spectatorship merely the product of a dominant male society.

Whilst the application of Freudian psychology to textual analysis can explain why dominant patriarchy has consistently objectified female protagonists in sci-fi, it does not consider the universal variants that can occur. Whilst feminist critics adopt a Freudian stance and view women as suppressed by men, it is necessary to consider how these protagonists are objectified not simply why. As detailed in the thesis, femininity is cause for much anxiet in male audiences and indeed in the production of films by the dominant classes. As such female sexuality has been used to express horror, fear, desire and yet rarely is it used to express normality or any variant of what normality actually is. For popular culture femininity must be constructed for male acceptance, either through the implication of feminine traits onto the subject, in which case the character becomes wholly female (thus an object, and also abnormal) or by incorporating the female into the male, by placing upon the character masculine traits such as physical appearance, attitude, actions. Yet this in itself causes anxiety. How can a female protagonist succeed even if she is deemed male? This is against natural expectations, and thus her phallic power is reduced by associating her once again with the female. be it through maternal instincts, or through irrational. emotional stereotypical feminine behaviour. This also causes problems. for if she is seen as female. not only is she thus unnatural, but also is distracting the focus of attention away from the male action characters, The psychoanalytical judgements of all theorists contain problems that create a vicious circle of conflicting philosophies that seem to have no conclusive detachment or acceptance of femininity. When we further the argument to incorporate the homosexual gaze, the issue becomes broader, as it causes as complete reassessment of established theory’s such as Mulvey’s, and allows for a new angle on the issue. If the male audience is presented with a masculinised female body, doesn’t this present the anxiet that he will desire the form. thus simulating a homosexual desire that is deemed unnatural by dominant ideology, so goes unrecognised. Further still, if we masculinise the female are we not presenting a more physical form of phallus that is disliked by heterosexual females, but desired and identified with by homosexual females?

The patriarchal ideology of the 1950s consistently constructed females in roles that the gender specific audience could dismiss. Victims of attack, damsels to be rescued, all allowed the narrative to focus around the male protagonists fairy tale mythological quest. The narrative closure saw a neat return to the equilibrium. However, as society changed through the Cold War, civil rights movements, women’s liberation, the films had to adapt too. in consequence to Women’s Liberation, films began to marginalise the females, viewing them as a threat to dominant society, a threat which had to be disposed of, be it through death or neutralisation. From fantasy horrors such as Cat Women, Devil Girls from Mars, Wasp Woman, the females became the visualisation of castration fear, a fear that could only be allied through conquering. During a later period in the 1960s films such as Barbarella epitomised the figure of a woman as object: one could say the form of what a woman should be. Jane Fonda’s character was sexual and available, and her presence in the narrative action was minimal. Barbarella once again placed women into objectification for the predominantly male spectators to fetish over and own.

The Alien trilogy is successthl due to its visualisation of psychological fears and desires inherent in all spectators. It is also the basis for the strongest female protagonist. and exposes each area of debate suggested in this thesis. whilst also illustrating how the voice of a woman (Alien and Aliens producer Gale Anne Hurd) enabled the sci-fi genre to push back the boundaries of established sci-fi tradition. However, the strongest patriarchy is inherent in all production. Even Ripley in the most dire of situations was seen to resolve the problem with feminine attributes, yet it cannot be said that this is wrong, for after all she is female, thus her feminine actions are normal. Yet as becomes apparent, female normality is considered weak, and protagonists cannot be seen to solve narrative problems this way. Thus they become monsters of their own sexuality, or so detached from it they are labelled ‘masculine’.

It is conclusive to say that until masculinity refrains from judging the rest of society, in relation or subordinate to them, little is going to change. The women within this expanding genre will continue to conform, be it ever so lightly, to a predetermined narrative. It cannot be said that the days of woman as object are gone, for as this thesis shows, the objectification of females is still rife within films and programmes. but the objectification is taking a new turn towards narratives that attempt to be ‘politically correct’ and explore women’s issues, (such as consent) yet never fully question them. Instead they are used as an attractive storyline for a female audience who are presented with a nominal resolution in accordance with patriarchy; consent is no longer the issue - it is the attractiveness of the female body.

lt is also conclusive to say that feminist critics who rely on the tradition of Freud and Lacan when viewing women as passive, are doing little to enhance to roles of females within film, and more often than not literature as well as cinema is left viewing femininity as a marginalised and weaker gender.

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