Film feminism, or motion picture patriarchy

I have been researching and writing a paper for my FSEM (Hollywood Films and History) on the historical accuracy of Kathryn Bigelow’s films, The Hurt Locker (2008)and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), both Academy Award-winning.  She is the only woman director to have won an Oscar for Best Director, which was for The Hurt Locker.


It only just hit me now:  why is the only female-won Oscar for Best Director awarded for a very masculine film?  Does a director have to make masculine films to win an Oscar?  Or were all previous female directors just not the “best”, and it is coincidental that a masculine film was the first to break the mold?  Such questions go back to the canon dilemma.  How do you decide what films or literature are the “best” when the “judges” are unavoidably biased by an ideology?  (Are they unavoidably biased?)

Does Breaking Bad Support Patriarchy?


The immensely popular TV show Breaking Bad (do we even have to say TV anymore–can we just call them “Netflix” shows?”) has yielded many awards, garnered critical acclaim, and wasted countless hours of my life.  It’s a good show.  However, as I watch it, I can’t help but detect some nagging undertones of patriarchy.

I will try to be as generalized in my descriptions as possible for the sake of those who haven’t watched a lot (aka trying to avoid spoilers).  But the gist of Breaking Bad is that Walter White starts to cook/sell meth in an effort to save up enough money for his family before he dies of his terminal lung cancer.  College for Walt Jr., medical bills, mortgages, etc etc–these are some of the things he plans on accruing through his meth profits.  He is moved to do all of this by a deep and guiding love for his family.  At the most basic level, Walter feels like it is a man’s priority to provide for his family.  That’s what a man does, the show suggests, and by whatever means necessary.  This sentiment is displayed most powerfully, I think, in this scene where Gustavo Fring is explaining to Walter “what does a man do.”

“What does a man do, Walt? A man provides for his family. … When you have children, you always have family–they will always be your priority, your responsibility.  And a man–a man provides.  And he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved.  He simply bares up and he does it.  Because he’s a man.” -Gustavo Fring

In Breaking Bad, the theme of family is probably the most recurrent aspect of the show–it is, in fact, the motivation for the show’s entire plot line.  However, the idea that “a man provides for his family,” in my opinion, cannot be separated from this theme of “family” (at least in the context that Breaking Bad discusses it).  For those of you out there who are indeed fans of the show, has this occurred to you at all?  What do you think about patriarchy in Breaking Bad?  My conclusion thus far is that the show definitely supports it.  But: I may be wrong because I haven’t finished watching the show yet, and if that’s the case, then please don’t put any spoilers on here! I’m only in season 3.

Feminism and Mulan


It’s cool that Karista and Jordan continued Tyson’s mention of feminism in Disney princess movies because I also found that particular point interesting. It brought to mind my favorite Disney princess movie Mulan, which is strikingly different from the others. Although she is technically not a “princess,” she is, like Karista mentioned of Pocahontas, considered part of that Disney genre. However, Mulan features what I consider to be a very feminist plot. She does not fit into the mold that her society has for women to become a “beautiful” bride and serve her husband in the home. Instead she laments that she “will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter” and she wonders “when will [her] reflection show who [she is] inside.” Mulan, instead of getting married, decides to dress up like a man in order to take her invalid father’s place in the war, pretending to be his son. In doing so, she risks punishment of such an act, which is death. While Mulan continually opposes the boundaries her patriarchal ancient Chinese society puts forth, she also proves that a woman’s perspective can offer valuable insight in winning the battle, which she ultimately does when she comes up with the ironic idea of dressing the men in her army up as women in order to sneak into the Emperor’s palace (because no one’s worried about a bunch of women posing a threat) and defeat Khan before he kills the Emperor. She also uses her intellect in devising a way to kill Khan, a man physically stronger than she, by shooting him off on a firework. Anyway, I think this movie was a great move by Disney to break the chain of helpless princesses whose only dream is to meet their Prince Charming and live happily ever after. I always get a little teary at the end when everyone bows down to Mulan after she effectively saves all of China.

This song, amongst others, definitely highlights the dominant patriarchal view that Mulan seeks to challenge and change:


Karista’s Feminist Analysis of “Pocahontas”

I thought I would go ahead and continue Tyson’s discussion of how the “Disney Princess” movies fall under the category of being able to be discussed by a feminist critic. I do not really consider Pocahontas a Disney princess, but the movie falls in the same category as the others, like Cinderella, Snow White, etc. I thought the Pocahontas film showed even more characteristics of feminism than the traditional Disney princess movies.

I want to begin with discussing the degree of patriarchy in the film. First of all, Pocahontas is clearly oppressed because not only is she the “savage” (which I could relate to Postcolonial criticism, but staying on topic), but she is also seen as less educated and uncivilized to John Smith. She is also dressed in very revealing clothing compared to John Smith or any of the other colonizers. Not only is Pocahontas oppressed by the colonizers, but also her father and other men of her tribe. She is considered ignorant and naïve when she asks her father to listen to John Smith about not wanting to harm them. Do you really think that if Pocahontas had been a man that he would have been overlooked like that? Well, I think the outcome would have been different. Also, when Pocahontas’s father was worried for her safety she was not allowed to leave outside of their village unless another man was to accompany her.

In this film, gender roles of masculinity and femininity are very prevalent in the Indians and the colonizers. Women in the tribe, including Pocahontas, are supposed to collect corn, stay in the village, and remain quiet when men are speaking. Men on the other hand are allowed to give their opinions, hunt outside of the village, and have all the power. The chief of the tribe, Pocahontas’s father, is a man and Pocahontas’s mother is not even in the film at all. On the colonizer’s side there are only men, not women. Only men were allowed to discover the “new land”, women had to stay home to look after the children and hold down the house.

I was able to critique Pocahontas more with materialist feminism because I saw Pocahontas oppressed more physically and economically in the film, then I did psychoanalytically. Pocahontas wears very revealing clothing throughout the movie like I mentioned earlier. She is in a tube top that reveals her stomach, and wears a very short skirt that reveals all of her legs. It is not only Pocahontas, but all of the women in this movie are dressed provocatively. Whereas the men in the tribe do not have shirts on, but it shows their muscle line and makes them look more tough and hard. The men in the colonizers are fully clothed, but also have distinct muscle definition. Also, Pocahontas is told by her father that she will marry one of the warriors of the tribe whether she wants to or not because it would be the smart decision for her. This shows the power of a man being able to decide who a woman should marry and her not having a say on the matter. But, like I said earlier I found it difficult to critique this film with a psychoanalytical feminist view because Pocahontas does not fall into the oppression from the men in the movie. She keeps to her heart and stays bold. She constantly questions her father, whether it be about the marriage or the colonizers. Up until the very end of the movie when she throws herself over John Smith to save him she does not let her father’s dominance interfere with her heart. She is not programmed to act the way women were supposed to act at this time.

Reading Feminist criticism makes me view not only this film, but most of the Disney movies in a completely different way. I was really able to look past the ending of the movie and see how women were actually portrayed. They were oppressed by many men, and some of them fought this oppression while others did not. It was interesting to me to realize how these once small things to me are not so small anymore.


Kelly’s Bridge to the Blog

We started class doing the thesis workshop which was pretty helpful but not interesting to talk about so I shall quickly move on.

Once that was done it was time to crush the patriarchy with Feminist Criticism. Feminism, which contrary to popular belief is not about women taking over and making men slaves (hatred of men is called misandry), is a very complicated topic with a lot to discuss. Professor Scanlon talked about the different types of feminist critique and the different levels of critique. There is the gynocriticism which mainly deals with how women are objectified in literature and other mediums of pop culture. We also discussed French feminism. French feminism is more concerned with the body and the use of feminine language. Thinking of language as masculine is a little hard to do but try to imagine how many times you were told to man up or to grow a pair. I’ve heard both plenty of times and I’m a cis female. Just those two sayings instill in us that men are strong and independent and to be less than that is like becoming a woman. (and who wants that?) There are many more subtle examples of masculine language. French feminism leads us to l’ecriture feminine(women’s writing). In women’s writing they focus on the sensory experiences of a woman more than a man which leads to plots with more than one climax as oppose to a story whose whole point is to get us to that one moment of intensity then to drop quickly to exposition.

The three main names to know are Cixous, Kristeva, and Irigaray. Irigaray’s idea that women are meant to be men’s mirror and not an individual person is really interesting to me. An idea I thought connected to that theory will is a popular feminist movie test called the Bechdel Test. The test has only three points to show if a movie did a good job handling its female characters. The first requirement is that it has to have at least two [named] women in it. Women are about 50% of the population and all women have names so it is really sad that two named females is the standard we are shooting for. The second is a little harder but it’s basically that two of the women need to talk to each other. Basically, the women need to interact with someone other than men at on point. Again, not a hard qualification at all. The third, and my personal favorite, is that when the women talk their conversation has to be about something other than men. I know, I know, how ridiculous is it that some people think women have ideas and thoughts other than about men? Nonsense! If you are sitting there thinking that this test is ridiculous and unnecessary because there are certain situations where female characters do not fit in and sure that might be some but the situations are rare and not common enough to support the amount of movies that miserably fail this simple test. Think about your favorite movies, do they pass the test? chances are it does not and that’s because media treats women characters as being useful for males.

In idea that we touched on in class is what being a feminist means. Does it mean being strong and powerful or is that just trying to be a man? Is it feminist to want to be a mother and follow traditional gender roles? If feminism is all about celebrating women why does it seem most feminists view overly feminine women as holding them back and supporting the patriarchy? When did feminists begin to hate the feminine? All intense and interesting questions with no real answers. I leave you with a feminist poem that is super amazing and everyone should listen to it.