In terms of women in film today, the main issue for me seems to be that although women now receive a greater deal of representation in modern films than they have ever before; and in terms of characters the range is certainly much wider than it once was, there is still a great imbalance in that most of these representations are still coming from men.
This is not to say that women cannot represent mens issues, and vice versa, but there should at least be some opportunity for women to have a voice in creating what is essentially a key tool for women of all ages in understanding, and coming to terms with a sense of female identity.
The history of the film industry and of film theory – and feminist theory in particular, has set up a peculiar scenario for filmmakers today. It is widely understood and acknowledged that the film industry began as being a culture crafted both by men and for men. As such we now have a vast catalogue of films which have been created by men and for men, in a time before this was highlighted as being an issue ; before the film industry worried itself too much about gender imbalance.
So, now as women begin about trying to level the playing field, be it by creating films about women or creating films for women, they are entering an industry where showcasing and prioritising the identity of one gender over another is now subject to scrutiny – how can we say that creating films by and for men is unacceptable and then proceed to create the exact same instance for women?
This means there is still some difficulty for women when it comes to creating films about what it is they know best ; the modern female identity, in all its varying forms.
There is also the constant underlying sense that when either a man or woman creates a female character on screen through filmmaking that they have to exist in a way which does not step backwards towards the earliest and most scrutinised means of portraying women; namely objectification and sexualisation.
Potentially then we have reached a situation where the earliest understanding of femininity has become a taboo within film lexicon, which is an idea I was looking to explore in my work.
Mary Anne Doane discusses in some detail the power of femininity and utilising sexuality, and the idea that women can simply tune it on or off according to when it can be to their particular advantage. In film this is particularly through the idea which Jenny Holder puts forward; that of the masquerade; creating a visual barrier between the woman to be looked at and the camera, and encouraging some mystery and a sense of desire.
I wanted my piece to create a visual representation of both these ideas, along with a sense of the history of women’s representation in film, and a means of illustrating how deeply entrenched these primary issues are in the struggles of women in film today.
The first layer is designed purely as a visual spectacle, showcasing predominantly natural imagery, shot in carefully framed close ups which decontextualise them from their surroundings. There are two ideas at play in this layer – the first being the early idea that Simone de Beauvoir criticises ; the assumption that it is natural for women to prioritise being beautiful as a means of creating a sense of self identity and/or worth. The second is that in early representations this was all the characterisation women could hope to receive. Their roles in film would centre around being attractive, usually only with the purpose of gaining the affections and interest of a male character.
By then projecting these images onto women a very literal representation is created about the way in which this idea was constantly being projected onto early female characters in films, with men creating characters which showcased exactly what other men would want to see.
This is however made more complex by the interplay of the masquerade. I strongly believe that we should not have to cast aside femininity and sexuality in order to see female characters on screen which demonstrate a sense of complexity and depth beyond their physical appearance, and there is a danger that this could now become the assumption; if a woman is ‘attractive’ in the commonly understood definition of the word (based on those ideals which Hollywood and mainstream media have pushed upon us) then this will undercut anything else the character achieves.