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“The Rule”: Women in the movies

2009 January 26
by Hannah Mueller

My artefact for today was this comic strip by Alison Bechdel called “The Rule”.   In it, one woman explains to another that she only goes to see a movie if it fulfills three rules:  1) There have to be at least two women in it who 2) talk to each other about 3) something other than a man.

We saw this in Kate Thomas’s Methods of Literary Study class, and ever since then I’ve half-consciously tested almost every movie I watch.  It’s much more unusual than you might think–than I thought–to find a movie that fulfills all three rules.  Of the new movies I’ve seen in the last year or so that I liked and have been at least somewhat critically acclaimed (e.g. The Dark Knight, Burn After Reading, Slumdog Millionaire, There Will Be Blood…), I can’t think of one that fulfills the rule, although hopefully someone can come up with one.  The last rule is definitely the hardest one, but often you don’t even get the first (There Will Be Blood).

After reading de Lauretis’s essay, it’s pretty easy to see why the rule rarely gets followed:  if the camera is the male gaze and women are objects, never subjects, under that gaze, then there’s no apparent reason for the male eye to keep watching when women are alone and not talking about him.   The women might be talking, but they’re doing it in the “space-off”, elsewhere.  The work of women in real life is often “off-screen”, too:  politically, economically, academically, and socially women’s work isn’t in the spotlight, but is still taking place.

2 Responses
  1. Ryan permalink
    January 26, 2009

    Hi Hannah!

    Speaking of the male gaze and women as objects … take a look at these two videos on YouTube:

    Beyoncé – Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)

    Single Man Dances to “Single Ladies”

    The first one, posted by Beyoncé’s official YouTube channel, is surrounded by advertisements and has garnered 68,000 comments. The second one is a guy in his apartment doing the EXACT same choreography as in the official video, and yet you must log in and confirm that you are over 18 to watch it.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts!


  2. Hannah Mueller permalink
    January 31, 2009

    Wow, good catch! The first explanation that comes to mind is that if it’s attractive, it’s appropriate for all audiences. If it’s not (and I think we can say that by mainstream standards, the second one is not as attractive as the Beyoncé one), then it needs to be marked as inappropriate. In this case, I think the popularity of the one and the rating of the other do demonstrate both sexism and heterosexism at work. Definitely a good example of how most everyone (not just straight men) expect to be looking at entertainment with a straight male gaze, and they’re “disturbed” if that’s not what they get.

    It also brings to mind a double standard with movie ratings: I think it’s true that full-frontal female nudity will not automatically garner a film an R-rating, but full-frontal male nudity will. One’s way more upsetting than the other for audiences conditioned to seeing with male eyes!

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