Wednesday, May 11, 2005

This is my response to how I believe the representation of women in film has changed since the 1950’s with specific reference to Pillow Talk, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Down with Love and Pretty Woman. I have considered concepts such as the fairytale, changing stereotypes, the male gaze and post modernism. Please feel free to leave any comments about what I have proposed within my essay. Thanks

The changing representation of women within the romantic comedy genre since the 1950’s
I have decided to focus upon the representation of women within the romantic comedy genre as I found this to be an interesting genre involving women in film as the lead characters are predominantly women with a female target audience. Therefore any change towards the representation of women within the genre I found to be interesting since it may be argued that the target audience has seen little variation. I also found that there was a sufficient amount of theoretical and popular criticism available as for example theorist Rubinfeld states; “(about the genre) it has outlasted among others, such Hollywood staples as the western and the musical”. I have also chosen to refer my research from the 1950’s romantic comedies up until the present day. I have looked specifically at the films Pillow Talk and Breakfast at Tiffany’s of earlier examples and for recent film analysis I have focused on Down With Love and Pretty Woman. I have chosen these specific films as they are all quite well known and feature actresses such as Doris Day and Julia Roberts traditionally connoted towards the genre reflecting a more holistic view of the representation of women in the genre. I have chosen to specifically focus on the endings of the films as I think they portray a significant view of the representation of women of the time. I have also found interesting explanations for how the representation of women in romantic comedy has and has not changed since the 1950’s which I will go on to explain giving my own conclusion based upon my research.

One explanation of how the representation of women has changed since the 1950’s is that there has been an alteration in the stereotypes portrayed in romantic comedies. I found that from my questionnaire participants described the earlier roles of women as “stereotypical 1950’s women” and felt that characters such as Julia Roberts were more independent and stronger. I also found an article stating a shift towards the independent stereotypical role away from the first stereotypes of the “pillar of virtue” adopted by Doris Day. Also theorist Cherry Potter supports this idea that changing stereotypes have changed the representation in romantic comedies as she argues that there were more “defined” stereotypes in the 1950’s which were far more rigid as women were either portrayed as virginal or promiscuous. I think this concept that stereotypes have changed, is true to a certain extent as in Pillow Talk Doris Day appears virginal as she refuses the advances of several men in her pursuit for love as she physically restrains one characters advances upon her in a car, also Audrey Hepburn may be seen to reflect attributes which are both promiscuous and virtuous in Breakfast at Tiffany’s as she runs from men as in one scene an angry male suitor confronts her on her doorstep about how she ran off with his $50, however the more promiscuous aspects of her character can be seen as she appears dependent upon men financially and uses her looks to obtain what she needs as she agrees to marry for money. However I do not think that stereotypes have changed significantly as evidence from the 1950’s as Vivian in Pretty Woman may be seen to portray clear characteristics of the promiscuous stereotype as she makes a living by sleeping with men for money, her clothing such as her knee length leather boots and brash dialogue indicate her promiscuous stereotype from the beginning. Vivian also later embodies more pillar of virtue aspects as she refuses to “kiss on the mouth” and declines sleeping with Edward’s friend. I also think that it may appear that the independent stereotype may be more apparent now than from the 1950’s however do not think that this has actually changed as for example in Down With Love and Bridget Jones’ Diary the lead female characters although successful socially and financially ultimately still seek their main source of happiness from men. This can be seen as in Bridget Jones’ Diary Bridget gets a new job above her old, has close friends and no apparent financial difficulty however is seen in scenes crying and moping with their sole happiness determined by men.
Another possible way in which it is argued the representation of women has changed is by the changes in society leading to women assuming a different role from the 1950’s. This is as Gilmour argues changes in society since 1950 have led to women being represented differently. She gives the explanation of people being more open about their sexuality and a crisis in masculinity. However I disagree with this as I do not think a crisis in masculinity has been demonstrated in films such as Pretty Woman and Bridget Jones’ Diary in which both men appear very masculine. Edward in Pretty Woman orders Vivian around, telling her how to dress, to spit out her gum, not talk in the lift etc. In Bridget Jones’s Diary Daniel lies and cheats on Bridget and returns to work as normal still in a higher status position than her. Also the fight sequence between Mark and Daniel is a considerably stereotypical masculine activity. However I believe the crisis in masculinity is relevant however appears less often in films such as Four weddings and a funeral. Down with Love is also seen to show the crisis in masculinity as the end sequence show Catcher the lead male begging Barbara to reconsider leaving him as he is literally on his knees. Longworth argues the change in society’s attitude has led to changes with women in society directed towards being too empowered and argues a “reverse sexism”. However I do not think this is the general opinion as one participant in my focus group commented when watching a scene from Pretty Woman that “Edward treats Vivian like she is his property”. The females I asked about the representation of the romantic comedy all inferred that the representation of the female was still “unfair” and “unequal” compared to men which I think offers support for Clare Lovey’s idea that women now prefer stronger roles as in films such as Erin Brockovich. I agree with this idea to a certain extent however with the majority of my participants agreeing the inequality of the representation of women and the continued success of the genre, it is questionable as to women do actually prefer stronger roles for women or the sustained inequality. This may be as Pretty Woman has been one of the highest grossing romantic comedies of the 20th century as commented by Rubinfeld, a film of which Vivian is shown to be completely dependent upon Edward as she relies upon his money for example in order to go shopping even though from the beginning it is established she earns hundreds of dollars each night. Therefore I do not think that the recognised inequality within the gender roles has been detrimental to the audience pleasure as it is clear that the success of the genre has sustained due to the vast amount of output from film institutions.
Another suggestion as to how the genre has seen a change in the representation of women is that there has been a “reverse sexism” as suggested by Professor Longworth. This is as she argues that the genre has seen a change from male sexism towards female sexism towards men. I think that this idea is valid to a certain extent as in Down With Love the lead male character, Catcher Block is stripped of his job, status and happiness by Barbara when he crosses her and is seen practically begging for her to take him back towards the end of the narrative whereas is Pillow Talk it is Jan who surrenders to Brad. One participant in my focus group also commented that “there is more of a focus upon what the woman wants rather than the man now than in the 50’s”. Longworth also poses the “winner-loser” ideology stating that the genre has seen a win or a loss recently for either gender, with either the male or female surrendering their independence. This can be seen I feel in Pretty Woman as it is implied Edward is giving up part of his old life as he is forced to climb up to Vivian. However I think that this ideology has been prevalent throughout the genre as Breakfast at Tiffany’s shows Holly Golightly surrendering her single and independent life for Fred.
However I have found theories and concepts to support how the representation of women has not altered significantly since the 1950’s. One idea to support this is the idea of the “Male Gaze” by Laura Mulvey. Mulvey argues that film is constructed through the eyes of men and women are seen as sex objects. I think this idea applies to the romantic comedy as in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Pillow Talk both of the lead females are focused on by the camera as sex objects as Holly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is shown dressing and the camera tilts slowly down Jan’s body focusing on her physical attributes. Someone in my interview stated “women are still seen as sex objects unlike men”. I think this is true as in Bridget Jones’ Diary the camera focuses upon Bridget’s costume at a tarts and vicars party, mainly upon her bunny tail, also other examples can be seen when Bridget is shown in a short skirt, transparent shirt etc. The camera also especially fetishes Vivian in Pretty Woman as for example the beginning shows the camera lingering upon her body as she is in bed with little clothing. However I think that Mulvey’s idea that women are not central to the narrative development has changed as even the titles of Pretty Woman and Bridget Jones’ Diary imply the text is all about the woman and her life and her needs. For example Bridget Jones’ Diary chronicles the details of Bridget Jones and her life including her job, friends and family. In fact the audience are given less insight into the life or past of either male interests Mark Darcy or Daniel Cleaver to the extent Bridget is.
The concept of the fairytale within the genre I think also shows how there has been little significant changes towards the representation of women within the genre. Rubinfeld puts forward the idea of the ultimate fairytale of men being seen to shown fantasies of “conquest” and women of “rescue”. I think that this can been seen in earlier films such as Pillow Talk as although Jan resists Brad throughout the film ultimately her surrender towards Brad indicates that she is represented as repressing her true fantasy for rescue and Brad’s character is seen to embody the notion of the conquest fantasy as he tricks Jan in order to win her over as a personal challenge. One participant within my questionnaire commented that “Even Bridget Jones just wants to be rescued to be happy”, and I agree with this as apart from Mark Darcy’s continual rescuing throughout that narrative such as helping her gain an important interview and defending his love for her whilst fighting Daniel Cleaver he ultimately rescues her as the final scene shows him wrapping his coat around her, signifying his protection of her. This is similar to Propp’s concept of women going from “independency towards dependency”. I think that this is true although my primary research especially has shown that people believe women are more independent now I think films such as Pretty Woman has supported Propp’s idea as Vivian throughout the film is completely dependent upon Edward even to the point that her future depends upon his actions with regards to his financing the next step in her life of leaving town.
Lastly the other main reasoning behind how the representation of women has not changed is that the audience’s pleasure has not changed. This is as theorists such as Cherry Potter suggests that there has been a shift towards the post modern representation of women and romantic comedy; “nostalgia for days long gone when both sexes appeared to share the same romantic dream”. I think that this is particularly relevant and reflected in films such as Down With Love whereby it is clear that it is parodying a 60’s sex comedy with similar scenes such as the telephone split screen calls. The post modern concept can also be explained by Neale who states that the genre has “variations upon conventions with the same ending”. I think this is particularly true of the films I have chosen to focus on as in Pretty Woman there are several references to Vivian wanting the “fairytale” and the climbing by Edward, of the fire escape symbolises her conventional rescue. I also think that this concept of the Cinderella boom stated by Potter in films such as “Maid in Manhattan” have also demonstrated the audience’s longing for a return to the conventional roles of women. Therefore I agree with the main idea suggested by Rubinfeld that women want to be rescued as even in “How to lose a guy in 10 days”, even though both male and female lead are equally as manipulative towards each other, it is still the man who is left to chase after the lead female fulfilling a certain rescue fantasy.
Therefore I believe that although indicated by my research that many believe the roles of women are still unequal that to a certain degree this is the format of the genre in order to fulfil rubinfeld’s suggested fantasy of rescue and conquest. I therefore agree that the audience pleasure has only changed as far as Neale suggests that there are variations upon the role of women and the genre however the fairytale ending still prevails.