Alison Bechdel, Dykes to Watch Out For

Introduction to Feminist Film Theory

Instructor: Paige Sweet
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

What’s feminist about film? Is it the way a film is made, the way we watch it, how women are represented, how it disrupts cinematic conventions, or how it throws gender into question? In this course, we will situate ourselves at the crossroads of feminism and film in order to assess how ideologies of gender, race, and sexuality are treated cinematically. Although we will discuss how women are portrayed in film, our objective will be to read film as a complex cultural text that encodes and unsettles ideas about selfhood. We’ll do this by taking up arguments about audience spectatorship, the interplay of desire and identification, and compositions of sexual and racial difference. We will engage with seminal readings in feminist film theory, including Laura Mulvey’s foundational essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” and analyze her claim about how the gaze differentially positions men and women, where women are positioned “to be looked at” and men dwell in the pleasures of looking. We’ll then take into account how bell hooks, Mary Ann Doane, B. Ruby Rich and others complicate Mulvey’s claim and propose ways of working against rigid racial and sexualized positions to generate divergent interpretations. In addition, we’ll ask: Is there a feminist aesthetics—one involving experimental filmmaking practices or embodied responses for which dominant theories can’t account? Would a feminist aesthetics move us beyond the psychoanalytic and semiotic paradigms that have dominated feminist film studies? Is it the case that women have a different relationship with what they see on the screen? Or, if there is no unified category of “women,” what feminist strategies can we deploy to grapple with the range of experiences in and around watching film? What differentiates mainstream films from independent or avant-garde films (including work by Jane Campion, Deepa Mehta, Cheryl Dunye, or Agnès Varda)? How might we connect our study of film to broader feminist movements for social change? Above all, we’ll critically explore how our viewing practices shift with the films we watch to attend to the many aspects that feminism and film are in dialogue.

A list of suggested films for each week will be provided. And we will screen clips in class to discuss alongside the readings.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
July 21 — August 11, 2020
4 weeks


Course enrollment is currently only open for waitlisted students. Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.

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