I thought I’d post a brief personal response I wrote for a class in which we were discussing Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and Richard Dyer’s “Stereotyping“. Mulvey discusses the construction of gender and the “male gaze” and the reification of patriarchal values through film. Dyer looks at stereotypical constructions of homosexuality through film, looking specifically at the context of films with gay protagonists or in which gay relationships are represented.
While both Mulvey and Dyer were using the specific context of cinema to discuss gender portrayals and relationships in the media, it kept occurring to me while reading that many of the points they were making were very much applicable and transferable to issues of gender in other forms of media. While reading Laura Mulvey’s discussion of women as embodying “castration anxiety” in her article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, for example, I immediately thought of the Hillary Clinton nutcracker that was marketed and sold during her run for the presidency. Last year, while working as an intern for the National Organization for Women, I wrote an article about sexist news coverage of Hillary Clinton and other female politicians and I found many of Mulvey’s points about women in cinema to be applicable to the portrayals of women politicians by the news media.
My observation has been that many women politicians, particularly ones as powerful, intelligent, and vocal as Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, represent a real threat to patriarchal structures in as much as they are transgressive of the exact same kind of proscribed expectations and power structures used to construct and control female characters in cinema, as Mulvey describes. Women figures in the media, both fictional characters and real people, who command notoriety for their accomplishments, their intellects, and their power and who do not allow themselves to be one-dimensionalized into merely objects of visual pleasure, molded into safe, controllable caricatures of womanhood to be gazed upon by men, present a real threat to many of the fundamental power structures underlying our society. Therefore, the media frequently tries to apply what Mulvey defines as the “male gaze” to women politicians, shoving them into traditional, patriarchal, unthreatening models of womanhood to avoid acknowledging the more complicated, transgressive implications of having such powerful, intelligent women in the public sphere.
My article discusses the way in which much mainstream media clearly feels threatened and unsure of what to do with women like Hillary Clinton and I present some specific examples of the way that women politicians are diminished by the media through the focus put on their appearances, clothes choices, and home decorating skills as well as mocked and criticized for displaying behaviors and attributes considered normatively masculine.