Movie Madness: An Argument on the Sexualization of Females

by Arlinda Mulosmanaj

In the film A Dangerous Method, a depiction of the beginnings of psychoanalysis involving the views of Freud and Jung, it is evident that the female actress is still sexualized throughout the movie. Keira Knightley, who played Sabina Spielrein, is portrayed in a disturbing couch scene, which should have conveyed the extent of her character’s illness, but instead is a highly sexualized scene. Rather than focusing on the patient and the beginnings of psychoanalysis, the film becomes a larger portrayal of male gaze than the intended portrayal of the birth of psychoanalysis.

Many individuals argue for and against the sexualized depiction of females in film and in various other media representations. I began to wonder what an argument from some of the great minds of writers, psychologist’s, and theorist’s would sound like if they were all stuck in a room discussing the portrayal of Keira Knightley in the couch scene in the film A Dangerous Method. After contemplating how the discussion would sound, I came to the conclusion that it would sound something like this:

Sigmund Freud would likely be the first in the room to psychoanalyze the director’s motive in constructing the film. Freud defined the creative writer as equal to the day-dreamer and the poetical creation as equal to the day dream. In terms of this film, director=day-dreamer and film=day dream, Freud would probably describe this movie by stating, “the writer softens the character of his egoistic day-dreams by altering and disguising it, and he bribes us by the purely formal—that is, aesthetic—yield of pleasure which he offers us in the presentation of his phantasies” (Freud 428). (As shown in the video below, the female character depicted in the film is, in essence, a male fantasy come to life within the boundaries of the big screen and into the minds of the audience).

Women, such as Laura Mulvey, would contend Freud’s simplification of the film as a male day-dream. Instead, Mulvey would emphasize the portrayal of women as eye candy and motivation for men within the cinematic experience. Laura Mulvey would describe this film as being set

in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phastasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly…their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. (Mulvey 837)

Helene Cixous would reaffirm Laura Mulvey’s statement. Cixous would add to the argument of the oppressed and sexualized representation of the female protagonist by stating,

she has always occupied the place reserved for the guilty (guilt of everything, guilty at every turn: for having desires, for not having any; for being frigid, for being “too hot”; for not being both at once; for being too motherly and not enough; for having children and for not having any…) She is reduced to being the servant of the militant male, his shadow. (Cixous 880)

Other theorists’ such as William Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe Beardsley might endorse the director on the grounds that the audience ultimately creates their own meaning. They would jump into the argument with an explaination;

the [film] is not the critic’s own and not the [director’s] (it is detached from the [director] at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it). The [film] belongs to the public… What is said about the [film] is subject to the same scrutiny as any statement in linguistics or in the general science of psychology or morals. (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1376)

 “Either we change our ways or we face global catastrophe.”

Cheryll Glotfelty would be outraged at that point of the discussion and she would likely urge the psychologists, the scholars, the theorists, the film’s audience, and the general public that the representation of females in film needs to undergo a drastic change. The continued sexualization of females in film can be said to lead to the destruction of our world as we know it. Cheryll Glotfelty might counter the views of William Wimsatt, Jr. and Monroe Beardsley and emphasize the need for change in the depiction of females in film by stating, “we are there. Either we change our ways or we face global catastrophe, destroying much beauty and exterminating countless fellow species in our headlong race to apocalypse” (Glotfelty xx).

While considering how the discussion of Keira Knightley’s role in the film A Dangerous Method and the sexualized portrayal of females in various other films might sound with the six individuals aforementioned contributing to the argument, I realized it is up to the public, the audience, to make a decision. Will you stand up against the sexualization of women in the media, or will you defend the day-dreams of men and their objectification of the female body? Ultimately, it is up to you as individuals, as viewers, as the audience to decide what changes need to be made in Hollywood and various other media companies and conglomerates around the world in order to once again be viewed as entertainment instead of a means of spreading sexual objectification and male desires. I leave you with the questions, what do you think about the representation of females in film and what are you going to do about it?



Works Cited

Cixous, Hélène, Keith Cohen, and Paula Cohen. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1.4 (1976): 875-93. Web.

Freud, Sigmund. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming .” (1908).

Glotfelty, Cheryll, and Harold Fromm. “Introduction: Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis.” The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, Univ. of Georgia Press, Athens, Ga., 2009, pp. xv-xxxvii.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

Wimsatt, William K., and Monroe C. Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. Norton, 2001, pp. 1371–1377.

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