‘Girls on film’: Visualising Femininities in Contemporary Culture

A postgraduate symposium, as part of the Gendered Subjects Postgraduate Network and in collaboration with the Gendered Subjects Research Hub, Northumbria University.

May 23rd 2016, Northumbria University.

Keynote speakers:
Dr. Helen Wheatley (University of Warwick)
Dr. Christina Scharff (King’s College London)

The beauty of the woman as object and the screen space coalesce; she is no longer the bearer of guilt but a perfect product, whose body, stylised and fragmented by close-ups, is the content of the film and the direct recipient of the spectator’s look. (Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975)

This year marked the 40th anniversary of Laura Mulvey’s seminal text Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Exploring the way in which cinema constructs an interface between active/male and passive/female, Mulvey suggests that the cinematic female body is ‘raw material’: fragmented, constructed and deconstructed, perpetually stylised and ultimately immersed in the eroticism of visual pleasure. Thus, the female is open to be styled accordingly by the (male) spectator’s gaze.

Much scholarship has worked to expand the position and portrayal of the female body within media (Watson and Smith, 2002) and, most recently, Helen Wheatley argued thatMulvey’s account of the intensity of the spectorial engagement with the filmic image needs to be adapted, not abandoned, when it comes to thinking about our erotic engagement with televisual spectacle’. (Helen Wheatley, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Television’, 2015)

Both examples explore the ways in which the contemporary female works to manipulate Mulvey’s initial conceptualisation of the female body as framed by the notion of to-be-looked-at-ness and furthermore, lessened the control of the male gaze. Instead, the female’s relationship with her body and subjectivity has become diverse and self-reflexive. As Watson and Smith argue, contemporary ‘women artists working in multiple media have used the bits and pieces, the excesses and debris […] in order to materialise self-referential displays’. In this sense, the female appears in various positions and in a constant process of construction and (re)construction through multi-faceted mediums.

This symposium seeks to explore the portrayal of the female (over an interdisciplinary terrain – be it art, screen, or page) as makers of her own self-display in a way that transforms the spectorial gaze and disrupts the notion of the female as a standardised or ‘perfect’ product. Instead, the utilisation of ‘bits’ and ‘pieces’ of media disrupts how femininities are visualised. Moreover, the focus will be on the way in which the female is both manipulated and manipulates the media landscape so as to force the modern spectator to (re)imagine femininities in contemporary culture.

Topics may include yet are not limited to the thematic list below:

  • Visualising and (re)imagining femininities in contemporary literature, fine art, performance, and on screen.
  • Female manipulation of space through new technological mediums.
  • Grrrls and g[urls]: subverting girlhood in new forms of social media.
  • Non-normative femininities.
  • Ageing femininities and visualising nostalgia.
  • Adaptations.

A 250-word abstract for 20-minute papers and poster presentations, including a brief autobiographical statement, should be submitted togirlsonfilm.unn@gmail.com by February 28th 2016.

Event Organisers

Megan Sormus
Rachel Robson
Anamarija Horvat

Social Media

Twitter: @GirlsonfilmUnn
Blog: girlsonfilmsite.wordpress.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Girls-on-Film-A-Symposium