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Images: Women/Men/Media, 222-303

Syllabus by Prof. P. R. Zimmerman, Ithaca College

This course is a survey of contemporary feminist cultural theory: it interrogates and assesses the construction of women within diverse representational systems. This course investigates film, photography, video art, and digital forms as contested, fluid sites articulating discourses on women, men, sexuality, difference, and nation.

This course will introduce students to the major theoretical systems composing feminist cultural theory: marxism, political economy, psychoanalysis, semiotics, structuralism, post_ structuralism, post_modernism, social historiography, reception theory, anti_colonialist paradigms, and digital culture theory. It will investigate how race, class, gender, sexualities, nation, and global power relations inscribe difference within representation.

Unlike other genre specific film or television courses, this course will intermingle commercial cinema and experimental film, art photography and advertising, music and documentary, video art and commercial television, pornography and music video, home movies and independent documentaries, art animation and cartoons, trash film and high art, commercial culture and the avant_garde. It is not tied to a genre or style. Rather than analyzing media through technological or generic specificity, this course will locate and decipher the political and textual interdependencies between and across various representational systems.

Early empirical work on the image of women in media emerged from a social science tradition that merely enumerated various stereo_ typical representations (such as seductress, vamp, housewife, virgin). It then attempted to account for their causal link to the socialization of gender. While this early work alerted us to the incongruence between media representations and everyday life, its quantitative method did not sustain a sufficient explanation to account for the operation of these representations within a larger system of economic, historical, social and textual relations that are deeply contestatory and contradictory.

Recent theoretical work has shifted feminist argument from media manipulation and misrepresentation towards ideas of gender and race as contradictory, heterogeneous, social and economic constructions. Within these new theorizations, it becomes increasingly necessary to explore the economic, social, cultural and semiotic operations that inscribe gender, race, sexuality and nation in concrete, historically specific conjunctures of power relations and visual imaginaries.

This year, Women Direct celebrates its 18th anniversary of exhibiting women's film, video, and new media. Women Direct is the longest continuously running feminist film series on the East Coast. Massive transnational restructurings and diasporas impel us to consider not only the position and representation of women, but to consider feminism as a movement fundamental to democracy on a global scale. For feminist media, it is critical to consider issues of race, class and gender on both international and local scales, especially as new technologies emerge.

By positing that the articulation and representation of women (rather than their role) within various media is contradictory, causal fallacies (images create subject positions and social responses)can be avoided. We can begin to describe these relations of power within the social and economic contexts of their specific history and audience usage. To this end, this course will not only decipherthese complex relationships through lectures, class discussions and analytical papers, but will also require students to invent strategies to create images, usages, and situations that both challenge these dominant modes and invent a more emancipated future for both women and men.


Jane Gaines and Charlotte Herzog, editors, Fabrications: Costumes and the Female Body
bell hooks, Reel to Real: Race, Class and Sex at the Movies
Alexandra Juhasz, AIDS TV
Lynn Hershman Leeson, editor, Clicking In: Hot Links to the Digital Culture
Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat, editors, Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, Post Colonial Perspectives
Trinh T. Minh-ha, When the Moon Waxes Red
Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures

Suggested Texts:

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Women Filmmakers of the African and Asian Draspoint: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity
B. Ruby Rich, Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement
Don Hazen and Julie Winokur, editors, We the Media: A Citizen's Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy

Course Requirements

Paper #1 _ one 5 page analysis of multiple textualities and feminism(s), 25%

Paper #2 _ one 5 page historical/contextual analysis of visuality, feminism and digitality, 25%

Mid-term 25%

Cumulative Final Exam 25%
TOTAL 100 %

Seminar Discussion

Although I will occasionally deliver lectures to conduct an exegesis on particularly dense readings, this course is designed primarily as a seminar. Consequently, it is vital that you come to class prepared: you need to bring the books that contain that week's reading so that you can refer to specific texts; you need to underline pertinent passages you would like to discuss; you need to know the argument and evidence.

All class sessions will be oriented to discussion and application of theoretical issues. Simply having an opinion is not sufficient. You must be able to inform your argument with theoretical analysis. This is the only way to learn theory, and to practice analytical and theoretical thinking that will be required for your papers.


This course relies on analysis of visual images _ film, video, digital work, and slides. Therefore, it is strongly suggested that students take notes on material to be better prepared for papers. Be advised that we do not own videotapes for all the work that will be screened. It is therefore vital to take thorough notes during screenings and discussions.

Students are also asked to continue to expand their cinematic literacy by watching additional works on video and CD ROM in the IRC as noted on the syllabus. These works will be cited in class, referred to in exams, and written about for papers.

Women Direct

A portion of the films and videotapes we will analyze will be presented as part of the 18th annual Women Direct. We have programmed a wide variety of works and media makers. Internationally recognized feminist theorists and mediamakers will appear in person to conduct screenings and master classes. You are required to stay for the films/videos and the discussions following.

Course Outline

*Note: DL denotes Dangerous Liaisons volume
**Note: titles in [ ] denote films, videos or CD ROMS students should watch individually in the IRC

Week 1

Jan. 19 The Romance Genre

Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy Headed People
Your Name in Cellulite
The F Word: A Video About Feminism

Jan. 20 Heaven
Sari Red

Mississippi Masala

Jan. 21 Discussion hooks,1-76, 109-123, 141-151

DL-Mohanty, 255-277
DL-Lorde, 374-380
DL-Stoler, 344-367

Week 2 [The Piano] IRC

Jan. 27 Cinematic Woman as Patriarchal Mulvey, 3-38
Terrain hooks,197-213,
(Slides of Hollywood Stars) 227-235
The Horror Film Genre DL-Nixon, 69-88
DL-McClintock 89-112

Jan. 28 Thriller

Jan. 29 Voyeurism Destroyed
Meshes of the Afternoon

Week 3

Feb. 2 Gender/Nation/Global/Local hooks, 91-97
DL-Said, 15-38
DL-Shohat, 39-68
DL-Dirlik, 501-524
DL-Hall, 173-187

Feb. 3 Women Direct Visiting Filmmaker
Ulrike Ottinger, Exile Shanghai

Feb.4 Formal Interventions into
Gender/Nation dyads

Week 4

Feb. 9 Women's Cinema: Interiority, Mulvey, pp. 39-80,
Domestic Angst, Excess 111-201
The Melodrama as Genre hooks, 124-141
DL-hooks, 396-411 DL-Hanchard,230-239
DL-Jaimes, 291-321

Feb. 10 S'Aline Solution
Imitation of Life
Mother of the River
Night Cries

Feb. 11 Capitalism and the Family as Visual Spectacle

Week 5 [Carmen Miranda: Bananas is My Business] IRC

Feb. 16 Fabricating Women: Women's Gaines and Herzog,
Clothing as Ideology & Social 1-159

The Film Noir Genre

Feb. 17 Some Questions for 28 Kisses
Game of Death
Searching for Go-Hyang
Shanghai Express

Feb. 18 Gendered Narratives: Clothes, The Body, and Desire

Week 6 [Eve's Bayou and/or Daughters of the Dust] IRC

Feb. 23 Clothes, Class and Consumption Gaines & Herzog, at the Movies 160-249
Fashion Slides

Girl Power
Feb. 24 We're Talking Vulva
Lockin' Up
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Feb. 25 Sado-Masochism and the Sweetheart Line
The Body Beautiful

Week 7 [Rachel's Daughters] PAPER #1 DUE

March 3 AIDS TV: Video Activism as a Juhasz, 1-138
Life and Death Issue DL-Butler, 381-395
AIDS Epidemic
Diana's Hair Ego

March 4 Silverlake Life
Zero Patience

March 5 Mid-Term Examination


Week 8 [Tale of Love]

Mar.17 Post-Colonial Feminist Trinh, 147-236
Theory: Displacing is a DL-Lubiano,204-227
Way of Surviving

Mar.18 Reassemblage

Mar.19 Discussion

Week 9

Mar. 23 Under the Skin Game Juhasz,139-243 hooks, 214-226

Mar. 24 Women Direct Visiting Filmmaker
Joan Braderman, Joan Does Stars

Mar. 26 Master Class with Joan Braderman, Studio A

Week 10 [Love Women and Flowers]

Mar. 30 Writing in the Plural Trinh, 1-146
Chronicle of a Lying Spirit hooks, 152-196, 98-108
DL-Retamar, 163-171

Mar. 31 Women Direct Program
Sweet Power
Panel Discussion

Apr. 1 Discussion

Week 11 [view CD-ROMs: Witness to the Future, Mauve Desert, WWW/MMM] IRC

Apr. 6 Digital Feminism Leeson, pp. 1-122

Apr. 7 Women Direct Visiting Electronic Artist Kristen Lucas, video, digital, performance work

Apr.8 Master Class with Kristen Lucas Studio A

Week 12

Apr. 13 New Media as New Political/ Leeson, pp. 123-237
Poetic Landscape(s)

Apr. 14 Women Direct Visiting Digital Artists Jenn and Kevin McCoy, digital and performance work

Apr. 15 Master class with Jenn and Kevin McCoy Studio A

Week 13

Apr. 20 Digitizing the Imaginary Leeson, pp. 237-348

Apr. 21 Signal to Noise, No. 3
Narrow Casting
Why Cybraceros
The Third Wave
Miss Menu

Apr. 22 Cybersex/cyberrace discussion

Week 14

Apr. 27 Reimagining Feminism Paper #2 Due
DL-Carby, 330-341

Apr. 28 End-of-the-Term/Millenium
Surprise Double Feature!

Apr. 29 Course Wrap-Up

Final Exam


Close Textual Analysis Comparison: Hollywood Genres/ Feminist Strategies

The films and readings studied this term suggest that all cultural production--rather than simply telling stories for entertainment--negotiates political power relations and create psychic fantasies. Traditional Hollywood narrative genres-- whether they are children's animation romances, action adventure epics, horror films or melodramas--control gender, sexuality, family, voyeurism, subjectivities, private and public spaces, national identity, international power--in specific and complex ways. Character development, mise-en-scene, compositional and editing techniques, and narrative structure suture the spectator.

On the other hand, feminist oppositional independent cinema seeks to challenge the pacification of the spectator promoted by Hollywood conventions through a multiplicity of methods: reimagining new subjectivities, changing the borders between the private and the public, interrogating and deconstructing the aesthetics of dominant cinema, forging new arguments and new narratives, rejecting white male privileging with multiplicities, or breaking apart aesthetic unities and addresses.

Compare and contrast two different types of film using a feminist analysis. First, you need to justify your selection of two films by arguing the significance of their pairing. Why are these two films significant? What does a comparison and contrast yield for a feminist analysis? What can we learn from a comparison and contrast? What theoretical models will you deploy to unpack these films? Why are you using these theoretical models? You could choose from any number of pairings: a melodrama versus an action adventure film, or a conventional Hollywood film versus an independent feminist work, or two independent feminist works that employ different argumentative or aesthetic strategies.

Then, you will need to pick three categories of analysis derived from your theoretical models to map the differences and similarities between each film. For example, you may decide to focus on voyeurism, familialism, and race; or on more aesthetic concerns such as narrative, mise-en-scene, fashion or lighting; Or relations between the gaze, sexuality, and narrative structure. The possibilities are endless. Your three categories must be justified and defined through your use of theoretical readings in the course, with ample footnoting. Use Hooks, Mulvey, Gaines and Herzog, Dangerous Liaisons.

You will need to conclude your paper with an analysis of the implications of these comparisons. You will also need to show the relationships between the three categories.

I expect that papers will contain a clear argument, presentation of theoretical concepts through a minimum of five footnotes from readings, specific evidence from the films, and clear writing. Any deficiencies or mistakes in footnoting will result in a letter grade reduction.

5 pages


Historical/Contextual Analysis of Visuality, Feminisms, and New Technologies

For this paper, you will need to pick a new/old media form which employs a new technology (or an image of a new technology). For example, you could analyze a CD-ROM, a video which uses morphing or D2 layering techniques, x-rays, medical imaging technologies, Hollywood films like Toy Story,Bug's Life, Terminator 2 or Independence Day, a World Wide Web page, an internet listserve.

Most discussions of new technologies and new media emphasize their break with older, more analog forms of representation, poetics, linearity. In this scenario, new technology, shorn of its history and cultural context, is also deracinated, degendered, and neutralized. For this paper, you will need to:

A. Explain the significance of the piece you selected for your argument.

B. Analyze how it creates a hybrid form of analog/digital, old/new tech, multiple/singular, in relation to history (historical context or ways of doing history).

C. Analyze/deconstruct how it negotiates gender, race, sexuality, others, first and third worlds, singular/multiple identities, access issues (pick 3 from list). You must work with at least 3 different theoretical essays from Ross and Rose, Trinh, or Leeson to define and develop central concepts and points.

5 pages