Women in Film: How to Tell Their Stories

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Source: Gaines, Jane M. “Women’s Stories, Women’s Films: Integrating Women’s Studies and Film Production.” Cinema Journal, 2004. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.jstor.org.erl.lib.byu.edu/stable/pdf/3661177.pdf.

In this article, Jane M. Gaines presents a brief history of women in film and how that relates to feminist film theory. Feminist film theory, according the Gaines, explores the systematic oppression of female subjects in film. Though women who worked in the film industry certainly experienced difficulty in trying to succeed in a male-dominated field, this theory deals primarily with the female characters presented in media.

Though film is a male-dominated field today, this was not always the case. In the early history of film when silent films were the cutting edge of media, women were heavily involved in production. Then, starting around the 1970s, women became subordinate to men. But what happened in between those two markers in time? Gaines argues that there is a gap in film history, but there is also a challenge in trying to fill that gap. While it would be easy to look back through film history and find out which films may have been misattributed to men, there is also a danger in trying to tell women’s stories. Gaines fears that rewriting women’s experiences in film may automatically add that to feminist film history/theory, and these women may not have wanted their stories told that way. She describes this as a “lost-and-found” approach to history, and that the two main issues associated with it are “the urgency of re-representing past events in the present? [And] What form should that re-presentation take?” It is presumptuous of historians to assume that all women wanted their stories to be told in the context of male oppression, even if through our modern lens that is how we see their experiences. In summation, Gaines writes “The difficulty is to know how to tell these women’s stories without telling them.”

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