Postmodern Feminism and the dissolution of Gender

Throughout this essay, I will be discussing postmodern influence on gender studies, identity, and the arts surrounding performance. There is an idea relating to postmodernism in that it revolts against the absoluteness of any phenomenon, and it could be suggested that postmodern feminism holds the entire spirit of this. Specifically focusing on Dickie Beau’s Lost in Trans, using playback and the art of lip syncing to project these views and championing people who feels as though they are removed from society due to what is perceived to be as ‘normal’. Texts such as The Double Negative and Gender Trouble will aid my discussion.

There is an idea within postmodern feminism that it lacks gender, that it introduces a new kind of ‘Utopian’, gender-free paradigm. This introduces the question of how essential sex and gender really are and how it has become an issue of controversy, with many of the ‘categories’ the world is split into, being decided for us before we are born. These series of classifications come with unspoken rules, mindlessly assuming that each person will follow their unwillingly chosen path. However, postmodern attitudes have allowed freedom to explore other paths relating to identity and gender. Creative figures such as Dickie Beau present not only a voice, but a chance to reshape ones self and produce a manipulated identity which an individual is comfortable offering society. Expressive figures in society, and growing movements and cultures can have a tremendous impact on progression. Giving people a voice and pushing the boundaries of social norms can develop a wider audience, in turn creating a larger understanding. Publicising cultures can push society to identify with them. Beau can mould cultural attitudes, with productions such as Lost in Trans being representative of many people’s struggles with identity. “Beau is totally inhabited by these voices, and through that loses his own identity, becoming a puppet for all their wants and desires” (thedoublenegative, 2013) A clear metaphor for the controlling nature of society, taking people’s individual identities and producing puppets to live in a way that is considered ‘right’ – “the risks of the mutability of human identity, the risk of losing the original identity” (thedoublenegative, 2013)

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Fig. 1 Lost in Trans (2013)

“Theoretically, liberal feminism claims that gender differences are not based in biology, and therefore that women and men are not all that different — their common humanity supersedes their procreative differentiation.” (Lorber, 1997:9) Postmodern feminism has started a movement that makes the world a place where both men and women can be anything other than human, and push against the stereotype without consequence. Throughout Lost in Trans, Beau discusses the issues that come with not following the ‘typical path’, and highlights how ingrained people’s ideas on humanity are. Anything differing from the everyday pattern is considered taboo, and Postmodernism being a gender-free paradigm challenges this, leaving past generational teaching outdated. Media and technology have allowed unapologetic expression of identity, and provide a gateway for people to explore different possibilities and develop a wider understanding than that of what they have gained from their parents or similar influence. “When someone has rejection from their mother and their father, their family, when they get out in the world they search. Search for someone to fill their void. I know this from experience, because I’ve had kids come to me and latch hold to me, like I’m their mother or like I’m their father, and talk to me and I’m gay and they’re gay and that’s where a lot of that mother business comes in, because their real parents gave them such a hard way to go, they look to me to fill their void.” (Lost in Trans, 2013) Ignorance surrounding gender is slowly becoming eradicated, with wide spread exposure from a young age. This brings up discussions amongst young people, as they teach each other information they have gotten from peers. What a young person is taught can be heavily dependant on the stance of the most influential people in their lives. As Beau emulates the personalities and identities of individual’s characters, he somewhat empathises with their experiences, channelling voices he sees as being misrepresented and misunderstood. “I used to hustle in New York to make my money. I was with a guy, he was playing with my titties until he touched me down there. He felt it and he seen it and he totally flipped out. He said ‘you fucking faggot, you’re a freak, you’re a victim of AIDs, you’re trying to give me AIDs.. what are you crazy?! You’re a homo I should kill you.’ You know, stuff like that and like, I was really terrified so I just jumped out the window.” (Lost in Trans, 2013)

We are what we ‘perform’. Identity has a dual nature and we have two versions of ourselves. Our ‘true self’ , and who we present ourselves as to society. If gender fluidity is not recognised, many will feel they must condition themselves to develop a certain identity, rather than present an identity they have unconsciously. However, this comes with a counterpoint. If we perform and declare our gender, we participate in it’s construction, as we have accepted our place as a member of a gendered social order. There is also the question of whether the death of Sex/Gender will lead to the death of feminism? The whole feminist practice is marked by an endless conflict for a ‘separate identity’, affirming oneself as a female before the entire society. When postmodernism talks about the removal of the boundaries between sexes, it eventual kills the element of ‘an identity for women’. Without there being a difference between men and women, there is no need for feminism and it becomes a paradox in itself. “It is a weapon using its potentials for the deconstruction of itself. It’s a self destructive entity.” (Butler, 1990) Feminism is to take hold of femininity and allow it to stand for anything rather than society’s paradigm of the word. To lose the gender of women would be to adapt and mesh to become one social being – which would ultimately eliminate all struggle to produce a strong outlook on ‘the feminine’. Would the dilution of the female form produce a more masculine world and take away from all progress, despite the disappearance of gender?

Feminism is to take ownership of femininity and allow it to stand for anything rather than society’s paradigm of the word. Whilst femininity is solely dependant on each individual, to lose the gender of women would be to lose femininity. Resulting in an adaptation to mesh as one social being which would ultimately eliminate all struggle to produce a strong outlook on ‘the feminine’. If there is no capacity for an outlined idea of gender in society, why should  the performance and assertion of it be accepted? Without defining gender-specific features, self-expression becomes limited to simply our ‘likes and dislikes’. Additionally, if an individual’s identity is reliant on and strengthened by their gender, will removing this factor dilute their presence in society and potentially produce a society of people that mimic each other, purely replicating trends without any present identity. The abolition of gender leads to the disappearance of expressing oneself through gender and performance of your chosen identity.

If a person is told  they should not express their gender, it puts the same restraints on them as  having to conform to gender stereotypes. Being controlled by society in a passive way is thought to be emancipating, but it still puts restraints on peoples freedom of expression. Although it is thought to be liberal, completely oppressing  gender stereotypes juxtaposes freedom of choice, oppressing people that choose to be what is considered stereotypical. This attitude reverses all progress, as it still controls people’s identity choices and aims to create a ‘new stereotype’, creating one identity for all.

Ultimately, it raises the big question as to whether our gender identity is predetermined or shaped by our experiences and culture. The idea of a person’s masculinity and femininity come into question and the definitive ideas of each become blurred and less set in stone. Referring to identity, gender is performed by people based on the social norms, and what is considered acceptable. Depending on the culture and environment someone is in, can have a major impact on the expression they choose. Society has forced men and women into ‘social constructs’ of gender, categorising them to distinguish men and women from each other – but these heteronormative categories have no basis in reality.

Bibliography:

Butler, Judith (1990) Gender Trouble. London: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc.

Lorber, J. (1997) ‘Gender Reform Feminisms’ In: Judith Lorber. The Variety of Feminisms and their Contribution to Gender Equality. Oxford University Press. pp 9

Lost in Trans (2013) London: Southbank Centre.

thedoublenegative (2013) The Double Negative [online article] At: http://www.thedoublenegative.co.uk/2013/11/a-voice-heard-by-all-dickie-beau-lost-in-trans/ (Accessed on 15/04/17)

Illustrations List:

Figure 1. Lost in Trans (2013) [photograph] At: http://www.lukasdemgenski.co.uk/Dickie-Beau-Lost-In-Trans-Stage-Installation-2013

Kill Bill

Georgia Hermon
Contextual Studies Summative Essay
09/04/16

Essay Question – Analyse your chosen example using selected ideas from the lecture and seminar programme and from further research into theoretical ideas and historical contexts.

Feminism
Kill Bill – Quentin Tarantino

This essay will discuss the subject of feminism within film, specifically focusing on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, targeting the controversy surrounding women in film and media and how their portrayal in society and by directors can have an impact on their image. The question of ‘What makes a powerful woman?’ will also be considered, studying the different perceptions within society regarding gender and acknowledging a sense of dependence that women have on male figures, for acceptance and power. Throughout, sources such as The F Word and Media Commons will aid the discussion and also present new ideas which are not always considered by many people when initially reflecting on feminism, and the different forms in which sexism can take.

Kill Bill: Volumes 1 & 2 are American martial arts films that follow Uma Thurman, in the role of Beatrix Kiddo (“Black Mamba”), through her journey of gaining justice for herself in Quentin Tarantino’s very harsh and violent recreation of the world. The film at first glance may suggest that the female characters throughout are very powerful and independent, led by their own choices and passions. For the audience, this is a change from the norm, as most films involve an equally, if not more apparently powerful male lead. Basing the story around a woman who is clearly an unexpected challenge for the male characters in the film immediately shows the underestimation that women face. Quentin Tarantino describes Kill Bill as a “feminist statement” which is “all about girl power” which is true in some aspects. The empowerment of women in this film is clear, giving them powerful attributes which can be used to their advantage to allow them to thrive. However, these attributes are all socially associated with male behaviours, and there is a strong stereotype surrounding these characteristics. I feel that there is an issue involving using the ‘social norm’ of male behaviour to empower women, as it implies that the only way woman can be perceived as powerful, strong and independent is if they adopt these male characteristics. Women are rarely portrayed as capable or dominant when illustrating their own stereotypical roles, and instead are unfortunately depicted to be helpless and unqualified without a male lead. In Kill Bill, the main female character is sufficiently skilled in defending herself and getting what she wants, and she continually demonstrates this against both male and female characters throughout the saga. Whilst this is a positive quality of the film, giving multiple women power and enabling them to dismay their opponents, it is only the women characters within the film which respect Beatrix Kiddo on a mutual basis. They do not underestimate her abilities when first facing her and immediately assume that she is proficient, unlike the male characters in the story. The majority of male characters, when first facing Kiddo, immediately assume that they are more superior to her, demonstrating the stereotype that females are the weaker sex.

The first scene of Kill Bill: Volume 1 depicts Beatrix Kiddo/The Bride in a weak and vulnerable state, showing distinct female attributes. In the scene, she is pregnant and wearing a wedding dress, two elements which socially, have widely been assumed make a woman emotional. Emotion is often wrongly mistaken for weakness in reference to women. When adopting these character traits, at first glance the audience see a woman in agony answering to a male character’s control. The pattern of Beatrix Kiddo becoming a seemingly weaker and defenceless character when adopting stereotypically feminine qualities is strong, and in opposition, a strong and dominant character when adopting common male attributes. “This movie is ostensibly about women, but it’s not about women. Because all of the women behave like men.”(Webb, 2013). I feel this portrays a misguided view on women’s strength, and further more advocates the idea that a woman who possesses stereotypical traits is weak. It also suggests that a woman cannot be all-powerful without taking on the attributes of the male identities surrounding her, that the only way for a woman to be treated with respect is to “assimilate into male culture via toughness”. (Johnston, 2013).

The Bechdel Test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Only half of all films meet these requirements, and the test is used as an indication of the active presence of women in films and alternative works, and also to call attention to gender inequality throughout media due to sexism. Throughout the film there are many scenes in which Beatrix Kiddo interacts with another woman, and these interactions do not involve communications about a male character, clearly passing the test. However, each female character she comes across has somehow been linked to the character Bill in Kill Bill: (Volumes 1/2). Quentin Tarantino has produced a story which disguises the power of men behind the strong independence of the women. However, Kiddo for example, owes Bill for her power and skill and is on the journey that she takes throughout the two films because of Bill. “In Kill Bill, Bill, and to some extent Buck, hold power over the Bride, regardless of how many people she kills with her katana.” (Hugel, 2013) This suggests that although on the surface of this production the women have the power; it is actually Bill who has control or a twisted ownership of them, making him the dominant character throughout the majority. Obvious elements of the film put Beatrix in a position of power and control which is rarely seen in the film industry, creating a wide appreciation from many for the film saga. From this perspective, it could be considered that the film does not pass the test at all, as many of the interactions between Beatrix Kiddo and the other female characters have taken place due to a male character involved in both of their lives therefore linking the male character to the situation, and decreasing the dominance of the Bechdel Tests success in the film.

The film is also very unrealistic and “does not take place on planet Earth” (Tarintino, Unknown) which makes me ask the question, if he is going to make a film about strong and powerful women, why make it so unrealistic? It suggests that the real world could not consider an equal power between men and women, and that making it a realistic possibility would be undesirable to the audience. Additionally, the majority of the scenes in which female characters possess dominance, are extremely implausible and have a largely fabricated plot. There is little room for realism in these unrealistic scenes, nonetheless the scenes in which hold a large male dominance are seemingly more truthful in their approach and applicable to real life. Furthermore, scenes that involve Beatrix Kiddo that are far less abstract, have her portrayed in a very different light. The character is back to wearing clothes which suggest femininity and again, is expressing emotion which is widely considered to be a feminine trait. (See fig. 1)

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It must be considered that, despite Tarantino’s Kill Bill being extremely women-centric, it has missed the bigger picture. Although these women are portrayed as powerful, the only reason they are considered powerful is because they have attributes reflective of those that make a powerful man.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that compared to many other directors and creative producers, Tarantino’s approach to portraying women is far more feminist. Despite the underlying weakness that the women are given in Kill Bill, there is still a clear attempt to give women opportunities and roles of power, when many other films of the era display women as ‘damsels in distress’, in need of rescue or reassurance from male figures.

In this film, Beatrix Kiddo is rarely helpless, and even in situations when she is in a far weaker position, she always pulls through and fights her way out. This display of resilience is empowering, not only for the characters, but also for the audience. Having a woman character, who is not defenceless and demonstrates such elasticity with any situation she is put in, informs viewers that the stereotype is only a weak generalisation, and that most of the time can be considered extremely incorrect. “The characters are always more than one dimensional, never used as just a piece of eye candy, and the films never include a rape scene or talk of rape.” (Bissonette, Unknown)

It could also be argued that it is in fact societies view on what a strong woman is which makes feminism in film so controversial. “And yes, modelesque girls with guns are a distinct subject within the male gaze, but a strong woman is a strong woman… regardless of whether or not men are staring at her.” (Wood, 2007) I feel that a woman is too often identified by what men consider her as. For example, a woman is considered to be powerful if a man respects her as such, and feels she is his equal, much more often than if a woman respects herself or another woman for being powerful. Female characters can be powerful without the help of the male gaze.

Overall, feminism has become a very controversial topic within film, with some suggesting that a film can be pro-feminist simply by including a female character, whilst others rightly expect an equal portrayal between men and women. Kill Bill is an action-packed, power-hungry film, giving a female character a role of strength and dignity, qualities she utilises many times throughout the film when faced with challenges of every nature. Although this is considered extremely feminist to some, including Tarantino himself, it is not illustrated in a way that can be considered to be realistic therefore completely stripping the character, Beatrix Kiddo, of her power in real-life situations and instead places her in a fictional role which could even be considered to be impossible. Additionally, all of Kiddo’s power is clearly stated to have come from Bill himself, a largely important male character within the plot who controls her direction and compels her every action. With Beatrix Kiddo’s strengths defined by her male attitudes and actions, and her weaknesses portrayed only when she displays female attributes, it immediately becomes an extremely male movie, despite aspects of the film empowering many women who have been audience to it. On the surface, Kill Bill tips most film plot norms on their head, replacing the usual strengthened male lead with a woman whose aim is to kill a significant male character in the film. However, when studied in more depth it is clear that this film’s most dominant character is a male figure after all, manipulating Beatrix Kiddo to come back to him, making her believe it is her own independent choice.

Bibliography

Bissonette C. (Unknown) A Feminist Defense Of Quentin Tarantino At: http://bust.com/movies/15393-why-quentin-tarantino-is-possibly-the-most-feminist-director-of-our-time.html (Accessed on 08.04.16)

Hugel, M. (2013) ‘Kill Bill’ and Our Troubled Relationship with Rape Revenge Movies At: http://mic.com/articles/67263/kill-bill-and-our-troubled-relationship-with-rape-revenge-movies#.v0eShGlR1 (Accessed on 08.04.2016)

Johnston, A. (2013) Kill Bill At: http://www.thefword.org.uk/2003/11/kill_bill/  (Accessed on 02/03/16)

Webb, J. (2013) It Hurts: “Kill Bill” Passes “Swimmingly” At: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2013/01/23/it-hurts-kill-bill-passes-swimmingly (Accessed on 06.04.16)

Wood, E. (2007) Is Tarantino really feminist? At: https://www.thefword.org.uk/2007/11/is_tarantino_re_1/ (Accessed on 08.04.2016)

Illustrations list

Figure 1. The Bride (Unknown) [Digital image] At: http://sensesofcinema.com/2004/beyond-the-grave-of-genre/tarantino/ (Accessed on 07.04.2016)

Online Platforms

Online platforms such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr play a very crucial role in influencing young people to understand and appreciate the feminist movement and themselves. It allows young people, male and female, to have a voice that can be shared without direct backlash or immediate dismal of what they have to say. This is an element of society in which the younger generation have the upper hand, spreading revolutionary messages and ideas internationally. It also encourages people who may not necessarily want to directly speak out, to feel confident in themselves and their opinions, and shows how much support they have and how their community is continuously growing. Many people underestimate the internet’s ability to ‘spread the word’ and bring people together in a very positive way. This also means that any hateful or derogatory comments can be tackled together and not alone, strengthening each other as they form stronger bonds and gain more support.

 

Nothing is more depressing than hearing a woman say “there’s nothing we can do about it, that’s just the way it is.”

Nor is there anything more infuriating than hearing a man say “it’s been this way since I’ve been born, it’s something you just have to accept and deal with.”

There are too many people settling for things because it’s easier than making a change, even if that change is for the better.

Progress

The idea of feminism has only just come to light as being a legitimate movement. Before this long-awaited modernist revelation, there was a wide-spread stigma around what a feminist stands for and the stereotype that is tied to her/him. Despite the movement taking many forms, from the history of the Suffragettes to today’s online platforms, there is still a lot of work to be done in regards to gaining an understanding within society about why feminism is so important.

Whenever I talk about equality, I know there will be at least one person around me sighing deeply or rolling their eyes – some less subtle than others. I never personally blame them for their ignorance though. Secondhand influence plays a massive part in people’s opinions and values. A parent’s ‘wise words’, for example, are the biggest influence for some people, therefore many members of society keep their eyes facing forward and don’t bother to look at the world around them. However, these same people forget that one of their parents is in fact a woman, and every step closer to equality is a better life for her.

It disgusts me that women continue to not help themselves, and instead oppress their opportunities and peers. Suffragettes did not fight with their freedom to gain a voice, just for today’s females to be afraid to express themselves in fear of the men surrounding her making her feel inferior or not giving her the acceptance and approval she feels she needs.