Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


Students must apply to the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies.

Course Description

The cinematic body of the woman has long been the central focus for theories of spectatorship and psychoanalytic film theory as well as feminist media and cultural studies. As such it provides rich material for an interdisciplinary conversation not only about socio-cultural and psychological constructions of gender, sexualities, and power but also about the pathologies of body disturbances and eating disorders which have become increasingly prevalent among contemporary women and girls. Using film and related popular media as our texts, this course will examine how screen “embodiments” of the woman visualize ideologies of discipline and desire in a culture in which her body has become a representation of the ability to control appetites, size and shape while investing personal and social capital in its rehabilitation as a project of endless reconstruction, redesign and maintenance. Throughout the course we will draw from feminist film theory, clinical psychology, as well as, women’s, gender, and cultural studies, to better understand how filmic representations of the woman’s body first emerge from contemporary psychosocial contexts and then in turn shape the body ideals and internalizations, as well as, the behavioral practices of the film spectator.

The course is organized in such a way so that first four weeks of the course are designed to familiarize students with the basic principles of film analysis in conversation with foundational feminist film theory texts. In this section, we pair classic films about female embodiments with more contemporary productions. The rest of the syllabus is concerned with the following question: how are contemporary debates surrounding the body reflected in, and informed by, popular culture representations? Our class concentrates on contemporary films and media texts, and organizes itself around a set of topics that have been granted considerable purchase in popular culture discourse, including: adolescent sexuality, narratives of pregnancy, portrayals of excessive mothering, diet culture, unruly bodies, body makeovers, racialized bodies, and transgender bodies. Students can expect to come away from the class with a deeper understanding of the cultural influences that shape media products, cognizance of the effects of media portrayals on the spectator, and familiarity with feminist and feminist media theory as it relates to the topic of embodiment and body image. Media texts have been selected based on their ability to speak to these issues in ways that are relevant to current body preoccupations rather than for their status as “canonical.” While the course will consider the question of female media production, it will place more emphasis on the recognition that anxieties over the body play out on the popular culture stage. We contend, therefore, that studying popular culture objects as texts in themselves provides valuable insight into current attitudes toward gender and the body.

Required Texts

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. University of California Press, 2004. ISBN: 978052024054. [Preview with Google Books]

Karlyn, Katherine Rowe. Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers: Redefining Feminism on Screen. University of Texas Press, 2011. ISBN: 9780292737549. [Preview with Google Books]

Thornham, Sue, ed. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. NYU Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780814782446.

Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. Film: A Critical Introduction. 3rd ed. Pearson, 2011. ISBN: 9780205770779.

Course Requirements

Weekly discussion question 20
Oral presentation and paper 30
Final paper 50

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples
Presentation Assignments
Instructor Insights