Discuss the concepts of narrative and agency and explain the significance of the Bechdel test as a metric in cultural debate and indicator of gender bias, using two clear examples to support your argument.â€‹
Your examples can be films, TV series and even music videos with a plot. â€‹
You can explore concepts around gender alongside narrative analysis.â€‹
Some relevant concepts: â€‹
Story vs. plot â€‹
Plot points â€‹
Narrative equilibrium â€‹
3 act structure â€‹
Narrative Codes â€‹
Bechdel Test â€‹
Male gaze â€‹
â€˜Men act and women appearâ€™ â€‹
Patriarchal unconscious .â€‹
Start with a short introduction â€‹
Define your concepts â€‹
Choose your examples carefully â€‹
Analyse your examples, do not just describe them â€‹
Be prices in your writing (no waffling) â€‹
Use quotes and reference â€‹
Be careful with plagiarism (use quotation marks) â€‹
Give a small conclusion â€‹
Narrative and agency are two of the underlying elements of films and other related media such as music videos and Television series. Fundamentally, there are several conceptions involved in narrative and agency, most of which relate to predominant societal elements such as gender bias and sexuality. One of the most prevalent aspects that are virtually consistently present in narrative and agency is female sexuality. Basically, the concept of sexuality has become an almost-mandatory component of narrative and agency today. This paper seeks to address various conceptions of narrative and agency from the perspective of sexuality. Some of the primary concepts involved are: The Bechdel Test, ‘Men act and Women appear’, and the ‘Male Gaze’. Perceptibly, a combination of an analysis of the Bechdel test, ‘men act and women appear’ and the ‘male gaze’ provides a comprehensive outlook of the misrepresentation of women in media today from the perspectives of gender bias and sexuality.
Definition of Concepts
Narrative, as pertains to the media, denotes storytelling. Essentially, it is the organization of diverse aspects of a story to bring about a meaningful story. “The centrality of ‘narrative’ in current though and discourse derives mainly from narratology, poststructuralist literary and cultural theory, and constructivist approaches in the social sciences, but its meanings and implications vary according to its provenance” (Rimmon-Kenan, n.d. p. 1). In the contemporary world, narratives are evident in visual arts, music, opera, drama and film. Basically, a narrative represents the recounting of events as they happened, whether based on facts or fiction.
Agency is another common aspect associated with narratives. The comprehension of agency is strongly connected to creation and presentation. Narration and agency can comprehensively be understood when perception and reception are also considered. Some of the questions that are usually associated with agency are: “what is the event or happening; who is responsible for the happening; is it significant and morally acceptable or unacceptable?” in most cases, narration and agency are often linked.
Additionally, the Bechdel test is another contributing factor to the compilation of this essay. It was invented in 1985 by Alison Bechdel (Edwards, 2013). Primarily, the Bechdel test examines whether a narrative meets three essential requirements as a measure for gender bias: it should have two or more female characters; the women should converse with one another; and their topic of conversation should be anything else apart from a boy or a man. The test is commonly used to examine various types of media, and especially films, to determine whether gender bias is present or not. Basically, if a particular form of media fails the Bechdel test then it is indicative of the presence of gender bias. Notably, majority of digital media fail this test.
Another concept of narrative and agency is the ‘male gaze’. The concept was coined by Laura Mulvey in ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1989). The ‘male gaze’ presents the notion that the woman is often represented as an object of the male gaze, and hence she takes a relatively passive role in the narrative. Essentially, the male view is the gaze focused on women from the position of the camera, which makes the viewer relate to the male gaze and objectify the women on the screen as well. According to Mulvey, the male gaze is a form of sexualizing women and has become widely acceptable as a societal norm in the media that any type of media that does not portray the male gaze is perceived as being abnormal from a cinematic perspective.
Moreover, the concept of ‘men act and women appear’ by John Berger has a solid correlation with the male gaze. The passage that is predominantly used to explain this concept is: “One might simply this by saying men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of the woman in herself is male: the surveyed female” (Berger, 2008, p. 74).
Ultimately, it all boils down to the sexualization of women. Most forms of media have a tendency to sexually objectify women. In essence, women are presented to the world on the basis of their sex, whether in manner of speaking or dressing. In this popular representation, the man always plays the role of the observer, giving the denotation that the woman’s purpose is to use her sexuality for the benefit of the male gaze and general satisfaction (Mischner et al., 2013). Altogether, women in the media take a passive role whereas men are the more active characters who exploit the sexuality of women, who may actively participate in the background or simply accept to have the male gaze focused upon them. It is altogether, an unrefined case of unprecedented gender bias and sexualization against women.
It is the norm for the above-mentioned concepts to be presented in films. However, the elements of gender bias and misrepresentation of female sexuality have become increasingly widespread in contemporary music videos. Largely, gender and sexuality connotations are present in virtually all secular music videos today. For the purposes of this essay, one popular film and music video each will be used to portray the elements of gender bias and sexualization in relation to narratives and agency: Fifty Shades of Grey the movie and She will be loved by Maroon 5.
- Fifty Shades of Grey
Briefly, Fifty Shades of Grey is a movie based on the novels by E.L James. The narration centers on the perspective of a young woman, Anastasia Steele who recently graduated from college and somehow, her world collided with that of Christian Grey, a dynamic, wealthy and powerful businessman whose sexual tastes lie on the extremities of actual sexual violence. The two get involved romantically and Christian introduces Ana into his sexual practices of BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Masochism) (Kavyta, 2016). The story provides detailed descriptions of Ana’s sexual encounters with Christian. The film adaptation is played by Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan who play Ana and Christian respectively. The level of gender bias and sexualization that is evident in this movie is unprecedented.
A comparison between the text and the movie shows just how deeply-rooted the aspect of ‘male gaze’ is in the film industry. Basically, the text is centered on Ana’s perspective, which naturally indicates that the viewer should anticipate a female gaze. Conversely, the movie adaptation altered everything and the male gaze is largely predominant with virtually all the sex scenes presenting Ana practically naked and Christian reasonably clothed. The movie highlights the longstanding issue of the acceptability of female nudity in Hollywood whereby it is perceived to be rather unusual for a movie to lack scenes of female nudity while simultaneously outrageous and scandalousfor a film to portray absolute male nudity (O’Hara et al., 2012). The male/female nudity ratio is largely imbalanced, which portrays gender bias against women who are frequently required to strip themselves completely in order to get significant acting roles in high profile films.
In the film, Dakota Johnson whole body is displayed in the sex scenes whereas it is evident that the movie directors take substantial measures to hide the form of Jamie Dornan from the waist down. Christian constantly watches Ana undress and the camera centers on her body as she removes her clothes for Christian’s and the viewers’ pleasures. From a literary perspective, by undressing her Christian strips Ana of her power whereas he covers himself to maintain dominance over her. The most surprising element is that the story of Fifty Shades of Grey is aimed at presenting a woman’s perspective yet the film producers and directors felt the need to shift the power and present a male gaze perspective. Christian Grey is supposed to be the main attraction of the movie since while Ana is a simple and worldly-inexperienced young woman, Christian is more of an enigma with several layers to him. Regardless, as pertains to the sexual scenes Ana suddenly becomes the main focus of the cameras since it is oddly more ‘acceptable’ for a woman to be naked than a man.
The concept of ‘men act and women appear’ is also largely evident. Ana’s life revolves around Christian; his interests, his life, his business, and his sexual preferences. Her only role is to fit into his life just the way it is. She must conform to his patterns. Being only a virgin, she is expected to accept to be impetuously initiated into the complex sexual domain of BDSM simply because Christian wishes it to be so. The film portrays a submissive side of women, particularly in relation to sexuality (Galdi, Maass, and Cadinu, 2014). Ana is obviously hesitant to venture into BDMS but does so anyway because the man wants her to and she is designed to ‘appease’ the man, being only a woman. Christian takes this innocent and unsuspecting girl on a rollercoaster sexually using whips, suspenders and blindfolds on her. The film portrays these scenes in a manner that indicates the pleasure that Christian derives from ‘punishing’ Ana more than her sexual pleasure. Apparently, during sexual intercourse it is more important for the man to derive pleasure from the woman than it is for the woman to do the same.
The male gaze and sexualization of women is visible when Christian enjoys imposing his will on Ana. It is evident in his features during the final sex scene of the movie that he derives extreme sexual gratification from whipping her mercilessly. Notably, this borders on sexual violence against women and the tolerance that society has for such atrocities. Referring back to the issue of female and male nudity and the ratio imbalance that exists, the movie plants the notion in the viewers’ minds that Dornan cannot be expected to be completely naked since he has something to hide; his body is still considered to be private and sacred. Contrariwise, Johnson, being a woman, has nothing to hide and even if she does then she shouldn’t be allowed to. It’s perfectly normal for a woman to be naked before men.
A viewer who has read the novels would anticipate seeing the camera focused on Christian. However, because it is a movie about sex, it is more conventional for the woman to remove her clothes and therefore the focus is shifted to Ana and the male gaze is allowed to take root once more; the woman is objectified and the man is sanctified (Bonomi et al., 2014).The double standards represented in this film massive. If Ana can be naked, why can’t Christian be naked too? The sexualization and objectification of women does not permit it to be so. If it’s a movie about sex, then Ana should ‘obviously’ be naked as per the male standards of entertainment.
- Animals by Maroon 5
Animals is a song by Maroon 5. It was released on 29th September, 2014. The video tells a story of a man who works in a Butchery (Adam Levine). He develops an obsession with one of his female customers (BehatiPrinsloo). This obsession drives him to behave like a stalker whereby he follows the woman around everywhere she goes. He takes photographs of her secretly as she undresses and breaks into her house while she is sleeping whereby he takes more photographs of her and even sleeps on the bed beside her. The narration in Animals is such that Adam Levine sings about how he is going to hunt her down and prey on her. Basically, the music video is of a sexual nature and displays images that are highly disturbing. Besides the stalking and illicit photos, Adam fantasizes about engaging in sexual intercourse with the object of his obsession in a rather horrid scene whereby there are dead animals and the two bathe in their blood during sex.
The sexual scenes presented in Animals are considerably equal in terms of nudity but not quite. Behati’s naked body is more visible than Adam’s is. He touches her and explores her physique in a manner that undoubtedly portrays the male gaze. The entire video is based on Adam’s perspective as he focuses his attentions on his prey (Behati). The image of Behati sleeping, which is prevalent all through the video, shows extreme nudity from her waist down. She is only dressed in her underwear as Adam focuses the camera on her for his advantage and that of the viewer. On the contrary, throughout the video Adam is mainly either shirtless or fully clothed. Evidently, the video presents the viewpoint that is it more acceptable for Behati, the woman, to show more nakedness than it is for Adam to do the same.
The sexual message of the video is mainly aimed at gender bias against women. It is clear from the start that Adam’s only interest in the woman is sexual. He takes photographs of her only when she is in a sexually suggestive position. Moreover, all his fantasies about her are strictly concentrated on sex as opposed to the idea of starting a relationship with her. Most importantly, the lyrics of the song only indicate that Adam wants to engage in sexual intercourse with the woman. “Baby I’m preying on you tonight. Hunt you down, eat you alive; just like animals” (Maroon 5, 2014). The sexual connotation of this is that women are primarily sexual objects and their appeal to men is mostly founded on the grounds of sex. Adam sees this woman for the first time and all he thinks about is how he can get her naked with him. He obsesses with the idea of her naked and actually having sexual intercourse with him. In addition, this is also representative of gender bias whereby Adam is presented as a working man regardless of the sexual aspect of his nature. However, the woman is portrayed as an object of the man’s fantasies. There is no other role attached to her other than that. She is simply a woman whom a man is obsessed with and nothing else.
Discussion and Conclusion
The analyses of Fifty Shades of Grey and Animals indicate the widespread nature of gender bias and sexualization of women as portrayed by the concepts of the male gaze and ‘men act and women appear’. In relation to the Bechden test, Fifty Shades of Grey fails the test because the two women involved in the movie, Ana and her roommate, only talk about men in the few times that they visibly converse with one another. Alternatively, Animals fails the test as well since the main character is a man who is always in the vicinity of the woman, even when she goes to the club with her friends. It is unlikely that they would discuss anything else other than men in a scene such as that whereby they are surrounded by men.
Conclusively, elements of sexualization and gender bias against women have become increasingly common in the media (Edwards, 2013). Particularly in films and music videos, men and women are usually portrayed from the perspective of the men. The camera focuses on the women from the men’s perspective and hence the term ‘male gaze’ (Edwards, 2013). Usually this focus is of a sexual nature whereby the women are required to be naked as is evident in both Fifty Shades of Grey and Animals. Moreover, men are evidently the primary characters of these two media depictions with the women taking a considerably passive role in the narrative.
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