Monday, November 23, 2009
For my critical feminist film analysis, I chose the 1983 dance-inspired sensation, FLASHDANCE (what a feeling).
This movie follows Alex Owens, welder by day, artistic exotic dancer by night, as she strives to pursue her artistic dreams, while finding romance along the way.
It was very clear to me from the beginning that this film was intended to make the protagonist seem to be a 1980s/second-wave symbol of hope and working womyn's independence, but as I watched the storyline unfold, I felt that, while some elements of Alex's character were commendable from a feminist standpoint, many of her "advancements" were at the allocation of male characters.
From the very beginning, the writers strive to make the female lead a strong, independent individual. However, it seems she cannot progress by day in traditional "feminine" roles, or even in gender-independent roles, but only as a masculinized woman. As a character, Alex makes her mark in her surroundings in blatantly "male" ways. The character is given the more masculine name of"Alex Owens" (short for Alexandra/Alexandria?), earns income through the traditional male profession of welder, and wears 1980's power suits (which were a unisex fashion item, however were based off of the mystique of upper-management male privileged persons). Perhaps in order to challenge the system (a patriarchal system), Alex must first gain attention by earning stake in it in traditional male ways, but I feel this is insulting her as an individual, especially as a womyn. This shows people that the only way a womyn can advance in society is by using tools of the male sex. However, this soon evolves into an interesting gender/power dynamic for Alex.
By day (the traditional, 9-5 capitalistic world) Alex is a welder and advances by adopting traditional male character attributes, fashions, and personae, but at night, Alex is able to express her feminine side, through dance, and flagrantly feminine, sexualized outfits. The whole power play expressed through opposing gender-dynamics really got to me, and I found myself frustrated. Is the only way to advance in a cruel, gender-biased world through the adoption of attributes and habits of one of those genders? Is it possible to exist as an independent humyn being without advancing oneself as a "gendered" individual?
Relationship dynamics and the actions of secondary characters also brought forward other elements to me as I attempted to view this film through a feminist lens. The secondary romantic pair in the film, Richie (chef at the night club at which Alex dances) and Jeanie (another dancer at the night club who has dreams of being a figure skater but ultimately becomes a true stripper) represent stereotypical hetero-normative characters that one might expect to find in the world. Richie, though ultimately pushed as being a lovable character, is highly machismo and makes racist and sexist jokes (he's an aspiring comedian). Jeanie is a waitress (Hooters style) who ultimately becomes a drug-abusing stripper after giving up her dream at being a professional ice skater (though of course there are many class hierarchies and an emotionally abusive father working against her achieving this goal) and who is ultimately rescued from the strip club by her friend Alex.
The relationship dynamics of Alex and her man of interest/employer Nick (all sorts of class dynamics/social stratification are evident there) bring out new points. Alex has a passion for dance, and has always aspired to be a professional ballet dancer, but never takes herself seriously until a male figure from a more prominent social class, Nick, encourages and motivates her. Once again, I felt like Alex was only advancing by the "confidence" of a man, but perhaps in a gender-polarized society, that is often what happens? I mean, some credit must be given to Alex, as she does represent a strong, independent individual, yet I just feel it is through socially "masculine" ways that she achieves her status.
In all, watching this film made me realize how completely unrealistic the scenario presented in it truly is. First of all, a female construction worker whose co-workers watch erotically dance at night wouldn't be able to gracefully walk around her job-site with no heckling, but would most likely be the victim of continual sexual assault and harassment. Even if she weren't an exotic dancer, Alex, in the real world, would most-likely face heckling and harassment on the job-site, as we've covered in our readings how horribly common sexual harassment in the workplace truly is. Also, she probably wouldn't have gotten that position anyway, but would have been passed over for a male in the first place. And the whole romantic interlude with her gracious and gentile boss? Forget about it.
In all, this movie is just another off the shelf of 1980s "feel-good" light-drama/love stories which show characters in optimistic roles, with little regard for reality. This saddens me, as I feel open surface-value observation, some might consider this a "feminist movie," even though I feel this movie is the opposite of feminist, as the main character succeeds by compromising with the male-dominated world. Some good things can be taken from this film, however I feel more harm is done by creating optimism in unrealistic, submissive roles.