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Feminine Power April 10, 2007

Posted by kelly in Power, Tomb Raider 2.
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I think that there is a lot at stake when we try to define “female power.” In defining it, we seem to agree that the type of power that women can have is different from the power than men typically wield. I think it would be better to call it “feminine power,” as feminine implies society’s ideals and characteristics or behavior, rather than sex or gender.

In our class discussion, we debated whether or not female power is linked to sexuality, and the exploitation of it by women. At first I agreed with this idea, as it is alarmingly apparent in the majority of our films in which women use their bodies and beauty to get what they want. But then I thought about many of the films in which men have power. What came immediately to mind were 300 and Casino Royale.

In both of these films, the main male characters have tremendous sex appeal. King Leonidas and James Bond have been undoubtedly gawked at by millions of moviegoers, yet their sex appeal makes them no less masculine than other men. In fact, their ability to attract seems to make them even more manly and powerful. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that their attractiveness often lies in their muscles. On the other hand, part of James Bond’s appeal is what can be said to be feminine – his expensive clothes, careful grooming, and intelligence or culture.

It seems to me then, that “feminine power,” while often derived from sexuality, is one that is used to manipulate or overcome others who underestimated them, often including the audience. Perhaps we mark it as feminine because it comes from a position of weakness. Even in the case of Lara Croft, who is rich and powerful, she is still a woman, which automatically places her in a position of assumed inferiority and forces her to contend with many forces that men do not encounter. It seems to be that those who possess this feminine power exploit the expectations of weakness and inferiority only to gain a power that is often even more powerful than masculine power, as it is unexpected and seems to require more intelligence and cunning rather than just brute male strength.

Of course this may not be the intention of those who seek to create stories of female empowerment. But I do believe that when we look for female power, we tend to find it when we define it as something that comes from a position of powerlessness – where it is not entirely expected and it seems that a character is reclaiming a power typically denied to them by patriarchal society. I hope this makes sense…

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1. andyw - April 15, 2007

You contend that feminine power comes from a position of powerlessness, a position that then defies expectations, and then triumphs over masculine power. I have a few clarification questions (as this seems like an appealing way of escaping, or at least rewriting, feminine and masculine models of power):

Does feminine power defy expectations simply because it is a woman wielding a traditionally masculine power? If so, then why should we say it is a feminine power? Doesn’t that tie feminine power to womanhood (the only discernible difference), which seems to be something that we should avoid (as you argued at the beginning)? If there is something more to it than simply a woman wielding masculine power, what is it?

You argue that James Bond possesses femininity without sacrificing his masculine power. Does that femininity empower him? If so, in what ways? Is his power inextricably tied to that femininity, and if so what does it mean that he is marketed as one of the most stereotypically masculine figures? Are those traits which you see as feminine, feminine only because they come from an unexpected source (to combine my first set of queries with the second)?

I find it intriguing and appealing that you define feminine power not as something traditionally considered feminine, but as something that is precisely not considered feminine. The obvious problem, and one that I can’t find an answer to, is that in so doing it seems like you are denying power to what is considered traditionally feminine. Is there any way out of this problem?

2. kelly - April 15, 2007

Whoa that was way too much for me to handle.
I think you may have over-analyzed each and every one of my words, but I’ll try my best to answer some of your questions.

Firstly, I don’t think that “feminine power defies expectations simply because it is a woman wielding a traditionally masculine power.” I don’t think it always has to be a woman wielding this power. Imagine if Tiny in Girlfight had somehow triumphed over his father or a bully of sorts, I think that this, too, could be considered what I choose to call “feminine” power, because we don’t expect it. It’s not that this is how I choose to define feminine power, I just that that’s how we identify it when we watch these films. Whether and how that is informed by our biases or whatnot, I cannot say.

As for the James Bond question: “Are those traits which you see as feminine, feminine only because they come from an unexpected source (to combine my first set of queries with the second)?”
I’m not sure I understand. I don’t think they come from any “source,” they are just feminine because he primps and cares about his clothing, and this, in society, is seen as traditionally feminine.

Femininity and feminine power are not the same. I am merely saying that despite his perhaps feminine traits, James Bond is never seen as in possession of “feminine power,” because HE does not come from a place of weakness.

I don’t mean to deny power to what is traditionally considered feminine. I just think that society does. And so that when we have to define this feminine power, we define it as coming from a place of weakness, because that is what is traditionally associated with femininity. Used “feminine” way too much in this post…

3. andyw - April 15, 2007

First: is it the unexpectedness of this power, or is it that it comes from a place of weakness? These two ideas are certainly in tension with each other at times: when Diana punches her father she is coming from a position of strength because of her fighting lessons, and yet it is an unexpected thing for her to do (speaking from the audience’s perspective). If it is unexpectedness, then it seems that feminine power is compatible with a number of oddities (for instance, if Tiny were to suddenly take a gun and start killing everyone in the boxing arena). Also, if it is unexpected, then feminine power disappears after someone becomes familiar with it (if, after doing that, Tiny was released from jail and did it again). If it is weakness, however, then Diana punching her father is not feminine power (from the audience’s perspective). So, it seems that both perspectives have certain problems.

If we follow up on your notion of feminine power, we have to abandon it as something static, or even as something that we can assert abstractly about anything (since both expectedness and weakness depend on whose perspective we are looking from). That seems appealing from a Foucaultian perspective, because feminine power is now constituted by a relationship, but I’m not actually sure that it adequately captures what we were doing in class anymore. For instance, what if Thelma (while they were in midair after leaving the cliff) had sucker punched Louise and dove through her front window. It is certainly unexpected (from anyone’s perspective currently available to us) and it is also from a position of weakness. Is that feminine power – by which I mean, do you think that’s “how we identify it when we watch these films”?

I think that there’s something appealing about this conception of feminine power (because it permanently destabilizes it), but it also seems to be slightly incorrect. Is there any way to draw a line between what is unexpected/weak and considered feminine power and what is unexpected/weak and not? Or would the very act of drawing that line stabilize feminine power, and thus defeat what I think is the best aspect of this idea of it?


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