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male/female power in Whale Rider April 17, 2007

Posted by sindhub in Female Power, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Power, Whale Rider.
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I thought it was interesting that despite the fact that the main character, Paikea (played by Keisha Castle-Hughes), was so much younger than the other leading female characters in the films we’ve seen so far, she still had so much in common with them: she’s a girl who has to be the very best in order to prove herself (similar to Girlfight), there’s also a boy (the one that farts during the performance at the beginning), and there’s the lack of a strong/respectable father figure (similar to Girlfight, Carrie, Tomb Raider 2).

The most noticeable similarity, though, was that Paikea did not fight against the existing/traditional system of power; rather, she fought for her right, as an individual female, to hold power within that system.  Just like Diana in Girlfight doesn’t fight for the right of all women to box, but rather for her right to compete with men, and just like Demi Moore’s character in G.I. Jane struggles to prove herself not as a woman but as herself, Paikea struggles for her grandfather’s acceptance despite being a girl–and of course, she succeeds because she’s better than all the boys and because she’s seemingly ‘destined’ for the role.  This brings into question the idea of ‘female power’ and what it is–if a woman holds power within the traditionally male system of power by proving herself capable of holding that traditionally ‘male’ power despite being female (and overcoming all the obstacles that biologically entails, either because of the system’s beliefs or ‘biological reality’), does it count as female power?  Would fighting against the system, on the other hand, be ‘feminine’ power?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I thought it was interesting that while the lead characters’ lives may have changed drastically in these films, the lives of the other female characters haven’t.  I do think, though, that the leads’ success affects viewers and maybe even ’empowers’ them.

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1. jenniferlewk - April 17, 2007

I would like to respond to your questions about power within the male system: “This brings into question the idea of ‘female power’ and what it is–if a woman holds power within the traditionally male system of power by proving herself capable of holding that traditionally ‘male’ power despite being female (and overcoming all the obstacles that biologically entails, either because of the system’s beliefs of ‘biological reality’), does it count as female power? Would fighting against the system, on the other hand, be ‘feminine’ power?”

I think it is impossible and a bit idealistic to dream of a different system of power all together. I agree with the mentality of your questions–the question of what constitutes real power is a fascinating and complex one, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be gendered. I think that perhaps we are so used to the male/female binary, that we tend to use that dichotomy as the end-all. Perhaps it is, and what I am about to say will be frivolous. Nonetheless, I would like to remove the gendered aspect of power and instead, analyze a point that was made in class today about power being the difference between lacking and having.

I am going to site power examples of the three films–Girlfight, G.I.Jane, and Whale Rider–in order to explain my point. In Girlfight, Diana’s fight mentality is mainly blamed on her lack of a mother, a mother who killed herself because of the domestic violence in the home. This lack in her life can be seen to create Diana’s urge to fight in the first place and her reason for usurping the power from the home from her father. Once she has openly criticized her father for creating this “lack” in her life, Diana gains agency. (Of course, she still heads to her boyfriend’s house after gaining power, but I will speak about the boyfriend later.) Her lack also includes her lack of stereotypical femininity. Diana, from the beginning of the film, is physically different. Her body exudes strength and power—her muscles are ripped, we see her sweat in gym class and in the ring—her body is the way she tries to redefine what it means to be a boxer. In this manner, while Diana does not fight for all womankind, per say, but she fights against the imagined community by expanding the view of boxers. Nonetheless, because she has this lack of stereotypical femininity, Diana is excluded from “girl” spaces in the film (the bathroom, the locker-room, etc) and needs a boyfriend to help her assert that the power she has is not from a lack of femininity (which she has and is proved by her heterosexuality) but her power comes from the having of the ability and the body to fight and to box. In G.I.Jane, Jordan often powerfully forces the idea of “lacking,” in this case, a penis, to the public sphere. Instead of hiding in the shadows, she takes this “lack” and turns it into a “have.” Indeed, one of the most quoted lines in the movie is, “Suck my dick.” By asserting that she has a dick (although it can be argued that this power would then be gendered because of the phallic ownership), Jordan creates her own space within the structure. Her “have” gives her respect from the men and eventually from the institution itself. She, once again, while never saying that she is representative of women in general, expands the idea of who can be a navy seal. Finally, in Whale Rider, Paikea has a mystical power, a spiritual connection with the whales. Her “has” separates herself from the men in the film. Although one of the boys’ consequences for messing up during training is that “their dicks might fall off,” this consequence is obviously not an issue for Paikea. Her ownership of her destiny—she knows that she is supposed to be the next chief, she knows that she is different for a reason—propels her to succeed and to gain respect from her tribe and her grandfather. Ownership and agency go together in all of the films, creating a new version of power for women in film.

2. sindhub - April 17, 2007

That’s an interesting perspective, and I agree that it holds for those examples. However, I guess we could go into it again and say that the ‘having’ necessarily entails ‘male’ qualities… maybe the examples of the other types of movies (e.g. Steel Magnolias) that were brought up in class today involve ‘having’ in a different way..


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