The horror of feminism : understanding the second wave through the reception of controversial films
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Given feminists’ longstanding concerns about the ideological effects of media images, and prompted by the lack of, but continued need for, feminist activism today, some feminist scholars have become increasingly interested in how popular media shape public understandings of feminism, represent its issues, and define its history. Communication scholars also appreciate that both media texts and social movements are produced and received within particular historical contexts, and that controversies over either are discursive sites in which cultural and political values clash and their meanings are negotiated. During the 1970s, second-wave feminism, especially its radical wing, was a controversial movement which threatened to disrupt basic relations between women and men and, therefore, has been much maligned by men, women, anti-feminists, and a new generation of self-proclaimed feminists. Yet, the second wave is often portrayed inaccurately. This dissertation thus reviews key works, theories, and events associated with radical feminism as well as the debates between it and other schools of feminist thought–liberal, Marxist/socialist, psychoanalytic, cultural, and various ‘new’ feminisms. Then, employing a context-sensitive form of ideological criticism, I examine three films, their promotional strategies, their mainstream critical and scholarly receptions, and how these elements converged with particular feminist discourses within their shared historical contexts. Specifically, I investigate why the horror films Rosemary’s Baby (1968), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), and Snuff (1976)–which each featured an exposed, vulnerable, violated, or ‘monstrous’ female body–became objects of controversy when they tapped into the contemporaneous feminist issues of reproduction, rape, and pornography, respectively, and how the films’ receptions reveal ways in which people have made sense of feminism and its issues. I contend that these controversies, both individually and when viewed as a series, were symptomatic of the hegemonic negotiations of second-wave feminism and its attempts to publicize discourses about sex, violence, and the female body, negotiations which were occurring both inside and outside the women’s movement. Through these controversial cases, then, we can see feminism’s transformation–from an active movement which criticized the structures of women’s oppression to a discursive and primarily academic enterprise focused more on criticizing itself.