Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Motherhood, Desire, and Intimacy: Teaching Mexican Women's Films

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Motherhood, Desire, and Intimacy: Teaching Mexican Women's Films

Article excerpt

I dedicate this article to the students in the honors seminar of spring 2000.

In the spring of 2000, I had the opportunity to teach an honors seminar, titled Motherhood, Desire, and Intimacy, at Plattsburgh State University in upstate New York. In the course I used North American and Mexican films to reflect on the ways in which images of women affect audiences. I wanted to provide students with alternatives to mainstream images of women and to discuss the importance of political and economic climate in the production of alternative images of women. In the curriculum, I sought to encourage students to write in creative and meaningful, but rigorous, ways, using both film and feminist terminologies.

The focus of the course was Mexican films created by female filmmakers during the presidential term 1988-94, a period during which several women made feature-length films. Their films represented mothers who could separate from their children, men who were the objects of desire of women, women who desired actively, and couples whose intimate life had become tedious. Given that I wanted the course to have a cross-cultural component and that I wanted to emphasize the new options offered by the Mexican films, I introduced several of the mainstream U.S. films of the classical period which are analyzed in Mary Ann Doane's The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s. The Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s allowed for a teachable contrast; they also were more accessible to students than the films of the Mexican classical period and had been extensively analyzed by North American feminist film critics. The course, however, can be taught by offering a different contrast or by looking exclusively at films made by women.1

The course I taught focused on motherhood, desire, and intimacy, and was divided into three corresponding sections. In the first section, I used a U.S. film to get the students acquainted with a feminist analysis of motherhood: Stella Dallas (1937). Students were encouraged to respond to Doane's analysis of the film's representation of motherhood and afterward to use her analysis to read motherhood in the Mexican films. Comparing and contrasting Stella Dallas to Una isla rodeada de agua (An Island Surrounded by Water, 1985) and El secreto de Romelia (Romelia's Secret, 1988) went fairly smoothly. In the second section, on desire, I summarized Doane's interpretation of the visual mechanics of portraying female desire in the U.S. film Humoresque (1946). This time I asked for a written response from students: an essay about how the Mexican film Danz6n (1991) represented female desire. In the third section, on intimacy, I reversed the order of film showings, presenting, first, the Mexican film Sucesos distantes (Distant Happenings, 1995) and, second, Secret Beyond the Door (1948). For their take-home final, I asked students to come up with their own theory of the way in which intimacy was represented.2

The assignments for the three-hour weekly class meetings were varied. They included readings from my book of interviews with Mexican filmmakers, In Our Own Image: An Oral History of Mexican Women Filmmakers, 1988-1994;3 writing journal entries about the films we watched in class or the readings; and preparing three questions concerning the readings, the films we watched in class, or both. Students had to write three compositions, a five-page creative critical analysis, and a take-home final. They also had to make two presentations: one about a section of the readings and another about their creative critical analysis of the course's themes in films.

At the beginning of the course I gave out a list of the most important film terms from Timothy Corrigan's A Short Guide to Writing about Film, since there were several kinds of writing assignments that required the use of film terminology.4 I described the use of the terms in class and asked students to create a reference card that they could easily consult when needed. …

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