Protagonist: seeing a dominant
discourse at work
In 1973 Claire Johnston wrote an influential essay, "Women's Cinema is Counter Cinema," in which she argued the need for women in films to "operate at all levels." 1 Rejecting conventional definitions of realism and criticism based only on an empirical study of women's role, she called for the "development of collective work" and for a women's cinema that is not merely "captured" from the world but "constructed". The allusion to images being captured indicated her rejection of conventional realism, because to be content with capturing reality meant that one also adopted the ideology of the social status quo.
The need to "construct" resulted in the evolution of "positive images" of women. A critical debate around such images has been one of the key issues for women's counter-cinema and remains central in the Eighties and Nineties. Women who use films for consciousness-raising and workplace organising are constantly searching for representations that act as strong models to encourage confidence and collective spirit.
Despite differences in approach and theoretical framework, almost all feminist film critics are agreed on one basic fact: that "women as women" are not represented in the cinema, that they do not have a voice, that the female point of view is seldom heard. Feminist critiques have identified stereotyping (child/woman, whore, wife, mother, vamp, etc), representing women as the male Other, objectification, signification (where women are found to be signifiers not of women but of the absent phallus, of an absence rather than a presence), and cinematic voyeurism in which an exclusively male spectator is a production assumption, as typical and sexist characteristics of dominant cinema. 2