Sexual Difference in the Cinema:

Representations of Women and Sexuality in U.S. Film

WS 2002/LGBT 2400

FMA 2760, sec. 2                                                                  



This is a class on how women and (homo)sexuality are represented in U.S. film. The focus of the class lies on the Hollywood movie’s construction of both femininity and masculinity as dominant ideal gender identities, and the social context around these representations. In our discussions of how social categories such as gender, race, and class construct representations of (same-sex) desire in film, we will be drawing on feminist and queer theories as well as film theory and history. While we will often be watching movies in chronological order of their respective production year, this is not a survey course on (queer) U.S. film. Instead, each week dives into a theoretical or historical approach to gendered representation while addressing the historical context American society and the film industry.



Week 1. Introduction: Hollywood as Cultural Ideal

In-class screening: It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946, 130m)


Week 2. Stereotype Critique

Out of class screening: Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman, 1995, 102m)

Molly Haskell, from From Reverence to Rape

Richard Dyer, “Stereotype”

Diane Waldman, “There’s More to a Positive Image Than Meets the Eye”


Week 3. Modernity v. the Victorian Ideal/1910s-20s

Out of class screening: A Woman of Paris (Charles Chaplin, 1923, 78m)

In-class screening: The Golden Chance (Cecil B. DeMille, 1915, 74m)

Lea Jacobs, from The Decline of Sentiment

Miriam Hansen, from Babel to Babylon


Week 4. Censorship/1930s

Out of class screening: Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933, 76m)

In-class screening: This Movie is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006, 97m)

Richard Maltby, “’Baby Face’: or How Joe Breen Made Barbara Stanwyck Atone for the Stock Market Crash”


Week 5. The Female Auteur/1930s-40s

Out of class screening: Dance, Girl, Dance (Dorothy Arzner, 1940, 90m)

In-class screening: Illusions (Julie Dash, 1982, 34m)

Claire Johnston, “Dorothy Arzner: Critical Strategies”

Pam Cook, “Approaching the Work of Dorothy Arzner

Judith Mayne, Directed by Dorothy Arzner, selection


Week 6. The (Male) Gaze/1930-40s

Out of class screening: Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946, 110m)

In-class screening: Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1944, 18m)

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”


Week 7. Queer Subtext/1940s-50s

Out of class screening: Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951, 101m)

In-class screening: Fragment of Seeking (Curtis Harrington, 1946, 16m), Christmas USA (Gregory Markopoulos, 1950, 8m), Geography of the Body (Willard Maas and Marie Mencken, 5m)

Patricia White, “Reading the Codes”

Richard Dyer, “Homosexuality in Film Noir”

Sabrina Barton, “’Criss-Cross’: Paranoia and Projection in Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train


Week 8. Masculinity/1950s

Out of class screening: Picnic (Joshua Logan, 1955, 115m)

In-class screening: Crimson Kimono (Samuel Fuller, 1959, 90m)

Steven Cohan, “Masquerading as the American Male in the 50s”

Jackie Byars, from All That Hollywood Allows


Week 9. Camp/1950s-60s

Out of class screening: Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954, 110m)

In-class screening: Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1964, 28m), My Hustler (Andy Warhol, 1965, 79m)

Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp”

Jennifer Peterson, “The Competing Tunes of Johnny Guitar: Liberalism, Sexuality, Masquerade”


Week 10. Direct Cinema, Counter-Cinema, and the Movement Film/1970s-80s

Out of class screening: Word is Out (Mariposa Film Group, 1977, 135m)

In-class screening: Joyce at 34 (Joyce Chopra, 1972, 28m), Daughter Rite (Michelle Citron, 1980, 49m)

Thomas Waugh, “Lesbian and Gay Documentary: Minority Self-Imaging, Oppositional Film Practice, and the Question of Image Ethics”

E. Ann Kaplan, “Theories and Strategies of the Feminist Documentary”


Week 11. Race and Gendered Spectatorship/1970s-80s

Out of class screening: Mahogany (Berry Gordy, 1975, 109m)

Jane Gaines, “White Privilege and Looking Relations”

Jacqueline Bobo, “Black Women as Cultural Readers”


Week 12. Independent Cinema and Industry Economics/1980s-90s

Out of class screening: Working Girls (Lizzie Borden, 1986, 93m)

In-class screening: Dottie Gets Spanked (Todd Haynes, 1993, 30m)

Christina Lane, “Just Another Girl on the Neo-Indie


Week 13. Postfeminism and The Popular Lesbian Film/1990s

Out of class screening: Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1992, 130m)


B. Ruby Rich, “Softball, The Goddess, and Lesbian Film Culture”

Charlotte Brunsdon, “Postfeminism and the Shopping Film”

Karen Hollinger, “Theorizing Mainstream Female Spectatorship: The Case of the Popular Lesbian Film”


Week 14. Transgender Representation/2000s

Out of class screening: Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Pierce, 2004)


Jennifer Esposito, “The Performance of White Masculinity in Boys Don’t Cry: Identity, Desire, (Mis)Recognition

Madelyn Detloff, “Gender Please, Without the Gender Police: Rethinking Pain in Archetypal Narratives of Butch, Transgender, and FTM Masculinity”