‘Seeing the female body differently’: gender issues in The Silence of the Lambs

Dubois, Diane (2001) ‘Seeing the female body differently’: gender issues in The Silence of the Lambs. Journal of Gender Studies, 10 (3). pp. 297-310. ISSN 0958-9236

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‘Seeing the Female Body Differently’: gender issues in The Silence of the Lambs
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Abstract

ABSTRACT In this paper it is argued that the habitual representation of women in Žfilm has played
a considerable part in constructing ideas of femininity, which contemporary Žfilmmaking can deconstruct.
The Silence of the Lambs deconstructs femininity as it has been constructed in four classic genres:
the serial killer movie, the horror or monster movie, the ‘pupil and mentor’ movie and the ‘psychiatrist
and patient’ movie. The Silence of the Lambs can be shown to deconstruct the generic amalgam of
voyeurism, the ‘male gaze’ of the camera, castration anxiety and the confused and reinstated gender
identities typical of the serial killer movie. The empathy between Doctor Hannibal ‘the cannibal’ Lecter
and young FBI agent Clarice Starling criticises the encoding strategies of the classic monster movie wherein
both woman and monster are feared objects within patriarchal orders of seeing. Starling’s appetite for
success coincides with Lecter’s more obviously worrying appetite; the Žfilm deconstructs those Žfilms wherein
the ambition of the female pupil is personiŽed by a demonic mentor. Starling, unlike most female pupils,
is not punished for her ambition and strength, qualities partially created through the iconographic
meanings of actor Jodie Foster. In psychiatrist and patient Žfilms, the heroine’s behaviour is explainable
when located within the patriarchal metanarrative of psychoanalysis, towards which The Silence of the
Lambs is deeply ambivalent.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:ABSTRACT In this paper it is argued that the habitual representation of women in Žfilm has played a considerable part in constructing ideas of femininity, which contemporary Žfilmmaking can deconstruct. The Silence of the Lambs deconstructs femininity as it has been constructed in four classic genres: the serial killer movie, the horror or monster movie, the ‘pupil and mentor’ movie and the ‘psychiatrist and patient’ movie. The Silence of the Lambs can be shown to deconstruct the generic amalgam of voyeurism, the ‘male gaze’ of the camera, castration anxiety and the confused and reinstated gender identities typical of the serial killer movie. The empathy between Doctor Hannibal ‘the cannibal’ Lecter and young FBI agent Clarice Starling criticises the encoding strategies of the classic monster movie wherein both woman and monster are feared objects within patriarchal orders of seeing. Starling’s appetite for success coincides with Lecter’s more obviously worrying appetite; the Žfilm deconstructs those Žfilms wherein the ambition of the female pupil is personiŽed by a demonic mentor. Starling, unlike most female pupils, is not punished for her ambition and strength, qualities partially created through the iconographic meanings of actor Jodie Foster. In psychiatrist and patient Žfilms, the heroine’s behaviour is explainable when located within the patriarchal metanarrative of psychoanalysis, towards which The Silence of the Lambs is deeply ambivalent.
Keywords:Gender, American Films, Silence of the Lambs
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
L Social studies > L216 Feminism
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Performing Arts
ID Code:5788
Deposited By: Diane Dubois
Deposited On:07 Jun 2012 11:10
Last Modified:13 Mar 2013 09:10

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