(Re)scripting Femininity with a Female Gaze – Female Gender Representation in Neo-noir Script, The Lonely Drive

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Bitomsky, Jade (2021) (Re)scripting Femininity with a Female Gaze – Female Gender Representation in Neo-noir Script, The Lonely Drive. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This creative research project consists of a thesis and neo-noir film script entitled The Lonely Drive which explores the representation of women in neo-noir – a largely patriarchal genre that continues to perpetuate the male gaze and endorses female objectification. It aims to challenge neo-noir’s stereotypical gender roles through (re)presenting female (the femme fatale) and male (the detective) character archetypes. The Lonely Drive specifically explores some of the ways in which we can (re)present the femme fatale to promote her agency, activity, rationality and logic. It engages with the subversion of the male gaze to create a space in which to consider the concept of a female gaze in neo-noir. This thesis will use Laura Mulvey’s male gaze theory (1975) in conjunction with Judith Butler’s theory of performative acts (1988) as a lens through which to explore ways that we can step away from the male gaze and consider a way that affords the femme fatale of neo-noir a representation that is active, intelligent, logical and rational, rather than their current representation as passive, psychotic, hysterical and violent. Additionally, given that neo-noir is a genre, and bound by all the conventions of the genre, this thesis will look at whether it is possible to elevate the femme fatale from being an object without altering the genre so much that it is no longer considered a neo-noir. Moreover, if, as a result of elevating the femme fatale to driving and owning the narrative, meaning that she is not merely there to be looked at or to manipulate the hero toward his own demise, we stumble across what could potentially be described as a female gaze. Butler’s theory of gender performativity argues that gender identities are socially constructed, and that people are influenced by patriarchy to act out their gender identity in the way they have been socialised to. Butler argues that gender is not a stable identity, but that it is formed through the ‘stylised repetition’ of certain acts over time (reactions, gestures, movements, enactments) and that these acts are what constitutes the meaning of masculine and feminine identities. This repetition results in what Butler deems a ‘performative accomplishment’. By this, Butler is suggesting that gender is constructed and not an essentialized part of identity. Further, Butler argues that the repetitive acts are often ‘internally discontinuous’ – if examined, the acts in relation to one another are not coherent. Therefore, Butler suggests that by taking advantage of the gaps and discovering ‘the possibility of a different sort of repeating’ there is a possibility for subverting gender. Given that neo-noir is an inherently patriarchal genre, its representation of femininity is also patriarchal and helps to subconsciously inform society on how women should behave and what will happen if they transgress their traditional boundaries. This is problematic as it not only denies the chance for us to subvert traditional femininity and realize a ‘different sort of repeating’, but as the femme fatale is associated with negative character traits – passivity, irrationality, illogicality, hysteria – the preservation of this representation perpetuates the belief that these traits are inherently female. By using examples from film noir, classic and neo-noir, popular culture, and gender theory, this thesis argues for the need to investigate ways to (re)present the femme fatale in neo-noir to push the boundary further toward creating an active femme fatale empowered by her logic, intelligence, and rationality. This thesis acknowledges that problematic gender representations exist across all genres, yet this thesis will specifically focus on film noir due to its use of the male gaze and its patriarchal and exaggerated gender roles. This research is an original contribution to knowledge as it aims to conceptualise what an active, intelligent, rational, and logical femme fatale could look like theoretically and practically in a neo-noir script. Moreover, as The Lonely Drive’s femme fatales drive the narrative and control the gaze, and we are no longer looking through a male gaze, it provides us with an idea of what a female gaze in neo-noir might resemble.

Additional Information

PhD in Creative Writing

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/42457
Subjects Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 3602 Creative and professional writing
Current > FOR (2020) Classification > 4405 Gender studies
Current > Division/Research > College of Arts and Education
Keywords gender performativity, male gaze, film noir, neo-noir, femme fatale, film script, women, female objectification, gender representation, creative research
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