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45 Film Noir and the Interpretation of Women in Media
To Gilbert and Gubar, the angel dynamic is the characteristic of women’s existence to men’s well-being. “The arts of pleasing men, in other words, are not only angelic characteristics; in more worldly terms, they are the proper acts of a lady” (816). On the other hand, the demonization of women by men is the monster dynamic. The monster portrayal of women usually involves their own selfish motivations, usually intellectually, against the will of man.
During the time of World war II, women’s activism was well under way. American men left their jobs unwillingly to serve in a war that the U.S attempted to stay out of. When men had to leave behind their families and obligations back home, it was up to the women of America to pick up the mantle for them. Women proved their competence in the workplace by single-handedly administrating America’s businesses. After the war ended, men returned home. They felt useless, given how women could do their jobs as good or better than they could. Moving into the 1940s, men’s disdain towards women escalated as policies and feminist recourse were received more seriously. Enter film noir, a bleak and existential genre of film that demonizes the role of women.
Film noir sprung from the stigmatization of women post-WWII. The genre is iconic for developing the archetype of characters such as the hard-boiled detective and, of course, the femme-fatale. The femme fatale’s methods include using her sexuality to her own personal gain. In the 1944 film Double Indemnity, the femme fatale is Phyllis Dietrichson. She seduces the main character, Walter Neff, into killing her husband. She convinces him to make it look like an accident on a business trip so they can take the amount of money from the insurance payout. In the film, Walter is continually manipulated by Phyllis, who we come to learn has a history of manipulative behavior. These types of movies were popular to people who felt like the world has cheated them, that women have stripped them of their power or control over their lives. “…the female monster is a striking illustration of Simone de Beau-voir’s thesis that woman has been made to represent all of man’s ambivalent feelings about his own inability to control his own physical existence, his own birth and death” (822-823).
As we can see from film noir, the social implications towards misogynist interpretations of women don’t exist within a vacuum; they exist from real-world contexts surrounding the functions of men and women.