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Teaching 'Pretty Woman'

The following discussion of suggestions for teaching the film "Pretty Woman" 
took place on WMST-L in September 2003.  For additional WMST-L files
available on the Web, including discussions of other films, see the 
WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Sat, 27 Sep 2003 21:38:08 EDT
From: Gmrstudios2 AT CS.COM
Subject: Feminist critical analysis of _Pretty Woman_
Hi, I teach a women's studies course at Western Michigan University on gender
roles in media. I often teach the film _Pretty Woman_ analyzing its sexist
messages and foundations. Database keyword searching has proven frustrating in
locating critical articles written about the film, and I wondered if the
wonderful learned folks on this list may have some suggestions and/or advice. You
email me directly or continue the discussion on the list.
Thank you.

chris tower
Women's Studies and English at Western Michigan University
email = gmrstudios2  AT  cs.com
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 07:17:32 -0700
From: Sarah Rasmusson <sarahrasmusson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: Feminist critical analysis of _Pretty Woman_
HI Chris and all interested in "Pretty Woman" -

I teach a course "Gender & Popular Culture" and use
the first 15 minutes of "Pretty Woman" to get class
discussion going about stereotypes of women,
prostitutes, sex, and gender roles in mainstream
Hollywood movies.

The filmic narrative is set up by the same formula as
a fairy tale and students are quick to point out that
it looks as if Julia Robert's character (central
casting's hooker with a heart) 'needs' Richard Gere's
character (wealthy financier) in order to be 'saved'
and live happily-ever-after in
heterosexist/heteronormative fashion.

The movie garnered mass feminist outrage in the mid
90s. But, I think this reading has missed many
redeemable points. Julia Roberts kicks proverbial butt
in many scenes and the gender subversion of the movie
has been ignored.

I always encourage students to see how
gender is subverted in the first few frames.

Most prominently, a good case can be made that the
film is actually about gender-as-performance. Note the
long beginning sequence where Julia Robert's character
is getting ready and puts on her wig, make-up, and
then zips up her plastic/fake leather boots and
fastens them with a safety pin.

She is totally in drag. And, Richard Gere says so when
they are both in his car and she is trying to
negotiate a fee and he says, "No one who holds her
boot up with a safety pin should charge that much."
She then proceeds to tell him how to drive his stick
shift sports car because he can't.

As a third waver, I think it is important not to
re-passify women by only talking about the
representation of women.  And, I love the movie for
all that it is and isn't.
Sarah L Rasmusson
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 12:44:36 EDT
From: Witben AT AOL.COM
Subject: =?ISO-8859-1?Q?Re:=20=A0=20=A0=20=A0=20Re:=20Feminist=20critical?=
Hi all-

This is an interesting thread. My colleagues and I often lament the fixture
of PW in our female students' gender consciousness, but you're right, this is
something we should address.

Re Sarah's comments below: I too teach the dressing scene at the beginning of
the film in a class called, Fashion, Culture, Identity. I pair it with the
scene of Richard Gere dressing for a "date" in American Gigolo. But I play them
both initially with the sound off. This makes the performance aspect of each
scene very apparent (more interesting when students learn that's not even Julia
Roberts's body) and lets them really look at how the gaze is positioned in
each clip, with the female chopped up and beheaded while the male body really
controls his scene. When I add the music - Wild One for JR and   The Love I
Saw in You is Just a Mirage for RG - the students actually laugh. They get it  
- the gender performance link - pretty quickly.

I like the drag analogy; you could also pair with opening scenes of To Wong
Foo. But I still find a feminist reading of PW problematic, especially when
you add class to the analysis.

Denise Witzig
Director, Women's Studies Program
Saint Mary's College of California
Moraga, CA 94575
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 12:52:13 -0400
From: Jackie <jackie78 AT LOCALNET.COM>
Subject: teaching "Pretty Woman"
Chris (and others?)-

I use the opening sequence of "Pretty Woman" in both my "intro to fine arts"
classes and "popular culture in America" class to illustrate the concept of
the "male gaze."  Richard Gere's character is introduced in quite a
different way that Julia Roberts': he is shown interacting with other
people, having conversations, driving a car, in the midst of a social
gathering, and shot from the waist up, or in walking shots.  She is
introduced in fragments, body parts only, butt, boobs, eye, etc.  Also, it's
clear that she is intended as a certain kind of sexy, where he is powerful,
respected, important in a way that she is clearly not.  The music gives good
cues as well: "king of wishful thinking" vs. "wild one."

When I use it, I play the opening sequence, and then walk them through the
difference in camera viewpoint and character development, asking them
questions along the way to elicit their interpretations.  They always
respond well and make most of the conclusions themselves.  Also, my students
always are a little surprised when I point out that the living space is in a
hotel, where the letters on the sign are partially burnt out, so that it
spells "HO."  Not very subtle, eh?:)

Hope this helps.

Jackie Regales
Instructor, American Studies and Humanities
Anne Arundel Community College
Arnold, MD
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 09:56:56 EDT
From: Jane Caputi <jjxxcaputi AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: Feminist critical analysis of _Pretty Woman_
I wrote an article, "Sleeping with the Enemy as Pretty Woman Part II? that
appeared in Journal of Popular Film and Television, vol 19, no. 1, Spring 1991,
2-9.  I have revised and expanded this for publication in an anthology of my
writings, Goddesses and Monsters, that will be published by the University of
Wisconsin Press in 2004.

An excellent article is D. Soyini Madison, "Pretty Woman through the Triple
Lense of Black Feminist Spectatorship," in From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics
of Film, Gender and Culture, ed. E. Bell, La. Maas and L. Sells.  Bloomington:
U indiana press, 1995

jane caputi, women's studies, florida atlantic u., jjxxcaputi  AT  aol.com

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