In her argument "Beyond the Net: Feminist Criticism as Moral Criticism," Josephine Donovan argues that the exploitation of woman as an aesthetic image is "an example of artistic bad faith, an author's immoral use of his characters" (227).
Using various films as examples, Donovan explains
we have a visually seductive film, aesthetically very beautiful. All the frames are in aesthetic balance, and the colors of the interiors are aesthetically pleasing. But in the end the "interiors" of the characters are of no moral substance than the house and apartment interiors they live in (227).
I have several complaints with Donovan's argument.
Firstly, I don't understand why she included examples of movies that she believes present degrading images of women in her argument at all. She seems to compare film and literature as if they were the same thing, which they are most definitely not. She complains that the interiors of the women presented in the movies she references are lacking in moral value, that the images of the setting have the same value as the characters. Perhaps the emphasis on imagery over character development is merely a byproduct of the film medium. A film is not a novel--it cannot delve into the inner thoughts of a character as deeply as a book can (if it did, the viewer might be confronted with corny voice-overs and monologues). Instead, films rely more heavily on aesthetic images (and sounds) to present their stories. Thus, the women in the story may not be as developed to the moral level that Donovan desires simply because they are in a movie, not a book.
Moreover, these depictions of women may be accurate, despite Donovan's dislike of them. As Bethany said in her blog, maybe these film makers were trying to depict women as they were seen in the time period of the movie. The fact is that women were oppressed and to depict them as recognized selves when they were not would be historically inaccurate and a discredit to much of the feminist arguments Donovan herself might be in support of.
Furthermore, Donovan looks to Shakespeare as a proponent of women as selves, rather than others. She argues that his depiction of Cordelia is realistic individual. However, later on in her argument she states that women have historically been identified as "good" or "evil" characters in literature who exist to either forward or hinder a male character's development. I argue that Cordelia could be placed in her category of the "good" women, while her sisters would fall into the category of "evil" women. Donovan argues that Cordelia's position "to exemplify the compelling power of love is not to be construed as sexist stereotyping" (228); however, I counter that the faculty of love has been historically (mis)construed as a womanly domain. Why should Shakespeare be any different, particularly when one considers the fact that he wrote in the 16th century, a time when many of these stereotypes existed?
So far the feminist literature we have read in this class has been somewhat surprising and disappointing for me. While I identify myself as a feminist, I have disliked and disagreed vehemently with the feminist essays we have read. I read this essay a the plane, and the person sitting next to me must have thought I was a really angry person because I kept scrunching my face in dislike while I highlighted parts of Donovan's argument and wrote boldly in the margins, "NO!" in disagreement. Apparently, I'm not as much of a feminist as I thought I was.