Narratives of transformation : feminism, femininity and the rape-revenge cycle
This thesis analyses the 'rape-revenge' films of the post- 1970 period. Against the tendency of existing work in this area to categorize rape-revenge as a sub-genre of horror, I argue that rape-revenge is better understood as a narrative structure which, on meeting the discourses of second-wave feminism in the 1970s, has produced an historically specific, but generically diverse cycle of films. I suggest, therefore, that the rape-revenge cycle might usefully be read as one of the key ways in which Hollywood has attempted to make sense of feminism and the changing shape of heterosexual femininity in the post-1970 period. Using a model of cultural analysis influenced by Gramsci's theory of hegemony, I argue that it is in the struggle between the feminist stories the rape-revenge structure attempts to tell and the feminine stories embedded in the genres over which it has been mapped that common-sense understandings of feminism are produced. Initial consideration is given to the ideological effects of various generic deployments of the rape-revenge structure in the pre-1970 period. Subsequent chapters explore the ways in which post-1970 deployments of the structure negotiate and rework the 'mass cultural fictions of femininity' inscribed in the genres over which they have been mapped, and the understandings of feminism these negotiations have produced. The ways in which extra-textual material such as reviews contribute to the construction of these understandings is also explored. Additional consideration is given to the increasing influence of post-modern aesthetics on Hollywood film, the emergence of the New Right during the 1980s and the characterization of this period as one of post-feminism or backlash. In identifying the rape-revenge cycle as one of the key sites through which the meanings of feminism are constructed and negotiated, I suggest that the most politically expedient form feminist film theory can take today is not one which attempts to separate feminist film from mainstream film, the political from the popular, but one which attempts to theorize the relationship between feminism and film, the political and the popular.