In the 'post-truth' mass media age, representations are perhaps more influential than ever before. At the same time, while France has a particularly pronounced culture of gender differentiation, it is no exaggeration to say in any context that gender is THE structuring axis around which human beings are categorised - even if such categories have gained in complexity in recent years.
This module provides an introduction to studying the gendered aspect of cultural representations across various forms of French media since the 1970s. Examples will be drawn substantially from French and Francophone cinema - from genre films to more provocative (and occasionally sexually graphic) auteur cinema - but will also include references to popular literary and televisual texts as well as print media. The module's key aim is to analyse cultural discourses around shifts in gender relations that have occurred in the public and private spheres since second-wave feminism, through the 'post-' or third wave and perhaps now into the movement's very recently burgeoning fourth wave. To this end, the course will draw on critical approaches from both inside and outside France.
Thus, the first section of the module will examine the pioneering contributions to feminist thought provided by such philosophers and theorists as Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray and Hélène Cixous – including their dialogues with male counterparts such as Emmanuel Levinas – in their relation to issues of representation, while later sessions will focus on the application of traditionally Anglo-American cultural and gender studies approaches from thinkers such as Judith Butler to the analysis of French media.
I introduced this module upon joining Warwick in 2014-15, building on my various research interests in contemporary trasnational film and media, gender studies, history and theory, as well as drawing on my experience analysing both audiovisual and written texts. These skills have been developed in the belief that culture operates in an inter-disciplinary fashion and therefore a cross-media approach is best placed to take the temperature of particular issues over different time periods. The first year it was taught, a salient point highlighted by finalists' end-of-year surveys across French Studies was their newly sharpened recognition of the importance of studying gender. Since both 2014-15 and 2015-16 (I was on sabbatical leave in 2016-17), a particularly high number of students have gone on to pursue further study directly connected to the course, in such areas as film and media studies or women's and gender studies at such institutions as Oxford, UCL, SOAS and the Sorbonne. In 2015-16, one student was jointly awarded the Undergraduate Essay prize by the journal Studies in French Cinema for their formative essay from the course. Student comments spontaneously emailed to me have included:
'I wanted to say thank you for the amazing course. It was enriching and very interesting.'
(On this course and STATES OF THE NATION): 'I've really really loved these two modules and they've been a highlight of my degree, thanks very much for your help over the year!'
'I really really enjoyed this module. I found it stimulating, engaging and informative – and it has actually been quite a significant contributing factor in my decision to pursue further academic study in this field in 2016.
Things I particularly liked: the broad range of material covered – it was great to cover so many different films as well as Sous Les Vents de Neptune.'
'I really loved the way that we combined theoretical study with the film/novel of that particular week. It made for an engaging way of grappling with heavy theory. I have developed a minor obsession with Kristeva(!) and honestly just found that the theoretical study provided an invaluable background throughout my degree this year – both the English and the French side. I hadn’t studied French cinema since A Level, but found the module to cater particularly well for a group without much of a background in film.'
Or, a representative comment from feedback questionnaires:
'Mary was always incredibly knowledgeable – able to answer questions and would often email throughout the week with useful information/events etc, which I really liked. This obvious enthusiasm for the content of the module also meant that the seminars were both informative and interesting.'
And from our External Examiner: 'An intellectually challenging and rewarding unit. An impressive quality of feedback.'
Preliminary reading list
Fred Vargas, Sous les vents de Neptune (Editions Viviane Hamy, 2004; also available as a J'ai lu Policier paperback)
See Module Outline for further details.
NOTE FOR STUDENTS CHOOSING THIS MODULE IN 2017-18: After being on leave last year, I am expanding the television section of the module, such that viewing in week 9 will include a recent small screen adaptation of the novel we read for week 8, Sous les vents de Neptune. (The police procedural series Engrenages will become a secondary text in week 8, such that we can discuss the crime genre across literature and TV for that session.) Discussion of Gendering Coverage of the Political Sphere through print media in week 10 will also now take in aspects of the media representation of such recently prominent figures as Marine Le Pen and Brigitte Macron.
These final-year modules will be examined EITHER by a combination of assessed work (50%) and formal examination (50%) OR solely by assessment (100%).