The Objectification of Women in Film: A Psychoanalytical Reading

Open Access
Weit, Zachary Colin
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Iyunolu Folayan Osagie, Thesis Supervisor
  • Marcy Lynne North, Honors Advisor
  • objectification
  • women
  • commodification
  • film
  • psychoanalysis
My thesis discusses the objectification of women in the films “Transformers,” “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and “Crash.” The two “Transformers” movies demonstrate the roles of gender and how the male gaze operates within a Hollywood action film. The director, Michael Bay, uses his female protagonists as a spectacle for the audience to consume; these female protagonists are in fact extraneous to the plot. “Crash,” directed by Paul Haggis, shows the racial side of objectification. A white cop sexually molests one of the leading black female characters. The police officer uses her as commodified object to antagonize her husband who can do nothing but helplessly watch. My thesis uses the works of Sigmund Freud, Ferdinand de Saussure, and Jacques Lacan to explore the process film directors use to objectify women. Sigmund Freud’s reading of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex introduces his psychoanalytic concept of the Oedipus complex, where a young boy has sexual feelings for his mother and jealous hatred towards his father. Through his research of dreams, Freud then uses E.T.A. Hoffman’s short story, The Sand-Man, to draw a parallel between sexually repressed feelings and the loss of sight, which ultimately leads to his discourse in the fetish and the castration complex. Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistic distinction between a signifier and a signified, a sound-image and a concept, has become integral to how we read texts. Jacques Lacan uses both Freud and Saussure as a lens to form his concept of the mirror stage in psychoanalytic identities. Lacan’s discussion takes an infant’s first recognition of itself in a mirror and introduces the phallus as a signifier for gender. Laura Mulvey, Caroline Bainbridge, Luce Irigaray, Yvonne Tasker, Jackie Stacey, and Mary Ann Doane use psychoanalysis to discuss women’s roles within the phallocentrism of Hollywood, in which using the phallus as a signifier subordinates women subsequently to a secondary role as a mirror for men. Through Freud’s theory of repressed sexual feelings, these female film analysts discuss the voyeuristic nature of male spectatorship. The male sees the female as a fetish. Lacan’s mirror phase is then expanded upon to include the male spectator identifying with his ideal male ego on screen, which further exacerbates the objectification of women. Lastly, Maura Shea, a film professor from The Pennsylvania State University, offers an alternative look at film and its production. She challenges the social issue of women’s objectification; she sees men’s roles as equally fetishistic. Most importantly, Professor Shea offers the possibility that the female protagonist’s objectification may not be intensified. Michael Bay may have used his female characters as a spectacle, but we cannot assume every director wants to portray women in a similar manner.