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Feminism and Black Swan

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Melissa Warren

on 25 November 2013

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Transcript of Feminism and Black Swan

Feminism and
Black Swan

Case Study: Black Swan
Synopsis (spoiler alert!): Sweet and innocent Nina wins the lead in her ballet company’s production of
Swan Lake
. She can dance the White Swan with ease, but she must become the sensual and guileful Black Swan as well. Under pressure from her lecherous instructor, her competitor, her mother, and herself, Nina deteriorates physically and psychologically, ultimately becoming the Black Swan but killing herself in the process.
• Black Swan points out that women are not on either end of a spectrum; they are complex individuals who cannot exist within the binaries created by the patriarchy. Trying to embody incompatible (especially diametrically opposite) myths will destroy them.
• Although it offers a feminist critique, it is still a mainstream film directed by a man. Through Laura Mulvey's film criticism, we can recognize that Black Swan subjects us to a male perspective, the male gaze, etc.
• The film may criticize the Myth of Woman, but it remains a product of the patriarchy.

Feminist Criticism at a Glance
The Second Sex
Asserts that in patriarchal cultures, man is the norm and woman the deviation
Criticizes the objectification of women
Rejects the notion of a female nature or essence
Debunks the Myth of Woman
Born into a middle-class family in Paris in 1908, died in 1986
Graduated from the Sorbonne with a degree in philosophy
Influenced by the philosophy of partner Jean-Paul Sartre
Wrote novels, autobiographies, philosophy, and feminist critique (
The Second Sex
Simone de Beauvoir
Part of the broader political movement that seeks to remedy sexist discrimination and inequality
Concerned with exposing masculinist elements of male-dominated literature, studying female creativity and literary traditions, examining the forces that shape women's lives and literature, and much more
Studies such recurring themes in women's literature as anorexia, bulimia, hysteria, and madness
"anxiety of authorship,"
écriture féminine,
etc. open up feminist criticism to psychoanalysis
three waves of feminism: mid-1800s, 1960s, and 1990s
theoretical basis for second-wave feminism provided by Simone de Beauvoir with
The Second Sex
Nina is expected to embody two incompatible myths: the virgin and the whore, the White and the Black Swan
She is virginal in the beginning but becomes eroticized through the film: her instructor, Toma, sexually harasses ("seduces") her; her competitor, Lily, who embodies the Black Swan, convinces her to loosen up by drinking, taking ecstasy, and hooking up with strange men; her mother, witnessing her transformation, asks, "What happened to my sweet girl?" to which Nina replies, "She's gone."
Physical & Psychological Disease
Nina can control her body only through dance, self-mutilation (scratching, picking, etc.), and bulimia; she takes pleasure in her drastic weight loss
Toma controls and violates her body, as does her mother
She becomes a "were-swan," seeing herself physically transforming into a grotesque swan
Nina spirals into psychosis (possibly schizophrenia) as she transforms into the Black Swan
Patriarchal Expectation & Domination
Toma's expectations and demands govern Nina's actions
He interrogates her about her sex life and orders her to masturbate as a homework assignment
Nina becomes an object for Toma, who begins to call her "my little princess"
Myth of Woman
“... each of the myths built up around the subject of woman is intended to sum her up
in toto
; each aspires to be unique. In consequence, a number of incompatible myths exist...”
“As group symbols and social types are generally defined by means of antonyms in pairs, ambivalence will seem to be an intrinsic quality of the Eternal Feminine. The saintly mother has for correlative the cruel stepmother, the angelic young girl has the perverse virgin…” (dichotomies)
biggest myth is that women are mysterious
Full transcript