The emerging feminist film criticism of the 1960s and 1970s was confronted by the Marxist critique of realism1 and by developments in film theory such as semiology and psychoanalysis. Feminist film criticism shifted in emphasis from an earlier sociological emphasis on ‘content’ to an emphasis on the production of meaning, where stress was put on the processes of interaction between psychoanalysis and cinema. Mulvey (1993) notes that feminist politics, as it emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, played a significant part in putting Freud on the political agenda,

alongside Marx. As she notes, ‘In these polemics, the influence of Brecht met psychoanalysis and modernist semiotics’ (Mulvey 1993:3).

Mulvey notes that semiotics and psychoanalytic theory were centrally important in the conceptual liberation of feminist aesthetics, by introducing concepts that highlighted gaps between images and the objects they claimed to represent, thus establishing a fluidity and instability of meaning in representations. Mulvey claims the theoretical implications of feminism’s engagement with semiotics and psychoanalytic theory went further than this, ‘not only opening up a gap in signification but also offering a theory that could decipher the language of displacements that separated a given signifier from its apparent signified’ (ibid.).

In what are now seen as classic contributions to the analysis of psychoanalytic theory within feminist film theory, the work of Laura Mulvey (1981, 1989, 1992 [1975], 1993) and Mary Ann Doane (1982, 1987, 1991) have both drawn on psychoanalytic concepts and frames of reference to explore their relevance for feminist film theory.


Postfeminist interventions into the arena of media and film theory are an outgrowth and development from feminism’s involvement with both filmic and media discourses. Feminists have long been engaged in the development of a feminist practice in the areas of film production and scholarship. They have in the process interrogated the language of film with a view to demystifying the assumptions on which much media and film theory has operated. Second wave feminist interventions sought to investigate the way in which patriarchal ideology and the social formation of patriarchal society was sustained through media and filmic discourses. Feminist theorists and practitioners have been interested in the tensions between classical Hollywood cinema and independent cinema; in the intersection of debates in the area of feminism and psychoanalytic theory and in the potential for challenges to traditional dominant discourses in the areas of filmic texts and spectatorship, particularly in the context of viewing pleasures and ‘resisting’ pleasures. The emergence of a feminist scholarship around media and film theory has challenged traditional film canons and modes of production. In addition, the intersection of feminism with post-colonialism and anti-racism has posed challenges to feminism’s use of models from psychoanalytic theory as well as to mainstream analysis of popular cultural texts, and has established multiple voices in feminist film criticism and practice.