Forum to examine film censorship and gender identity

February 13, 2015
Doudna Hall

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education will host a faculty forum, “The Role of Censorship in the Construction of Gender Identity,” on Thursday, March 5, from 5-6:30 p.m. in 136 Doudna Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

At the forum, Dr. Richard Waugh, professor of geography at UW-Platteville, will examine how film censorship in the 1930s helped construct women’s gender identity. Dr. Gohar Siddiqui, assistant professor of English at UW-Platteville, will serve as a respondent and bring in a transnational approach by looking at censorship in popular Hindi cinema, otherwise known as Bollywood. She will discuss the role censorship has played in the production of national, gendered and religious ideologies in India.

“When Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919 and women were finally allowed to vote, women became empowered politically, culturally, academically and socially,” said Waugh. “For example, they began enrolling in college and pursuing leadership roles in fields typically dominated by men. If they were in abusive or unhappy marriages, they began to consider divorce.”

“Social conservatives at that time were passionately against this evolution of traditional gender roles and launched an aggressive media campaign to reconstruct – through film and other media – the role and gender identity of women,” said Waugh. “In 1934, film censorship began in earnest, and many films featuring strong, independent women were pulled out of theatres and replaced with films that featured women in more traditional, subservient roles. By the 1950s and 1960s, women in most films were shown in domestic roles – cooking, cleaning, sweeping and making the children and the men in their lives happy.”

Waugh will illustrate how film helped reconstruct women’s gender identities by comparing two films, “Queen Christina,” a 1934 film about Queen Christina of Sweden, a powerful, self-confident monarch of Sweden who rejected traditional female roles, and “Calamity Jane,” a 1953 film about a woman who liked doing traditionally male activities, but didn’t feel like a woman because men didn’t like her or find her attractive. In the latter film, Calamity Jane abandons her true self and sets out to change herself – to become more “frilly and feminine” – to capture a man’s attention and gain his love.

Waugh will argue that even though many decades have passed, the film industry, and Hollywood in particular, has not come very far in how it presents women. He will point out that many roles for women – even those that feature strong women – are still representative of male ideals and fantasies about female empowerment.

Following Waugh’s presentation, Siddiqui will discuss censorship issues in Hindi cinema. She will provide a historical and industrial account within which she will contextualize the public discourse on censorship surrounding post-1990s films like “Khalnayak” (1993), “Fire” (1996), and “Jism” (2003). 

“Within the Indian context, Hindi cinema’s involvement with ideologies of the nation-state are intricately tied with ideas of gender, representation of female sexuality and religious (Hindu) identity,” said Siddiqui. “In post-independence Hindi cinema, the industry’s role in the nation-building process helps develop its foundational conventions. These codes become relevant again in the 1990s, with the rise of the right-wing conservative party, Bharatiya Janata Party, and its promotion of ‘Indian’ values through Hindi cinema.”

“In “Khalnayak,” the anger of the Indian censor-board is about morality and gender; in “Fire,” the public anger toward the film is concerned with Hinduism and heterosexuality; and in “Jism,” the debates are about articulation of desire as opposed to fetishization of female sexuality,” said Siddiqui. “I hope to show how an analysis of censorship within a historical and cultural context opens up a space to see how the state, the censor-board, the filmmaker and the public are involved in the production, at times subversion, and transformation of ideologies within popular Hindi cinema.”

A question and answer period will follow her response. Refreshments will be served.

As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. The faculty forum aligns with three of the priorities, including providing an outstanding education, fostering a community of achievement and respect and enriching the tri-state region. 

Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, hamerl@uwplatt.edu

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