by Michael Cohen
The film Rear Window is widely accepted among cinephiles as one of the greatest films ever created. The set design was undeniably several years ahead of its time, the camera work creative and tactful, and the story built suspense to lead to an edge-of-your-seat climax. For as fantastic as the film is, it is still met with backlash. This backlash arises from undertones that invoke many to think there are themes of sexism throughout the film. So the question everyone is wondering… Is Rear Window sexist?
I do believe that there is merit to the claim that one does not need to look any further than Rear Window to see a clear depiction of sexism against women. This becomes immediately clear when analyzing the male gaze. As Maria Cosma explained in her blog post on the film, “As the audience, we see what these men see… His choice of direction automatically objectifies women; we must divine their thoughts and intentions through the lens of the male gaze, which frequently stops at their physical appearance.” (Cosma 1) I find this stance especially true when examining the character of Miss Torso. Miss Torso was cast in the movie because of her physically attractive features, and she does not serve much of a purpose except to be stared at. Her character epitomizes the male gaze. Even when she finds a bit of solace when her husband comes back from the war at the end of the film, he immediately goes into the fridge to grab a drink. This only furthered Miss Torso’s narrative as a practically inhuman character, and the outright sexism wrote into it.
I feel that Lisa Fremont’s character is also meant to objectify women. She is portrayed as a material girl who wants all the luxuries that money can buy. Her main goal in life seems to be to please Jeff, yet he does not give her the attention she deserves. This is shown most clearly in a scene where she serves an entire spread of food to Jeff for dinner. While she does this, Jeff is disinterested and looking out the window at Miss Lonelyhearts as she plays out what it would be like to have dinner with a man. He is so fascinated with the idea of having a lovely dinner with another woman that he lacks the awareness to see it being placed right in front of him. If this was truly a progressive move by Hitchcock, he would have Lisa stand up for herself in this scene and accentuate the kind gesture she is doing for them. Instead, he allows Lisa to make dinner for him and lets out what could only be described as an exasperated sigh. Her purpose in the film from a rudimentary level is to develop a deeper relationship with Jeff and become a wife, which is absolutely a sexist principle.
I feel that overall in the films we’ve seen so far, men have seemed to be portrayed in a negative light. This is particularly clear in the film Blackmail when Alice decides to go up to a flirtatious man’s art studio. He tries to kiss her, and after facing rejection, attempts to rape her. His character is meant to be completely and utterly villainous. Although no other men throughout the film attempt rape, they continue to be shown negatively. Frank does everything he can to protect her from getting caught, without ever once stopping to ask how she feels about the situation. Alice is trapped within a patriarchal society that she truly has no voice in. When she attempts to speak up at the end of the film, she is shut down by the police officer who has to take a phone call. The men in this film are domineering and look at women as second class citizens, a clear iteration of sexism.
When reading the blog post by Maria Cosma, I couldn’t help but agree with almost everything she had to say. Hitchcock’s movies at this time period were indeed fairly sexist, with Rear Window being an exemplary piece to showcase it. I wouldn’t fault Hitchcock for doing this, because at the time this was the standard. Hitchcock should honestly be given credit for giving women such large roles in his films, even if they were inherently sexist, and being able to see the power in a female lead. But the question of is Rear Window sexist is a deep and resounding yes.
Cosma, Maria. “Rear Window: Violating Women One Gaze at a Time.” The Art of Cinema Extras, 27 Feb. 2016, https://sites.psu.edu/comm150honors/2016/02/27/rear-window-violating-women-one-gaze-at-a-time/.
I can see where you are getting at by stated that “Rear Window” is sexist but, I just do not see it. The whole point of the film is to see through the perspective of the main character “Jeff Jefferies”, as he is stuck in a wheelchair and the only thing he can do to entertain himself is watch his neighbor’s daily routines. We learn in the film that Jeff is a photographer, so his very job is to stand in place and watch other people. And, Jeff said himself that he is not satisfied with the life he is living so, he like watching others to see if their satisfied with their lives. Jeff watching Miss Torso does not make the film sexist because Jeff does not fully focus on her, not like his friend “Thomas J. Doyle”, Jeff asks him “how’s your wife”. And I do agree that he treats “Lisa” poorly but, that is only because he feels that he is not worthy of her, plus it’s not like Jeff is pacifically looking into windows to see women changing, he’s just curious. In a lot of Hitchcock’s films, men are seem to be portrayed in a negative light but, that is because they are the antagonists. And most of their victims happen to be women like in “Shadow of A Doubt”, where “Uncle Charlie” had struggled three rich elderly women to death or in “Rebecca” “Maxim de Winter’s” wife committed suicide. But, that was needed to create tension for both of these stories, I cannot believe that Hitchcock would write Rear Window to be seen as sexist. I think you are just interpreting the actions of the characters wrong, everyone has a right to their opinion but, I think your a little off the mark this time around.
I do believe this film contains a hint of sexism. But if we are being honest, this was quite common at accepted by society’s standards at the time. I believe that film is a very collaborative art form in which audience participation is an integral part of the final product (the film). Whether or not Hitchcock was a sexist, or whether or not he intended for his films to be sexist, the fact remains that they can be interpreted as sexist, and once there’s a window for interpretation, it’s safe to assume that there must be some truth to it.
The fact is that this woman is there to be objectified sexually for the male gaze’s amusement. We’re not looking at her because she’s intelligent or doing something interesting. These men are drawn to her because she is half naked and moves around her apartment in seductive ways. While it could be argued that the men in this film are being shamed, if not looked down on, for staring at her in such a demeaning manner. It is sexist to sexualize her without her consent in order to satisfy the male gaze. She is not being celebrated for her sexuality; rather, she is being exploited and mocked because she is unaware that they are looking at her.
I can see both points from Braxton and Isabel, but I will lean toward Rear Window being sexist in some ways. Everyone’s interpretation will be different, but everything on film is purposely added. For the time period, marriage kept two people in a lock where they rely on the other person. In a hetero relationship, there are gender roles that create a certain structure. If in any case one takes advantage of the opposite sex for their physique and status in society, regardless if its intentional or not, can be seen as sexist. Thomas J Doyle continues to look at Ms Torso, for a longer time than what can be excused as an accident. To Ms Torso, she is in the privacy of her own home unaware of the camera, of Mr Doyle, of anyone else. No one has pointed it out yet but, maybe the film is not sexist, but it could contribute to the stereotype of blonde haired women we see today. Some of the female protagonists we viewed so far from Hitchcock’s films have been blonde (Or had lighter colored hair). There is even a term called the Hitchcock blonde. One article reads that Hitchcock Blondes are, “a restructuring of the submissive, domestic female popular image of the time. While she fits the physical appearance of the classic model, she operates as a modern woman with a simmering sexuality and emotional complexity hidden beneath a clean wardrobe, aloof perfection and hairspray.” (Saporito). So we can agree that Hitchcock himself wanted to give blonde women complexity to perhaps change the narrative, but he also wanted to show the reality of how many men viewed them. Examples are with Ms Torso, Alice in Blackmail 1929, and likely any future films we see this semester. I am interested in exploring this more.
I agree with the notion that “Rear Window” has sexiest imagery, but is not necessarily a sexiest film. The window shots we see of Ms. Torso are supposed to put us in the perspective of our main character Jeff, not just sexualize her. Voyeurism is a recurring theme in “Rear Window”, we along with Jeff are watchers, and sometimes what were are seeing is in the male gaze, but it is not for no reason. Hitchcock I believed wanted the viewer to feel uncomfortable and invasive of the privacy of the female neighbors, even though he is entertaining the male gaze, he makes us question if we are entirely comfortable no matter how appealing the sight might be for some. I also feel the Lisa character is a strong female character, helping Jeff with his investigation and even becoming just as apart of the mystery just as him. If Hitchcock made her character one dimensional, I could see with the along with the imagery how some might see this movie as sexiest. But I feel Rear Window puts a mirror to society, and makes us more aware of how invading some ones person life and what that can lead too.