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/.