Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Silent Leading Women: Female Agency and the Construction of Masculinity in Lois Weber's *The Blot*
Meryl Shriver-Rice

Last modified: 2010-05-28


Lois Weber is known as one of the most successful and independent female directors of early silent cinema. For years, Weber wrote, directed, and produced her own films through her independent production company Lois Weber Productions. Her films often portrayed a strong female perspective and spotlighted women's issues such as birth control and work outside the domestic space. Despite this, the female protagonist of Weber's 1921 feature length The Blot is ethically contained in a manner that inhibits the boundaries of her agency within the narrative. The Blot follows Anita, a lower-Middle class young woman through her courtship by three gentlemen suitors from three inherently different socio-economic backgrounds (Aristocrat, Reverend, and Immigrant student). As a character, Anita possesses a strong work ethic (in an acceptable female work environment), high standards for morality in herself and others, and encapsulates the dutiful American daughter.

It is the aim of this paper to negotiate the gender construction and resulting agency for Anita and her three suitors as they are portrayed in the socio-cultural context of 1921 small-town America by a female writer and director. For a film of this time, Weber chose a distinctly ambiguous ending for The Blot, leaving open a myriad of questions rather than wrapping up the plot in a straightforward manner. The perplexing manner in which the plot finds its "solution" challenges the spectator to question what agency Anita possessed in her role within the film. Despite immense control of her productions, Weber provides a female lead that is crippled by sickness, who sits quietly as the active movement in the film is predominantly carried out by the male characters. Consequently, it is necessary to de-construct the way in which Anita is situated in the narrative to understand how such a female-created character is coded within the general cultural framework of silent film and contemporary American culture.

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