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

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Women on Strike: The Figure of the Suffragette in Silent Comedies
Madeleine Bernstorff

Last modified: 2010-05-12


In my paper I want to elaborate on certain ambiguities of the early, as well as the so-called transitional period of film history by dealing with the appearance of striking, demonstrating women on both the streets and the screens. These new presences can be observed in a large number of  (anti-)suffragette films, but also in such widely distributed Pathé comic productions as La grève des bonnes and similar films featuring striking nourrices or cuisinières and so on. More particularly, I will examine the intertextual relation such films maintain with the mise en scène of spectacularity that the early 20th century movements for Women’s Vote used as a strategy. The films both represent and exorcise the impact of  new social and political discourses concerning the changing role of women in the early 20th century.

Topics to be further developed include:

·      The gendered function of humour in the treatment of assumptions regarding the male/female identities;

·      The different types/iconographies of the suffragettes as caricatures and figures of social deviation: spinster/thin, old woman/ fat, child/innocent, beautiful woman/aberrant. The female grotesque;

·      Female mobility as a reconfigured politics of the body; the use and function of the masquerade, crossdressing, sexual and social deviations;

·      Questions of class and social mobility as emerging from the suffragette movement’s merchandising products;

·      The governemental/observational mode of photographs, as shown for instance by the British governement’s employment of undercover commercial photographers to help identify suspect suffragettes.


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