Saturday, February 26, 2011

Women and Nudity - Ghost in the Shell

Lately I've noticed this trend of women being used as sexual tools in almost every movie we have watched so far this semester. From Alien where Ripley is shown in her underwear with a little too much skin showing to Invasion of the Body Snatchers where Becky is wearing a dress that need not be worn in certain scenes of the movie to finally Veronica's naked body in The Hour of the Wolf, we have seen women used as sexual attention grabbers and items in places where they were not needed and could have been omitted.

Now we have this Japanese animated film Ghost in the Shell where the main character, Kusanagi is often naked throughout the series. The creators of the film make an effort to pan her naked body over and over again as if the viewers need to be reminded of what a naked woman looks like.

I understand the premise of her trying to be like a ghost and such, but why must she be the one without a shirt on her back? The criminal they were trying to catch was running around fully clothed and was still in this ghostly state under his magic cloak. Why was he not naked like Kusanagi was? Why did the film makers feel like it was necessary to unclothe her and keep the other men in the movie fully dressed? Is this the easiest way for women to fight crime in Japan?

Women in the films we have viewed so far always seem to be the target of some sort of sexual fantasy or desire and I do not understand why this has to the case. Maybe its the genre of science fiction that likes women displayed this way so that when the men figure out exactly what is going on, they can save the women from becoming victims. Science fiction needs to find a way to equalize the status of men and women in movies and not use the curves of a women for their own personal fantasy.


  1. How many female directors can you name? In fact, how many are on our syllabus?

    Last year, Kathryn Bigelow (_The Hurt Locker_) was the first woman ever to win an Oscar for Best Director. This article from 2002 cites a San Diego State University study's finding that 96% of film directors are men.
    This is also why you can't spit without hitting a feminist scholarly essay on the negative depiction of women in film. With SF and horror in particular, you're mostly dealing with male directors making movies for a primarily male target audience, so that explains a lot of it, I think.

    As for some of the films we've seen in class...the nude scene in _Hour of the Wolf_ doesn't seem at all gratuitous to me, since the emphasis is on lust. Plus, it runs consistent with the claustrophobic squirm factor that is typical of every Bergman film I've seen. In _Lost Highway_...well, David Lynch is just David Lynch. If _LH_ offended you, don't ever watch _Blue Velvet_. In _Ghost in the Shell_, the emphasis seemed to be on the cyborg birthing process, which is why she was in the fetal position floating around in water for much of the exposition. I suppose her nakedness in the streets could have been meant to emphasize her machine qualities while downplaying her human qualities, since humans haven't run around naked in the streets much since the '60s. But when it boils right down to it, I doubt that anyone who went to see the film in the theater walked out complaining that the lady cyborg was too stacked or too naked.

    Women have always been used as eye candy in film. (Check out this gratuitous bath scene from Cecil B. DeMille's 1932 film _Sign of the Cross_. Note the not-so-subtle use of cats and a brief peek at half of Claudette Colbert's left nipple. ( I'm not defending any of this, mind you; I'm only saying that it just seems to go with the territory. Until women directors become more commonplace or guys start wanting to see SF versions of _The Wedding Planner_, I don't think that will ever change.

  2. I completely agree with you that women are seen as sex objects. Many "nerds" have been obsessed with Slave Leia's costume in Return of he Jedi. In fact, Jennifer Aniston has donned the gold and leather before along with millions more. I could also argue that men have unneeded nudity in SciFi as well, The Terminator. But also remember there is beauty in the human form. Ever seen Aeon Flux? Not the crappy live action film, but the classic MTV cartoon? In it Aeon is an secret agent and wears essentially S&M lingerie. It's a little awkward to watch on the family set but oh well. The purpose is to both imagine dystopian fashion but to also show the beauty of her movements in animation. I hate to say it but jeans and a tee would not have done her justice. Even spandex could not do her justice, see the aforementioned movie. Yes, boys will be boys, but I have seen girls shriek their preteen hearts when a certain teenage werewolf and vampire go topless. Sex sells but it can also be beautiful art. This is not the case in Twilight but most definitely in GITS.

  3. George, that makes perfect sense. The sexualization of women in sci-fi movies seemed a bit out of place for me originally but if the movies are geared towards guys then of course there will be semi-nude women in the movie to compensate or justify the nerdy undertones and assumptions. If they don’t make the women seductresses of sorts then where is the romantic plot supposed to stem from an alien movie? Another good point in that it goes both ways, what role has Matthew McConaughey ever played without at least one shirtless scene? If it’s enough to make people see the movie then of course directors are going to include it.

  4. From all these posts I get the common theme that we are all made uncomfortable by nude images of a woman or a man, which we all seem to immediately view them sexually. Maybe we should remember that we should look slightly beyond the nudity, not allow it to make us uncomfortable, and try and view each instance for what the director might be trying to teach the viewer. So far in “Ghost in the Shell” we are seeing a lot of nudity yet it is funny that this nudity is on a “woman” who is manmade not a natural born woman. Everyone seems to be made uncomfortable by the sexuality yet has anyone noticed that she seems to be lacking female genitalia. Yes she does have breasts, as I have noticed these days men can have breasts too, but she seems to be lacking a vagina or any sex organ. To Americans this is uncomfortable but we should ask how a European might view this movie, a culture that is not scared of nudity and feels comfortable with topless beaches.

    Yes male directors are probably more likely to use female nudity in their films but it our attitudes toward nudity that change these images into sexual images.

  5. Sallie, I agree with you entirely. We have been taught that an unclothed body is a pornographic image and not just the way humans are. I actually find it more uncomfortable that the cyborg woman in Ghost in the Shell is very human; yet clearly is missing some organs which the director makes sure to show you in the first few scenes especially. I never really paid much attention to sci-fi prior to this class but I have been quite surprised by the use of woman in the films. I fear it is unfair to classify woman as serving only a sexual role in these movies. While Lost Highway clearly objectifies women, in Alien the women were, in my opinion, just as strong and competent as the men. And I think that the scenes with Sigourney in underwear are not meant to be sexual at all. Instead they show a confidence in her that allows here to walk around in the equivalent of mens boxers. I agree there is a theme of women and sexuality in the sci-fi genre but I do not think it is a wide-spread as many of us believe. The industry however is clearly a male dominated industry.