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Women's rites, representations of childbearing in film

by Phillips, Diane

Abstract (Summary)
This thesis explores representationsof childbirth in film. It focuses primarily on mainstreamfilms and, as a foi1to such films, a short seledion of independentfilms in the fast chapter. The work is based on the idea that understandings and expenences of childbirth are to some extent socially constructed. There are a variety of sites for the social construction of birh, one of which is the contemporary cinema. The analysis focuses specifically on the ways in wtiich films may work to construct meanings of childbirth in ways that sustain wrrent relations of domination. It does this by examining parücular social and historical contexts in which certain images are produced and diseminated. Thus, the first chapter discusses images in the film Look Who's Talking and sets them in the mntext of recent constructions of thefetus as a subject The second chapter looks at several recent cornedies which center around childbeanng in the context of rites of passage and the contemporary medicalkation of childbirth in North Amen'ca. The third chapter explores images of midwives and the implications of recent trends that symbolically associate midwives with witches. Finally, the fourth chapter attempts to highlighta few of the ways in which some independent films have constructed images of childbirthwhich are very diierent to those forrned in Hollywoodfilms. The thesis takes the position that contemporary rnedicalized childbirth practicesin North Arnerica do involve relations of power and domination and that many mainstream films consûuct images which further such relations. The relations of domination referred to indude specific relations between doctors and patients and between patriarchal society and women's bodies. However, the thesis argues that the issue extends to the ways in which childbirth practices can be both defined by, and supportive of, what Barbara Katz Rothman identifies as the ideologies of patriarchy, technology and capitalism. The thesis therefore identifieswhat these ideologies entail, Mat are some of their implications for women in particular and people in general, and how some films help to further these ideologies.
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Source Type:Master's Thesis

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Date of Publication:01/01/1998

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