POSTED January 20 2013

How has screen brutalization of women escalated? Why?

Mr. Hitchcock directs Miss Leigh in Psycho

Mr. Hitchcock directs Miss Leigh in Psycho

What is the difference between the shock of Janet Leigh in Psycho (1960), stabbed to death in the motel bathroom, and Heather Matarazzo in Hostel, Part II (2007), hanging naked by her feet, then gutted by a scythe in order to provide a bloodbath for her female killer?

One difference, of course, is that Psycho was made under the late, unlamented Motion Picture Production Code and Hostel under the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system. Another is that in the near half century that separates these films, directors increasingly have aligned the viewer with the perpetrator of violence without providing a moral frame.

Why do you think the brutalization of women onscreen has escalated? Do you think the MPAA ratings system is more lenient toward extreme violence than it is toward consensual sex?

These are some of the questions I juggle here.

Your thoughts?


  1. Gary Kramer says:

    Kirby Dick raised a similar point in his doc THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED when films showing women having orgasms generated NC-17 ratings (e.g., BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER). There are too many films with women as victims of violence, but is the solution to have films where women perpetrate the violence?

  2. Al W says:

    Graphic violence in general has escaleted, but violence against women has unfortunately always existed. Norman Bates taxidermied his mother. That’s pretty hardcore. In Hitchcock’s 1972 “Frenzy” Hitch asked us to root for the rapist. There’s no trendline here. Women have always been treated horribly on screen.

  3. David Cohen says:

    I do think the level of violence against women has escalated radically in the last decades, not just because of the end of the production code but also because it became acceptable to fill the screen with violent scenes intended to shock. I don’t know how much of that you could lay at any specific person’s feet, though I know David Thomson had a book a few years back that talked about it in the context of “Psycho.”

    • I’ll read your link before attempting to reply. I’m tempted to say that, based on what I think is a general escalation of non-stop, horrific and graphic violence in film, separately measuring violence against women is sort of a distinction without a difference, but I honestly don’t know. I am acutely aware of the phenomenon, however.

  4. one can’t look at violence against women in movies in isolation from the ratings board’s decisions that sex is worse for teens to see than violence — what is that about? And also look at the TV series Investigate on the Discovery Channel, which “re-enacts” true-life murder cases, with heavy emphasis on women killing men, when in fact, women are way more likely to be victims. Again, what is that about? reinforcing ancient stereotypes of women as dangerous creatures, sex as dangerous especially when women enjoy it?

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