Reality of violence against women in film and TV , the Femme Fatale, moving beyond the good girl /bad girl dichotomy.

Trigger warning for sexual and physical and emotional violence and abuse in this post. I will make sure to be respectful and keep in mind people reading may have had personal experience with the topics discussed. 


Looking closely at violence, what constitutes violence and especially against women, and how it is represented  in film and TV shows. This blog post and associated lecture and workshop intends to investigate and analyse the the associated concept that perpetuate violence against women in society and in the representations in film.

Learning Outcome 

to have awareness and understanding of the far reaching problem of violence against women, all the forms of family violence, sexual violence and to think about the responsibilities in the representation of such. What impact does your story have on its audience? To understand the sexualised gaze and what history is the ‘dangerous’ women steeped in?

Concepts / thinking points


What is power?

What is violence?

Define domestic or family violence.

What kinds of domestic violence and abuse are there?

“Feeling trapped in the Love Labyrinth is a very real and very frightening symptom of relationship abuse. One way out is awareness. Understanding the grey area between love and control allows you and the people you care about to recognise relationship abuse before it escalates. Get informed at”

What examples of sexualised violence in film and TV can you think of?

How many films TV shows can you list that have a narrative of a woman being held against her will, and/or a target of violence or abuse?

Why are people violent?

How is the cycle of violence broken? Melbourne hip hop Music video and song ‘Break Tradition’ addresses the cycle of family violence . Mantra who is also a spokesperson on the issue of violence and does community based music programs for young people who have experienced trauma.

The following ad is from a campaign –

When is violence tolerated?

Are males seen as more violent and or aggressive in society and film ?

Part 2.

Is a female who has personal freedom and sexual desire often represented?

Good girl Bad Girl. 

The problematic good girl/ bad girl, Madonna/Whore dichotomy and is often shown in films.

Elizabeth Valleau, creative director and owner of Empire Mayonnaise

Why do you think our society places such an emphasis on the notion of “good girls”?
Because that there is nothing more dangerous to the patriarchy as women that cannot be controlled. I think there’re few forces on earth more capable and unstoppable than a bad girl. In truth I am hoping these colloquial value judgements are cast aside soon, and a “good girl” will be redefined as a powerful girl who follows her instincts, respects her sexuality, and knows her own mind.

The consequences of raising obedient girls is that the world will be denied half of its power, which is a failure on the part of our species. Women who are raised to feel incapable of trusting their own judgement and following their instincts will continue to turn on themselves and each other [out of] grief and frustration. Men will fail to develop into their full expression because they’ve been taught to subjugate or subdue the feminine spirit, even in themselves.


A reworking of ‘Hotline Bling’

Drake: “(You) used to always stay at home, be a good girl. You was in the zone, yeah. You should just be yourself. Right now, you’re someone else.”

Laster translation: “You used to stay at home and be someone I saw fitting into the patriarchal expectations of women to be infantilized good ‘girls,’


The concept of the Cartesian split body and mind-  body as feminine and mind as masculine.

Gender construction and performance of layers of Masculinity and femininity

Reduction of gender to Active vs Passive

Fear in public – Germain Greer

Information on violence against women- 

Types of violence:

  • Stalking
  • Verbal abuse
  • Financial abuse
  • Controlling and or isolating behaviours
  • sexual assault
  • sexual abuse
  • Manipulation

relationship violence:

a campaign saying what is ok for Pets to say but not partners



Perpetrators are often people known, family or friends in positions of power.

Common types of violence against women in films:

  • Sexual assault
  • kidnapping /hostage
  • slapping and punching for behaviour where a woman is speaking her mind

How are female victims portrayed in the media ?

How are male victims portrayed in the media?

How are perpetrators represented?

Analysis points

Modern representations which move outside of these sexualised representations of violence against women-


Women told they are fragile, men are told is strong

A slam poet Sierra DeMulder- expressing what is told to females.

Broadcity is an examples of women who are in charge of their own sexuality beyond the good girl vs the bad girl.

Common hero story arc.

Male loses everything, his wife / daughter is murdered/raped or kidnapped or all three, this gives him motivation to be a hero and in turn violent against the perpetrator.

The female version is her children were killed or taken away

A modern twist on this is ‘The Arrival’ .

Thinking point.

It is not often portrayed when a women’s husband is killed or raped and killed and she goes out to find his killer.

Women, Violence, and the Media

What about the TV show SVU? This show is about sexual crimes and is both regaled and criticised for the depictions of abuse and violence .


“Violence against women is often sensationalized through visuals and explicit dialogue without accompanying analysis of the gendered inequalities that lead to violence against women.”

“SVU also explicitly encourages women to report sexual assaults by showing women who refuse to be silenced and feel empowered by speaking out after their attacks. ”

“Law and Order: SVU treads a fine line between postfeminist and progressive representations of violence against women. With at least 1.2 million women raped each year in the US alone, we need to question the types of messages in shows like SVU that focus almost entirely on similar crimes. ”

Jarrah Hodge Source

Vice article on SVU

Why  we consume violence against women as entertainment: example of S.V.U.

Readings in Feminist Criminology

Examples of violence against women in film- where the women have no agency-

‘The Killer Inside of Me’ – Trigger warning. Descriptions of violence may be triggering.

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 7.24.11 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 7.24.51 PM.png

The review quote here talks about this film which depicts extreme violence against women as humorous and ‘sexy’.

“For many years, feminists have been trying to unpick the myths that encourage men to believe that women love violent men, and yet in our mainstream culture now those myths are sloshing around, unquestioned.”

This film is reviewed here in two articles. The story relies on outdated tropes of the active and violent man and the good girl bad girl stereotypes and women being punished.

Good examples which delve into the female perspective

Top of The Lake ( Show a scene)

Her PTSD, her mother and her unwillingness to leave an abusive relationship

The OA with Brit marling-

Domestic violence

Realism in film is difficult. Fantasy spaces seem more palatable sometimes.

Realistic example and emotional response in the filmmaking process from a Swinburne Student 2 years ago. This film was hard for the Director to make, but a healing process ensued. It shows bravery and a delving into very hard emotional relationships.

Male Gaze – female gaze

Exploitation films made by male filmmakers but have been re-read by women. 

From a review of Kill Bill

“Seeing so many physically strong women on-screen has got to be a good thing. Moreover, it left me feeling empowered, even though I have muscles of jelly and could never in reality execute feats of such agility. Nevertheless, I came out of the cinema wanting to take kung fu lessons (or at least go to the gym more often).

It would, however, be irrelevant to focus on physical agility as the only indication of strength, particularly in a feminist review. That would suggest that the only way for a woman to be treated with respect is to “assimilate into male culture via toughness”, to aspire to suppress female characteristics in favour of socially perceived “masculine” ones. It is equally important to recognise that physical prowess and violence are not the only forms of strength, but that strength of character is just as significant, if not much, much more so.”

Aideen Johnson Source:

Rape revenge narratives: What are they saying?

“As someone who worships at the altar of Tarantino, it’s difficult for me to criticize his work. That being said, Kill Bill falls into the same trap as have many films before it—that is, using rape as an emotional catalyst for a female hero’s journey. While sexual assault is worthy of in depth exploration on screen, these rape and revenge films do not depict the reality of how these assaults can affect women. Rather, they look to fetishize the act and use it as motivation for unabashed gore and violence. What should be empowering films featuring women rising out of past trauma to exact justice are often instead turned into a form of torture porn.”

Melissa Hugel. Source:

Faster Pussy Cat Kill Killtumblr_myw6jygeOr1sbaxnyo5_1280.jpg

Sexploitation and violence of Russ Meyer re looked at in a 3rd wave feminist light

“How many ’60s films have you seen where women get to smoke, drink, drive and fight? How about where women outsmart and overpower men? Even more importantly, how about a film where women exist independently from men? It’s this that truly makes Faster, Pussycat! a feminist classic. It’s not really about the man-crushing violence (although that adds to the fun) – it’s the exciting, exaggerated heroines, led by Varla, taking charge of their own destiny.”

“But the question remains: can a film be considered truly feminist if it wasn’t initially intended to be so? Russ Meyer claims to have never had a feminist agenda – the director famously cited his two main reasons for creating films as “lust and profit”.”

“In an article for Village Voice, queer-feminist film critic B Ruby Rich spoke about her initial hated the film, dismissing it as exploitative, trashy, objectifying soft-core porn, a piece of work steeped in misogyny. Thirty years later, she famously revisited it, re-evaluated it and changed her opinion. Her polarising experience is symptomatic of the shift in attitudes towards sexuality – a lot happened between 1965 and 1991, including the feminist sex wars of 1970s, and the resulting sexually progressive views of third-wave feminists.”

Georgina Guthrie Source

More on the film

Femme fatale

The ultimate sexualisation of violence agains women was the Femme Fatale- she was dangerous, free, sexual and in most narratives must die. Fatale as in fatal.


Rebecca  (1940) by Alfred Hitchcock- Rebecca dies before the film starts but he describes her ‘dangerous’ and alluring qualities.

Jessica Rabbit a drawn femme fatale – the male gaze 1980’s interpretation of 1940s Film Noir.

And then you Die: The Femme Fatale in Noir Film



“Gilda didn’t do any of those things you’ve been losing sleep over.” Questions of gender norms, sexual morality, and legality overlap as women are castigated for suspected promiscuity, even for ambition, as much as for theft or murder. Indeed, this suggests something of why the noir woman is such a compelling sign of transgression even when she has not actually transgressed. The noir woman is engaged in what we might today term a sort of reputation management; her actions, illicit or otherwise, are explicitly framed by the need to appear a certain way. Thus, while noir is undoubtedly organized around male desires and male point of view, in its concern with appearance and perception, with the centrality of women’s image for their being in the world, noir films articulate concerns that are hugely important for women and for feminism.

Yvonne Tasker  source:

Her freeness is punished.

Metropolis the luring and downfall of ‘men’

Jessica Jones

A Neo Noir character- who has strength, strong friendships and runs her own buisness and has sexual and personal freedom. But then has to overcome her abusive past partner. This is a modern take on film noir and she is not a Femme Fatale she is the detective, she is not punished for her freedoms.

It should be said: Jessica Jones is a deeply feminist show, all the way down to its depiction of sex, which is pointedly empowering for the women. More than that, its central conflict is its lead character struggling to maintain her agency against an abusive man. All the people in positions of power (minus Kilgrave) are women, and the story of the missing co-ed extends beyond the mystery of her disappearance.

By Lisa Weidenfeld Source:

SHe is not defined by her looks, it is through her character. She is still looked at by the camera in often a voeuristic way , like the frames in the comics but her personality and story is what defines her and she is the main character with fears, strength and a back story.


Resources / Links

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited (ANROWS)

Women’s resource and Info


Domestic Violence Resource Centre

Men’s referral service

Berry St Providing a service for young people at risk and who have experienced trauma.

Centre against Sexual Assault

Relationship violence-

General overview of the First, Second and Third waves of Feminism.

4th Wave feminism

Guest Speakers:

Australian Filmmaker Stephanie Westwood

Stephanie is a Melbourne-based producer with experience in commercial, narrative, and documentary fields.

Her short films have screened at festivals both locally and internationally, including Melbourne International Film Festival, Sydney International Film Festival, and most recently Sundance.

Stephanie also produces independent video games and plays a lot of Fallout in her down-time.

Stephanie has a passion for content made by women for women and endeavours to make film accessible and relatable for all demographics and aspects of Australian communities.

And the guest the week after:

Jessica Stott

Women’s Support & Information Worker, WIRE Women’s Information

Pronouns: she/her/hers


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