The Importance of Gender Representations in Spanish Cinema

The different works of art – from paintings to literary pieces – present prevailing themes in the society. They act as small fragments of a comprehensive historical narrative. These fragments, though fictional, are still able to reflect true scenarios, real life stories from which they are based upon.To a certain extent, films serve the same purpose as any work of art – they present the artist’s feelings, thoughts, and reflections on whatever is happening in the society at the time of its creation.The different elements in any film – the social setting and the gender representations do not only bring life to its plot. Rather, these thematic elements of the film contribute fully on its general appeal and overall impact to its audiences.In this paper however, the researcher will only focus on one of these elements – gender representation. Putting a specific focus on this study, this paper will only explore the importance of these representations in Spanish cinema.To perform this purpose, common gender representations in some Spanish films will be revealed in relation to: how it reflects the prevalent issues in Spanish society; how it adds to the film’s appeal to local audiences; and how it provides an imagination of Spanish identities to local and international movie goers. 1st Assumption: Gender representations grant the films the ability to reflect the prevailing issues in the Spanish Society In the past few years, domestic violence has been a prevalent social problem in Spanish communities. Reports show that there is a high count of women who are suffering from the violence and physical abuse posed by their husbands and partners. Based on the report of Emma Daly in Christian Science Monitor, the Spanish society is suffering from a “machismo culture” where women are treated as inferior to men. (Daly, 1998)In relation to this important social issue, many films also carry domestic violence as significant thematic components in their plots. In such films, women are portrayed as the victims of their husbands’ consummation of their masculinity in a largely patriarch society that equates women to second-class citizens.Solo mia (2001) is one of the films which reflect this social issue. The movie puts into film a typical story that takes place not only in Spain but also in many societies where a once loving and tender relationship goes wrong. As shown in the movie, the relationship gradually transforms into a tale of obsession which prompts the husband to repeatedly subject his wife to domestic violence. (Saenz, 2009)The same social issue envelopes the film “Princesas” (2005) and El Bola (2000). In the first film, a prostitute suffers from the violence introduced by her lover while in the latter shows that children can also become victims of what is known in Spain as “Terrorismo Familiar”.Basically, Spanish cinema reflects not just the fact that domestic violence prevails in the real Spanish community. Rather, gender representations in the film also show that such type of violence affects women of all ages, and in different social classes. With the men presented mostly as the perpetrator of the violence, the films further shows that men in Spain often act adversely against the inferior women.2nd Assumption: Gender representation increases the film’s appeal to local audiences by reinforcing nationalism and providing greater grounds for linkage and identification.Since Spanish cinema reflects prevalent values, ideas, and practices in the Spanish community, it gives the film a more localized appeal. The tendency to magnify one’s identification with their culture further increases the movies’ appeal to the local moviegoers.Basically, most of the Spanish films pose a generic thematic distinction from the mainstream Hollywood movies. While most Hollywood movies take the themes of liberal women who are posed as office workers and even successful professionals, most Spanish movies reflect on the importance of motherhood – a local theme that is common in many traditional patriarchal societies.Solas is one of the most famous films that glorify maternity as the only way for a woman to achieve real fulfillment and happiness. The film revolves around the story of Rosa and her daughter Maria. The two, both victims of domestic violence, are reunited after several years of being apart. Rosa has become a passive victim to her husband’s abuse but Maria refuses to surrender to the despotism and instead, decides to live in the city. However, Maria inevitably ends up in the same situation as that of her mother – being physically and emotionally abused by her boyfriend.To a certain degree, the portrayal of motherhood in the story works in two contrasting ways. Rosa retains the profile of the typical mother. She is portrayed as the submissive and self sacrificing woman who is willing to endure overwhelming hardships – the abuse of her husband – in order to potentially “save” her family from falling apart.However, she fails as Maria separates herself from the threat that her father poses. Fortunately, in line with Rosa’s angelic qualities as a mother, she is able to “save” her daughter from leading a devastating lifestyle through her captivating and unrestrained love and care. Following these implications, motherhood is presented in the story as a self-denying role which women must embrace not only to provide a certain sense of accomplishment but also to gain the ability to “save” people whom they care for.Motherhood is also presented as a Spanish woman’s way toward salvation and recovery as depicted in Maria’s character. Maria’s relationship with his boyfriend reflected a destructive scenario which led to her alcoholism. However, as Maria became pregnant, that signaled her positive transformation from an angry and hostile character to another motherly figure that’s kind, passionate, loving, and forgiving. In essence, Maria’s motherhood became her escape from the destructive factors that formerly consumed her life.Such gender representation embedded in the plot of the movie allows the local audiences – particularly women – to relate to characters and watch the film.3rd Assumption: Gender representation in Spanish films offers both local and international audiences with an imagination of Spanish identitiesGender representation forms a significant part of the local Spanish cultures and traditions. As films carry gender representation which is reflective of a distinct cultural identity, they then achieve significance as cultural accounts. The fact that the movies provide both local and international audiences with an idea of what comprises a real Spanish community qualifies them as relevant educational and enriching artifacts.In addition to that, these artifacts not only promote an imagination of Spanish identities. Rather, the Spanish movies also help people of other cultures in learning, appreciating, and understanding Spanish culture.For example, in the film “Coma agua para chocalate (1992) or ‘Like water for chocolate’”, the gender representations mirror how important must both men and women adhere to old superstitions and traditions. The film shows that marriage and love are restricted by old Spanish traditions as a young couple – Pedro and Tita – could not get married simply because Tita’s oldest sister has to get married first and because Tita had to first fulfill her domestic roles and “responsibilities” to her mother.Gender representation in La casa de los espiritus (1993) or “The House of the Spirits” also offers a glimpse at Spanish culture. This film shows the importance of social class as a local rags-to-riches patriarch does everything to prevent his daughter from marriage a lower class worker who fights for socialism. The same theme inspires the film, The Dog in the Manger (1995).In the movie, a Countess falls in love with his secretary. However, social status stands on their way. Furthermore, this gap in social position increasingly widens as the Countess, as a woman is expected to be submissive to societal expectations.ConclusionsGender representations become important elements to Spanish cinema mainly because they reflect prevailing issues and themes in a natural Spanish community. As these themes are reflected and portrayed, the films gain the local audience’s attention through the formation of linkages and character identification. Gender representations embedded in the plot also qualify the films as cultural artifacts that offer audiences with a glimpse of Spanish culture.On the whole, gender representation promotes the appreciation of not just Spanish movies, but of the Spanish culture as well. Through the gender roles promoted in the films, both local and international audiences learn how Spanish culture must be understood and appreciated.ReferencesDaly, Emma (1999). “Spain works to change ‘machismo’ culture of abuse.” Christian Science Monitor (January 19, 1999), p. 8.Saenz, Noelia (2009). “Domestic Violations in Spanish Cinema: Reframing Gendered Violence Onscreen. University of California: Los Angeles