Objectification And Sexualisation Of Women In Dead Poets Society
In Dead Poets Society, women are seen to be objects. This blatant objectification of would lead to the conclusion that women exist solely to support or pleasure the male characters. The patriarchal culture of society creates a world where women are seen as a way of continuing your bloodline, nothing more. Notable examples of this are objectification and sexualisation of women through the pornographic poster as well as events like Knox being seen as romantic and embracing Keating’s principle of ‘carpe diem’ whilst molesting and assaulting Chris. Finally, it can be seen that women exist solely to support or pleasure the male characters in Dead Poets Society through the demand of female students to be admitted at Welton Academy on the account of the boys needing something to ogle.
Women, from the beginning of time, have been thought to be inferior to men. The word women undeniably comes from the root word of men. ‘Wo’ in Old English can be translated to be wife. Thus, the word women means wife of man. In the Bible, we are told that God took a bone from Adam and from that created Eve because Adam needed human company. These principles our world was created upon have led to the objectification of women by men. An example of this is the pornographic picture which was brought into the cave by one of the boys. The open sexism of the Welton students is greater than a problem with the attitudes of the students, it represents a problem with Keating’s teaching methods, as the film glorifies them. John Keating is seen as a charismatic, friendly and most of all, progressive teacher. He becomes someone the boys look up to. Someone that they see as a role model of who they should be. Keating is trusted by the boys because he is different. He does not want them to conform to societal norms. He wants them to break free just as he did. The students grasp this idea and his teaching becomes their gospel. His teaching methods and ideology is glorified. Keating wants his students to “seize the day,” and thinks his job is to teach them how to think for themselves and trust their own innate genius. But of course, the problem with telling a group of sexually frustrated teenage boys to “trust in themselves” is that they might treat women disrespectfully. For them the pornographic picture does not demonstrate the sexualisation and exploitation of women and their body, but is an image for their enjoyment. They do not understand that although it is ‘enjoyable’ for them to view, this woman has been exploited and overly sexualised in order for this image to be created. Throughout the film, women are openly objectified.
To objectify someone means to degrade someone to the status of a mere object. Women are not seen as living, breathing, humans. They are not seen as equal to men. They are seen as objects from men to play with. They are supposed to be pretty, doting, unequivocally faithful to their man and always be waiting at home with a home cooked meal when their husbands come home from work. If they faltered in any part of their ‘duty’ they are discarded, deemed unfit to be a proper woman. This is demonstrated in Dead Poets Society through Knox Overstreet’s actions towards Chris. In the film, John Keating teaches the boys that poetry can be used to “woo women” and to live by the principle of “carpe diem”. The problem with such a view of life and poetry—and, one could argue, a major problem with the film itself—is that it depicts women as objects whose only purpose is to be “won” by any means necessary: a viewpoint that is arguably quite sexist. Although the film is set in the late 1950’s to 1960 which was a when a largely effective feminist movement occurred in America, this film has undeniable sexist undertones as shown here. Knox, inspired by Keating’s talk of “wooing women,” give in to his immature, clumsy desires, shared by many of the students at Welton, disrespecting women in the process. Most offensively, the film depicts Knox Overstreet using Keating’s “carpe diem” ideas to justify groping and essentially sexually assaulting his crush, Chris, at a party—a scene which shows us the idea and societal normative of ‘boys will be boys’. As Knox gropes Chris, he tells himself, “carpe diem” and “carpe breastum,” a clear example of how Keating’s lessons shape his thinking. Post-groping Chris, the other boys at the party start to yell and get upset at Knox. It is thought that this may be due to the fact that he groped and kissed a girl whilst she was asleep, however, it is because Chris is at the time dating Chet Danburry. The outcry of the boys at the party are due to Knox touching Chet’s ‘property’ with a complete disregard to how these actions affect Chris. In addition to this, Knox later succeeds in “wooing” Chris with poetry and literature, and his molestation is hardly condemned.
Finally, a third example of how women exist solely to support or pleasure the male characters is Charlie’s demand to the school administration for women to be admitted into Welton. In a utopian world, it could be believed that Charlie made this request as he believes that women should be valued in society and deserve a proper education. It could be believed that he wants to live in a world where women receive equal opportunities in all aspects of life and do not deserve a life confined to the kitchen. However this thinking is simply ludicrous. This society is not a utopian society. Charlie does not believe that women should be valued in society and deserve a proper education. He does not believe that women should receive equal opportunities in all aspects of life and do not deserve a life confined to the kitchen. He is your stereotypical male of that era. Instead, Charlie wanted women at Welton Academy so he could have a pretty face to look at. He blatantly does not believe that women are anything more than a pretty face. Laura Mulvey uses the phrase, ‘the male gaze’ to describe the positioning of women in film, essentially describing how women are sexual objects created for a man’s pleasure in film. Women are seen from the male perspective instead of having their own point of view. “Woman, then, stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of a woman still tied to her place as the bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” (Laura Mulvey (1989)). This is evident in Dead Poets Society through Charlie’s actions. Charlie does not think about how this would affect women but only of what this would mean for the male characters of this film. Charlie wanting women at Welton as essential eye candy, shows the viewer two things, Firstly the objectification of women and secondly that women exist solely to support or pleasure the male characters in Dead Poets Society.
In Dead Poets Society, women are seen to be objects. This is shown through the objectification and sexualisation of women through the pornographic poster, Knox assaulting Chris with no negative repercussions, and through the demand of female students to be admitted at Welton Academy on the account of they boys needing something to ogle. The society in which the film is set is oppressive and creates a society of men thinking they can do whatever they want to whomever they wish with no negative repercussions. The creation of this generation has severe negative ramifications for women trying to be freed from the oppression they previously faced. Through the aforementioned events, it is unequivocally true that women exist solely to support or pleasure the male characters in Dead Poets Society.