2612568276918. “Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girl Fight”

Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girl Fight

Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girl Fight

Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girl Fight – The analysis of Girl Fight (Karyn Kusama, 2000) in this paper is framed by critical discourses surrounding physically active female characters in the action genre, the conventions of the boxing film ‘genre’, the relationship between bodily spectacle and narrative structure, as well as the more general significance of the female boxer’s challenge to normative and binary notions of bodily existence and subjectivity.

With a particular focus on the interrelationship between narrative structure and boxing sequences (‘numbers’), this paper explores notions of the (gendered) subjectivity constructed around the film’s female boxing character, Diana (Michelle Rodriguez).

I will argue that the boxing ‘numbers’ largely function as a (bodily) articulation of Diana’s struggle for a unified sense of identity and the embodiment of subjectivity.

However, the emphasis on the materiality of the body in earlier ‘numbers’ is replaced in the final boxing sequence by a sense of abstraction and generic integration.

The significance of the physicality of the body in relation to the embodiment of subjectivity is therefore strangely disavowed and the (bodily) agency of Diana’s character undermined.

‘The body’ and visual representations of ‘the body’ are issues that have attracted the attention of (feminist) film critics, cultural studies scholars and media researchers for some time. Questions surrounding representations of ‘the body’ frequently arise in the
context of questions surrounding articulations of ‘subjectivity’.

However, ‘the materiality of bodies and bodily movement can sometimes become paradoxically submerged’ within these debates as ‘the body’ remains a strangely abstract concept (Desmond 2).

In response to this tendency, a number of contemporary scholars in various fields have started to take an increased interest in the ‘inescapable fleshiness of the human subject’ (Taylor 344). This shift towards a more corporeal worldview and a consideration of the materiality of the ‘lived body’ has its origins in the work of phenomenologists such as Marcel Merleau-Ponty and is also heavily influenced by Foucault’s work on sexuality and institutions.

The emphasis on the ‘lived body’ is linked to a rejection of the Cartesian mind/body dualism as the significance of the relationship between body and mind is emphasized; in this context, conceptualizations of subjectivity as ‘embodied’ become central (see Taylor 2007).

The following analysis of Girl Fight (Karyn Kusama 2000), an independent American film about a female boxer, is situated in the context of this proposed shift. My reading of the film draws on debates concerned with the ambiguously empowering nature
of women’s pursuit of a quintessentially ‘masculine’ sport such as boxing.

Additionally, it is situated in relation to debates surrounding cinematic representations of female physicality, particularly within the action genre. Lastly, my conceptual approach borrows
from work on the ‘musical’, in particular the sustained academic interest in the relationship between narrative and ‘number’, as well as from conceptualizations of the boxing film as a (sub)genre in its own right.

I will first outline the conceptual framework for this analysis in some more detail, before moving on to a discussion of Girl Fight itself, where I will argue that the boxing ‘numbers’ function as an articulation of the protagonist’s (bodily) struggle for a unified and embodied sense of self.

The Female Boxing Character: Action Heroine?

The relatively recent phenomenon of the boxing film with a female protagonist has been discussed primarily in the context of the increased presence of central female characters in the action genre – an issue that has received much critical attention within feminist film and media studies over the last two decades (Tasker 1993 and 1998; Holmund 2001).

This work is primarily concerned with the ideological implications of the depictions of physically active and powerful female characters, as well as with the broader socio-cultural contexts in which these images are produced and consumed.

The discourses surrounding Girl Fight in particular are an apt illustration of the tendency to situate the recent emergence of the female boxing film in the context of the action genre (see Beltran).

In the case of Girl Fight, the association between the female boxing film and the female action flick has been facilitated, perhaps, by Michelle Rodriguez’s career as a female ‘action star’. Her first major role as Diana Guzman in Girl Fight has led to subsequent starring roles as Letty in The Fast and The Furious (Rob Cohen, 2001), Rain Ocampo in Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002), and Chris Sanchez in S.W.A.T (Clark Johnson, 2003).

Rodriquez’s performance in Girl Fight is often read in the context of these other roles, in which she tends to be depicted as a ‘natural fighter who demonstrates almost no traditionally feminine qualities or romantic interest in the opposite sex’ (Beltrán 195). She has therefore come to be associated with notions of female masculinity and an untamed and tomboyish physicality.

Public and media discourses about her supposed lesbianism and violent behaviors in her private life arguably feed into the construction of this particular star image. The significance of such extra- and inter-textual factors is usefully acknowledged for the following exploration of the inscription of sex/gender and sexuality on the female boxing body.

Much of the recent critical engagement with the female action heroine ultimately centers on the perceived tensions between depictions of the action heroine as an active subject and sexualized object in films such as Charlie’s Angels (McG, 2000).

In addition to narrative as well as visual containment, highly feminized and (hetero-) sexualized star images of actresses such as Cameron Diaz or Jessica Alba are considered to feed into this ambiguity. Mark O’Day appropriately terms the emergence of films that feature physically active but highly sexualized female protagonists the ‘action babe cinema’ (201).

Largely, these films appear to be characterized by a non-realist representational framework, particularly with regard to depictions of the materiality and physicality of the body. As Lisa Purse suggests, the tendency for the physicality of the action heroine not to be authenticated, not to follow the laws of physiology, not to be ‘convincing’, is part of a larger tendency for both visual and narrative containment of the action heroine as active subject. Special effects allow the female body to do things of which it is not necessarily capable.

While this is a characteristic of the action genre more generally, there appears to be a tendency for the physicality of the bodies of female action heroines to be less ‘convincingly’ depicted than those of male action heroes.

Purse also proposes, however, that some recent films such as Hard Candy (David Slade, 2005) or Kill Bill: Vol.1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003) and Kill Bill: Vol.2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004) depict the active female body in an arguably more realist fashion and link the heroine’s ‘action’ more directly to the physicality and materiality of her body.

The emergence of these two different ‘types’ of action heroine (‘action babe’ vs. action heroine whose physicality is articulated within a realist representational frame) is a tendency that is largely reflected in contemporary female boxing films. Films such as Honeybee (Melvin James, 2001) and The Opponent (Eugene Jarecki, 2000) are overtly characterized by the tensions associated with the depiction of a physically active female protagonist in a highly sexualized and objectifying fashion.

Both films formulate boxing as a way for the central female characters to gain independence from (abusive) male characters as they acquire the necessary physical strength and skill to protect themselves from violence.

The boxing sequences articulate the change in the female protagonists’ self-esteem that comes with their improving boxing skills and athletic success. The visual aesthetics and framing of the female boxing bodies in particular, however, seriously undermine these notions and firmly position the representations of the female boxer within more traditional and acceptable (generic) contexts of representations of the female body.


“Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girl Fight”

Title: “Fighting for Subjectivity: Articulations of Physicality in Girl Fight”

  1. Context:
    • “Girl Fight”: The title itself suggests a fierce confrontation, but it also hints at deeper layers of meaning.
    • Subjectivity: The lens through which we perceive and experience the fight.
  2. Physicality and Identity:
    • Body as Canvas: In combat, the body becomes a canvas—a site where identity, power, and vulnerability intersect.
    • Gendered Bodies: How do gender norms shape the physicality of female fighters? Are they expected to conform or defy these norms?
  3. The Fight Within:
    • Psychological Battles: Beyond the physical blows, there are psychological battles—doubt, fear, determination.
    • Self-Perception: How does each fighter perceive herself during the fight? Does she reclaim her subjectivity or lose it?
  4. Society’s Gaze:
    • Spectatorship: The audience watches, judges, and interprets. Their gaze influences the fighters’ sense of self.
    • Empowerment or Exploitation?: Does the fight empower the fighters, or does it exploit their vulnerability?
  5. Narrative Arc:
    • Rising Action: The tension builds—the fighters prepare, their muscles taut.
    • Climax: The moment of impact—the collision of bodies, emotions, and narratives.
    • Resolution: Who emerges victorious? What scars remain?
  6. Metaphors of Resistance

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