“Far from Heaven” challenging conventional gender roles

We have seen different ways in which mainstream ideas regarding the self in the society have changed; self-identity is much more flexible than it used to be. Today, it appears to be more suitable to accentuate that, inside of limits, media is a power for change. The conventional perspective of a woman as a housewife or low-status laborer has been kicked out of the scene by strong “woman power” ideology. At the same time, very masculine ideas like toughness, manly-confidence and power have been demolishing. This has been happening in the past 10-15 years, however, it would not be appropriate to say mass media is not promoting masculinity or being sexist sometimes. Television programs like Bachelorette is one of them as an instance where women are shown as depended, powerless and unintelligent. Cinema as a form of mass media, has brought a lot into the discussion of conventional representation of gender. Far from heaven is one of the films in which the story points out both racial and sexual problems in 20th century, which we still experience those problems in our days. I believe that Far from heaven challenges conventional gender representation, thought, not very directly.

Gender role issues are a very important part of the film along with the racial issues. To begin with, film’s main protagonist is a female which is not very common. Therefore, whole movie shows us kind of reversed gender roles. Main example is the very fact that Kathy’s husband is gay and this drastically makes a difference on expectations of audience from a man. At the point when the issue of her spouse’s homosexuality emerges, she manages it in a sensible and adult style, in some parts the opposite of the response one may anticipate from a woman.  All through the movie, Kathy keeps a level head, demonstrating that she is a strong woman and is able to continue her life without what her husband provides for her. So what is the essentialness or impact of depicting these gender role issues in the 1950s theme? The gender role parts depicted are to demonstrate to us that gender has dependably been an essential component in the public eye. Women have constantly craved to be with the man they need, regardless of the fact that it’s not their present husband. Also, gay men have always been around.  These kinds of issues were basically concealed before, in order to not disturb the ideal family picture which individuals needed to pass on. This film assists us with understanding that individuals should be liberated to act naturally and to be with the ones they need, not simply to wed for cash and great looks and remain as such until the end of time.  This film may not seem like challenging the gender roles accepted by majority of the society because Kathy is just a housewife married to a wealthy man. It is her actions and decisions making the film challenging against normative.

With her work, Butler appears to contend that gender roles are performative personalities made as an aftereffect of “compulsory performance.” She characterizes gender as “a set of repeated acts within a highly rigid regulatory frame,” that over time, seem to “produce the appearance of a substance, of a natural sort of being.” (Butler 1990, p.33). In this sense, the every day “performance” every individual offers for society further sets up the profoundly patriarchal beliefs that keep on polluting our comprehension of gender and sexuality. Essentially Butler advises us that character is something we exhibit and showcase—a kind of “performance” we put on. This polluted comprehension of gender is what we see at the beginning of the film and we see it falling apart towards the end of the film. In this sense, film is not directly challenging conventional representations. It does it over stages.

Society has done too much work in keeping women confined within their “main” roles—and Haynes powerfully displays Cathy’s position as a woman within a patriarchal society throughout the entire film. Being the embodiment of pure suburban domesticity, Cathy does not have any other place to go and no chance to escape once it turns out that the ideal she represents is all a sham. As a woman, she is the typical subject of judgment, and Haynes carefully depicts Cathy’s feelings of inadequacy and marginality within the world around her. As an instance, when she is   with Raymond at a modern art exhibit, she is not only strangely stared at by the other women, but also by her neighbor’s gay uncles. At the African-American bar, the black people inside stare similarly at Cathy, and I believe this highlights on the often-contemptuous role held by the female sex. The film shows us these things as stereotypes; especially in 1950s women were still far behind of men in terms of career and power.

The media disseminates a huge number of messages about identity and acceptable forms of   gender, sexuality, and lifestyle. In the meantime, the public have their own even more robust set of diverse feelings on these issues. The media’s suggestions may be seductive, but can never simply overwhelm opposite feelings in the audience. Same goes with Far from Heaven. The challenging idelogy is there, in the film. However, it is arguable if it is really making any difference on the audience. Reason being, majority of the audience watch movies only in their spare time and it is always the minority trying to get the message.” It is highly improbable to think that the media does not affect people, their way of thinking, and the way they perceive the world and themselves” (Gauntlett 2008, p. 1-3).

Studies about on gender roles in media demonstrate that women are underrepresented in films, and that the way they are represented is not similar with men. Carter and Steiner (2004) state that men have a tendency to be depicted as having higher and more enduring profession status in light of their prosperity, while women have lower and shorter profession status in light of their youth/looks (Lauzen & Dozier 2005). This is also true in Far from Heaven but it is distinctive to other films with same representations. In other films with representations like Far from Heaven, gender issues are not a part of the film, they are not challenging anything in that sense; they are strenghting the conventional ideas. Moreover, media and gender is a enormous area that always delivers new information that can be accumulated and dissected in different ways. Every year there are a tremendous measure of movies and television show delivered. Media is a critical territory of study since it has the ability to speak to what is “socially acceptable”.

Ryan and Kellner (1990) argue that research on contemporary Hollywood films over time indicates that political messages and ideologies can be seen in films, representing the ideas and opposition of the social system in effect at the time. When the second wave of feminism was happening, Hollywood was still producing same type of movies with representation of men and women in very traditional way. As a theory, we can think of a connection between Far from Heaven and second wave of feminism, reasons is the movie is happening in 1957 and second wave started very soon after, in 1960.

One of the few times when women are represented and have a lots of screen time are in princess movies. We can think of Far from Heaven as one in which the princess is held by a monster, is not free and living by its rules. In the end, the princess escapes this environment and becomes happy. Some may say that in the sense of princess films Far from Heaven does not challenge conventional ideas because in the end the princess (Cathy) is saved by a male savior (Raymond) as it happens almost in all Disney princess films. However, we need to understand that Raymond just happens to be there, even if there was nothing between him and Cathy, Cathy would still leave Frank and continue on her path. So, it is not really saving what Raymond does, it is simply valuing another human being. Even looking at Far from Heaven from this perspective, I still argue that it is not a film that is direct in terms of challenging; it is indeed a film that goes against the normative. Regular audience always prefers straightforward messages to be delivered from the film. If Far from Heaven was straightforward with the same plot, we would have seen Cathy fighting her husband from the beginning of the film without a clue of what have happened before. Therefore making a contrast would not be possible. Far from Heaven shows us the story in layers and stages. Audience get better chance to understand the message because first part of the film is what we are living, it is real. Audience can compare the begging and the ending of the film and come to a conclusion. So after all, it is not a direct message but a kind of riddle to understand and solve, solve it in real word.

I have sought to argue, and demonstrate, that popular media and Far from Heaven in particular has a significant but not entirely straightforward relationship with people’s sense of gender and identity. Media messages are diverse, diffuse and contradictory. Rather than being zapped straight into people’s brains, ideas about lifestyle and identity that appear in the media are resources which individuals use to think through their sense of self and modes of expression. In addition to this conscious (or not particularly conscious) use of media, a wealth of other messages may breeze through the awareness of individuals every day. Furthermore, people are changing, building new identities founded not on the certainties of the past, but organised around the new order of modern living, where the meanings of gender, sexuality and identity are increasingly open. Different aspects of popular media can aid or disturb these processes of contemporary reorientation. Some critics say that the media should offer traditional role models and reassuring certainties, yet this perspective is unrealistic to survive. Radical uncertainties and exciting contradictions are what contemporary media, like modern life, is all about.


Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.

Gauntlett, David (2008). Media, gender and Identity An introduction. 2 nd edition. London: Routledge.

Ryan, Michael & Kellner, Douglas (1990). Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lauzen, Martha M. & Dozier, David M. (2005). Maintaining the Double Standard: Portrayals of Age and Gender in Popular Film. Sex Roles, 52:437-446.

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