How does Fish Tank challenge typical representations of gender? (A-level homework piece) 800~ words

This is a so-and-so homework essay typed up using examples looked at during lessons. It’s no masterpiece of course because it was only done for homework. The Point, Example, Explain structure has clearly been overused. Another problem is the flow of consciousness, there’s no clear paragraph structure and ideas have been typed out as they came to mind. The writer clearly didn’t take this work seriously and even made a reference to Othello as a joke (which reading back on, wasn’t funny at all).

How does Fish Tank (2009) challenge typical representations of gender?

Representation is defined as re-presenting something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature. Media representations have been known to have a powerful influence on society’s ideologies and hegemonic values, they shape the way we think about issues, events and ideals among other things. Gender in the media has a variety of portrayals and attitudes to gender segregation have diminished over time, leaving less divide over male and female representations. However; gender stereotypes still exist and are used in the media industry mostly as a form of entertainment whereas countertypes are used for other purposes, predominantly as a device to attract audiences to the unusual convention as it deviates from the norm. Sometimes women are represented as sex objects to attract males or men as strong and charismatic, to attract females. In Fish Tank, the female director Andrea Arnold likely had a powerful influence on how gender was represented. Arnold’s films commonly explore female sexuality and Fish Tank is no exception, she excels in social realist dramas that are conventional in their working-class settings but her focus is refreshingly female. Accordingly; Arnold created Fish Tank with a mainly female perspective on an abused love relationship between a teenage girl and her mother’s older boyfriend.

Mia is in control of the narrative, being the protagonist we follow throughout the film she influences how the story pans out. She challenges female stereotypes by acting masculine, she is adventurous and overconfident, for example in the opening scene she is seen instigating violence amongst a group of girls dancing by head butting one of them in the face. Typically, young women as protagonists are seen as soft, caring and empathetic such as half of the characters in the television soap Eastenders and are only seen otherwise if they are antagonists such as the vampires in adventure film Van Helsing, making Mia a uniquely portrayed female antagonist. Mia is socially trapped and is used as an archetype for people who live in council estates. At one point when Connor is introduced, Mia is seen staring at Connor in relation to the female gaze theory. In a mid-shot; sunlight protruding from a window glistens against Connor’s body to sexualise him and to help the audience see from Mia’s perspective his attractiveness. Mia’s character is an undiscovered one in media and has a rare representation, although girls like her exist in real life, both in character and situation.

Connor is the first significant male character introduced and in the first half of the film, he is perceived as a hero. He is a father figure; good with children, polite and wealthy – almost the opposite of Mia who lives in poverty without a father. Like a Hollywood hero, Connor is an alpha male shown through his charismatic personality and almost depicts perfectness in a man. This sort of representation of a male early in the narrative leads the audience to believe he is the typical hero until certain scenes suggest he is taking advantage of Mia and her mother. As he is seen caring for Mia, the relationship between them becomes more palpable each time. For example; Connor earlier gives Mia a piggyback so she doesn’t have to walk on the cut on her ankle and then later, when he carries her to bed and takes off her trousers and tucks her in. Each of these scenes progressively become more intimate and is signified by the diegetic sound of intensified breathing this carries on until eventually the turning point is reached when Connor initiates intercourse with her. At this point, Connor is seen as a fiend who turned from hero to villain, sharing some similarity with Shakespeare’s play Othello. This goes against the norm that the wealthy, charismatic and handsome male remains heroic for the entire text, instead Connor uses these traits to take advantage of the family. It is unknown whether Connor had it planned from the beginning but it is likely since he already had a woman and child in his life.

Billy is first introduced as a minor character when Mia attempts to free a horse from captivity next to a caravan owned by a group of ‘pikeys’. In this scene, two of the boys abuse her, push her around, take her bag and carry her as if to perform a malignant act on her but she manages to escape. After a failed first attempt to free the horse, Mia turns up again and this time Billy confronts her. Unlike his brothers, Billy is sympathetic and more sensible, suggesting that the younger you are the more innocent you are. This gives evidence that there are certain overt characteristics that can be attributed to a character of either gender, in this case being empathy attributed to age rather than gender unlike in other media texts where empathy is typically associated with females.

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