Compare and Contrast the depiction of Gender in the Films Rebecca and Mahogany

Compare and Contrast the depiction of Gender in the Films Rebecca and Mahogany

Compare and Contrast the depiction of Gender in the Films Rebecca and Mahogany

The film, Rebecca is a classic romantic thriller created by Alfred Hitchcock and Rebecca looms over the shadows of every character in the movie. Rebecca is the first wife of Maxim de Winter and she set standards in dressing and her relations with Maxim that the new wife has to adhere to or overcome. The film’s depiction of gender is traditionally patriarchy and women are expected to submit to the will of the men. Rebecca husband is controlling and often expects her to submit and obey without question. The second wife is terrified of Maxim’s behavior as he lashes out at her. For example, during the costume party, the new wife is adorned in a white dress, which seems to anger Maxim who shouts at her and demands that she gets rid of the dress (“Rebecca (1940) Full Movie”). The dominance of male will is evident throughout the film and the male actions are not less than domineering and sexist. Maxim marries a second wife after the death of Rebecca and occasionally calls her a lamb. Thus, the film illustrates male dominance and oppression to the women.

The character, Rebecca is not part of the film since she died. However, her contribution to female awakening is crucial. Upon the discovery of her body, Maxim confesses to his new wife about the character of Rebecca before her death. She is described as two-faced, loose following the unconfirmed extramarital affairs with different men in the society. The introduction of Rebecca as the villain is meant to mask the sexist oppression she endured while married to Maxim. Maxim appeals to the new wife and the audience to view him as a victim which is an act of sheer manipulation (“Rebecca (1940) Full Movie”). From my perspective, Rebecca’s reckless behavior is a result of the domineering sexist husband and a society that expected her to possess the “female behavior.” Thus, Rebecca is the victim of societal standards and socially defined gender roles and behavior.

On the other hand, the movie, Mahogany, is a romantic drama written by Berry Gordy in 1975. It revolves around the life of Tracy Chambers or the fashion label Mahogany. Tracy is a struggling woman and works for different people while attending design school. She is determined to rise through the ranks of fashion. Tracy’s relationship with different male characters illustrates the depiction of gender in the film. Male dominance is evident in every stamen and action. For example, Tracy’s husband Brian Walker mocks her dreams and insists that she should abandon her choices to support his political ambitions. At the end of the film, the exchange between Tracy and Brian indicates that suppression of women is normalized in the society (“Mahogany 1975 Diana Ross”). In the end, the woman caves into the demands of love, which confirms that societal perceptions that women are weaker and easy to manipulate.

The character McAvoy is integral in the creation of Mahogany. Tracy loses her identity in order to receive help from the photographer. Tracy is an object of sexual gratification from McAvoy who promises to elevate her career and create a lovable personality to the fashion industry. In addition, McAvoy controls her artistic choices among other personal choices. Tracy is unable to make decisions since the male figures in her life are possessive, controlling, and jealous (“Mahogany 1975 Diana Ross”). Thus, the life of Tracy is marked by social tyranny in which male characters and social roles hinder her ability to succeed. In addition, male dominance is the cause of women suppression as illustrated by their roles, occupational choices, and personality among other choices.

Unlike Rebecca, Mahogany has to contest with racial limitations and discrimination. The film Mahogany brings to life the struggles of black women in society. For example, Tracy has to content with her white bosses and white male figures who determine her suitability to model and cultural shift. Tracy designs are believed to fit the Paris market, which explains her shift to Rome. Rebecca is built around the notion of English families attached a certain amount of prestige to social behavior. Mahogany is illustrated as a carefree woman, explorative, and ready to embrace diversity.

The Role of costumes/dresses

The role of dresses and costumes in the films bear different meaning since the films were created from different times in history. In the film Rebecca, each dress and costume represents traditional and class demands of a typical English family. There are dresses for each occasion and for the women they were a symbol of “being a lady.” According to the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, the new Mrs. Maxim has to emulate Rebecca’s wardrobe since she is unable to measure up to her standards and class. Rebecca possesses monogrammed nightdresses that are a symbol of wealth and status in society. On the other hand, Mahogany is the symbol of fashion and every dress ad costume symbolizes the prestige and flair that comes with fashion design. Mahogany is a symbol of women representation in the society as her dresses and costumes are meant to make her “visible” (Lamm 428). Her clothes are designer dresses that are heavily ornamented and they can be considered as shouting with regards to the use of colour. Mahogany’s costumes are meant to end the bias against women and racism.

The films have different definitions of being fashionable and the element of being feminine. In the film Rebecca, the women are dressed in formal attires which represent the aristocratic nature of the society. The women are defined by the ideal lady statement. The aspect of fashion does not bear much significance to the men who value marriage stability and family responsibilities. On the other hand, Mahogany is an outspoken woman who is adventurous and with a modern fashion sense. Her costumes and dresses are meant from novel fabric, glitzy material, and hats that are meant to create the modern appeal of femininity. Despite her fashion sense, Mahogany’s designs are considered inferior by white designers who trash her design and materials. For example, Tracy’s Kabuki collection is considered unfashionable since it is culturally inappropriate. Thus, the film Mahogany deals with fashion and it is detailed to cloth designs. 

The movies carry the female perspective and different perceptions in society. The women relations and bodies are objects of male exploitation and objectification. In essence, women are unable to function without men. Mahogany fails to succeed without the male backing as she is sexually exploited by different men. Rebecca has to maintain decorum by dressing appropriately to please her new husband. Therefore, the films show that women are slaves of their own bodies.

Works Cited

Lamm, Kimberly. “‘I Want to Wear It’: Fashioning Black Feminism in Mahogany (1975).” Australian Feminist Studies, vol. 33, no. 98, 2018, pp. 428-446.

“Mahogany 1975 Diana Ross.” YouTube, 5 June 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bet3nTaTkT8. Accessed 18 April 2019.

“Rebecca (1940) Full Movie.” YouTube, 23 Jan. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ry2aSwBqX0. Accessed 18 April 2019.


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