Hitchcock played a role in preserving the patriarchal hegemony of gender roles through power shifts in male/female relationships and the subsequent preservation of power with the male due to the influence of agents of authority. This can be seen in the relationships of Marion to Norman, Mrs. Bates to Norman and the sheriff, and Lila to Sam in the film Psycho.
Feminist studies of the relationships in the film such as that provided by Modleski note that the female characters who suffer at the hands of male characters had typically threatened the power base of the males. Williams builds on this to identify the blurred line of victimization that includes women, but also the men impacted by powerful women. Jhirad notes that Hitchcock’s portrayal of blonde women, while clichéd and idealized, reflect the cultural standards of the time. Mothers are an interesting manifestation of female power, one which Hitchcock often subverts as the “terrible mother” who abuses that power, as identified by Dick. This is often the cause of a shifting change in the male character to a darker personality. In other words, it is female power which subverts the male into presenting their violent aspects. Hitchcock appears to therefore be using the authority in his films as a means of controlling the violent tendencies which female power brings out in men.
Another notable aspect of Psycho and other Hitchcock films was that it ventured into taboo subject areas of that time in terms of power relations between men and women. The threat of the mid twentieth century to the patriarchal power base can be seen in that context as described by Thomson and Smith. There is of course the analysis provided by Hitchcock himself in his interviews with Truffaut, where Hitchcock presents a more technical analysis that shies away from exploring a fear of the power of women and focuses on judgement. Judgement is served through various motifs as well as the direct influence of an authority figure. Toles noted the motif of the eye in this regard, while Walker notes the motifs of police, and guilt and confession. Huppert that this is essentially Freudian in nature, as the mother judges and shames the child’s id resulting in the formation of ego, superego and anxiety.
The gap in terms of examining how Hitchcock preserves the patriarchal hegemony of power lies in the lack of analysis of the relationship of authority to that of the “good” female victim and the “bad” female mother which has the power to turn men into the monsters that cause the violence to the former. Further, this has not been fully analyzed in relation to the power shifts ongoing un wider society at the time.
- Dick, Bernard F. “Hitchcock’s Terrible Mothers.” Literature/Film Quarterly (28)4, 2000, pp. 238–249. JSTOR. Web.
- Hitchcock, Alfred, François Truffaut, and Helen Scott. Hitchcock. Hitchcock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984. Print.
- Huppert, Michèle. “The Id in the Basement.” The Many Forms of Fear, Horror and Terror. Ed. Leanne Franklin and Ravenel Richardson. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary, 2009. Web.
- Jhirad, Susan. “Hitchcock’s Women.” Cinéaste 1984: 30-33. JSTOR. Web.
- Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. New York: Methuen, 1988. Print.
- Smith, Joseph W. The Psycho File: A Comprehensive Guide to Hitchcock’s Classic Shocker. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, Pub., 2009. Print.
- Thomson, David. The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder. New York: Basic, 2009. Print.
- Toles, George. “”If Thine Eye Offend Thee…”: Psycho and the Art of Infection.” New Literary History 15.3 1984: 631. Web.
- Walker, Michael. Hitchcock’s Motifs. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005. Print.
- Williams, Linda. “Discipline and Fun: Psycho and Postmodern Cinema.” Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: A Casebook. Ed. Robert Kolker. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.