Public women: the representation of prostitutes in German Weimar films (1919-1933)

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2009-05-15

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This thesis explores the representation of prostitution in German Weimar films between 1919 and 1933. It theorizes that prostitutes are illustrated through characters who are public women. The women who step out of their homes to enter public, or who are somehow introduced to strangers without leaving their homes are public women. The public women in these films, as public women living in Germany, were in danger of being identified as prostitutes and becoming prostitutes. A woman?s public position made her vulnerable to the male sexualized gaze. The male sexualized gaze ultimately led to a woman?s prostitution. The thesis analyzes 4 films to demonstrate woman?s depiction as a prostitute. The first film, Nosferatu, depicts a seemingly virtuous woman whose husband begins to prostitute her, but ultimately she prostitutes herself in exchange for the service of a supernatural law. The film symbolically discusses social issues regarding prostitution, family life, and venereal disease. The second film, Metropolis, protects its public female character from the sexualized gaze with religion and motherhood at the beginning of the film. However, as the film progresses the main character, Maria, is unwillingly prostituted by the head of the society in exchange for a robot that looks like her. The robot employs the male sexualized gaze and her position as a prostitute to overturn society as a vagina dentata. The third and fourth films are The Blue Angel and Variety respectively. Both of these films depict women in public positions who use their sexuality for gain. These women prostitute themselves. They are not victims as Maria and Ellen are in the two previous films. The women in this chapter use their sexuality and prostitution as a way to attain agency. The women in these films I label as vagina dentata because they purposefully destroy men for their own gain. These women use public sexuality to find and engage their male prey as patrons before they emasculate them. The thesis views the women of Weimar films differently than other scholars have by making her the focus of the film and interpreting her public exposure as her gateway to prostitution.

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