Daniel R. Curtis (History Department, ESHCC) and Qijun Han (Nanjing University of Science and Technology) have recently published two interrelated articles in journals, where they analyze the visual depiction of women during epidemic scenarios in cinema, and reveal two recurring characteristic images.
On the one hand, women have been portrayed as actual or symbolic “carriers” or “spreaders” of disease—sometimes as a punishment for perceived immorality—and usually connected to female characters deviating from the gender roles prescribed during epidemics, which were often focused on domesticity. On the other hand, women have been shown in films to take on heavy burdens during epidemic outbreaks—often by caring for others, apparently selflessly—a subject that has been highlighted during the world’s struggles with COVID-19. In certain films, women sacrifice themselves for the “greater good” of the wider community or society. These images are mutually reinforcing: the failure to adhere to the prescribed role of selfless caregiver during an epidemic often leads a female character in the film to be susceptible to the prejudicial “spreader” label.
The first article, in “Journal of Popular Culture”, can be accessed at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jpcu.13070.
The second article, in “Early Modern Women”, can be accessed at https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/715752.