11.07.2019 in Review

Standpoint Perspective: A Feminist Criticism of Dangerous Liaisons

Films influence our ways of thinking and by extension our day to day lives and have the ability to change our perspectives of people. With all this power, what is the possible consequence of expressing gender stereotypes through films? In light of this, criticism of such films is important with one avenue being from a stand point perspective of a feminist.

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Dangerous Liaisons Plot Summary

Marquise de Merteuli promises Monsieur Vicomte de Valmont one night of pleasure if he will be able to sleep with the pious Madame de Tourvel and obtain a written proof of it. Vicomte pursues this while at the same time wooing the innocent virgin Cecile de Volanges to revenge on behalf of Merteuli whose ex-husband is also pursuing Cecile for her virginity. Cecile’s mother Madame de Volanges is backward and accommodative to male demands and has forgotten all her sexuality, traits she aims to develop in her daughter. Vicomte achieves all his exploits but in the process falls in love with Tourvel, creating tension between him and Merteuli which ultimately leads to their downfall. In the ensuing all out war between the two, the philandering ways of the previously admired Merteuli are brought to light leading to her vilification

Role of gender in Dangerous Liaisons

Distinction of characters according to gender serves to display the inequity between women and men. Some women are presented as mindless, modest maidens and others as sexual predators while there is leniency to the moral slackness of men. Social and sexual stereotypes on females pervade the entire atmosphere of the artifact. The female protagonist, Marquise de Merteuli, is independent and liberated and seems to be successful but ends up being vilified, therefore suggesting that goodness and sexual liberation are mutually exclusive qualities of women. Women who crusade against the inequity to the female gender are portrayed to inevitably fail. Men, on the other hand are depicted as all conquering and superior to women. Vicomte is brought out as charming and philandering, wooing women as he wishes. He goes out of his way to obtain a written confirmation of sleeping with the pious Madame de Tourvel and in the process agrees to corrupt Cecile and strip her of her virginity just so that he can sleep with Merteuli.

Assumptions about gender in Dangerous Liaisons

Women are inferior to men and any of their attempts to address the inequity are bound to fail. The female characters in this artifact are simplified into harlots, virgins, moralists or mindless conformists and all of them are at the mercy of men. Cecile is one dimensional as her character revolves around her virginity. Tourvel is a pious and moralist family woman but is later easily convinced to sleep with the charming Vicomte. Madame de Volanges is presented as being backward, automatically accommodative to the wishes of men without a second thought, and seems to have forgotten her sexual freedom. Mertuile, the only strong enough to rebel character gets cast out at the end and is vilified by of her previous admirers.

Position on the portrayal of gender in the artifact

The way gender is portrayed in the artifact is wrong, stereotypical and supports a major fallacy. The female characters are mostly one dimensional (harlots, virgins, moralists or mindless) and are mere sex objects to the male ones. This is stereotypical because women are just as multi-faceted as men are and any other perspective of this is dehumanizing and derogatory. Women have their own lives to lead, hence their portrayal as easily available objects for male sexual gratification is misguided and presents women as being irrational, equating them to animals. The artifact also presents women as not being able to breach the barriers set upon them by society. This is untrue as women have ventured into areas of life previously predominated by men and in the process breaking the shackles of gender roles  ranging from acquiring voting rights, seeking political office, education of the girl child and equal opportunities for recruitment and growth at the work place.

How to change the artifact to include other gender perspectives

A rational balance between the main male and female characters in the artifact can introduce other perspectives of gender. The female characters should be developed into wholesome beings rather than one dimensional while at the same time humanizing the almighty male characters. Since the artifact already has a sexually promiscuous character in Merteuli, the other female characters should not be presented as cheap sex objects for men. Tourvel should remain steadfast to her morals and Cecile should have other facets. The tragedy that is Merteuli’s failure should be checked with some level of success at the end of the artifact. Vicomte’s power over women should be tempered. His all conquering character should be balanced with at least one simplistic main male character.


Dangerous Liaisons makes efforts to address the inequality, misconceptions and stereotypes on gender but then ultimately endorses these ills. The distinction of gender gives roles that depict female characters as being inferior to the male ones and the only hope of breaking barriers is seen as futile through failure of the protagonist to liberate herself. The portrayal of gender in the artifact is wrong as the female characters are overtly simplistic while the male characters are all conquering. A variety of changes can be introduced into the artifact to address the gender stereotypes, mainly through strengthening the female characters and watering down the male ones.

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