The Male Gaze

This post is by our volunteer blogger Molly.

However subtle or loud it may present itself, the male gaze exists, and has existed, quite consistently throughout filmmaking. Laura Mulvey, a feminist, noticed the asymmetry of gender power throughout film and media, and first coined the term in 1974.  The male gaze occurs when a camera takes on the role of a heterosexual man, forcing the audience’s hand in doing the same. The result is a subconscious objectifying of women, which has played a role in the structuring of female characters. The worse consequence of this, however, is that it affects how women view other women, thereby influencing how women view themselves.

The male gaze originated from the original concept of “the gaze” which speaks specifically to how an audience perceives what is being presented. Considering the patriarchal society that film and advertising were born into, both industries being controlled by a majority of men, women have been tirelessly presented as objects of desire, things to be gazed at or consumed, rather than listened to. This in turn has affected how women view other women, as well as themselves, through a similar gaze known as the mirror. This is a concept that identifies the want of women to be like other women who are viewed positively by men. The old adage “sex sells” refers to this; a female character desired by many often becomes an idol to the women who watch her. Camera focus is on a woman’s assets, during a love scene more may be shown of the female than the male- this constant imbalance and focus on the body takes away from the female influence. This makes the development of strong female roles hard to promote- as it has become expected that a women be a beautiful compliment to the leading man, rather than a lead herself.

Even modern media’s attempts to strengthen women’s roles have fallen privy to the male gaze. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, for example, puts the woman in a position of power. Her position of power, however, comes clad with short shorts and a low-cut shirt. This sexual approach plays to the male gaze- even if she beats the villains; she’s still dressing with them in mind. It should come as no surprise that this production team was heavily male.

With all this in mind, I present a list of modern television’s newest advances in the destruction of the male gaze. As of 2012, television has been all but taken over by female leads, writers, producers, and directors. Quirky, not always attractive females have taken the reigns of influence- finally creating strong female roles that are to be not only viewed, but also admired.  These females write to speak to a female audience and do so admirably without the inclusion of the male gaze.

Check out the shows:

  • Girls
  • New Girl
  • 2 Broke Girls
  • The Mindy Project

What do you think about the male gaze? Can it be controlled?

One thought on “The Male Gaze

  1. All recommended shows but The Mindy Project are known to be highly problematic. Yes, the male gaze is an issue — but the more pressing, more dominating gaze in this country is that of the white gaze. The male gaze to which Molly refers is actually white male gaze. You cannot have feminism without intersectionality.

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham is notorious for racist sentiments and has no qualms refusing to include PoC characters because she “can’t write them.” A swift Google search will expose all of Lena Dunham’s very white-washed feminism. (And, if you need that explained to you, googling “white feminism” may also help as well.)

    “New Girl” is actually full of male gaze. It doesn’t require a male director and/or writer to include male gaze, as this post suggests: it infects how women view themselves. Zooey Deschanel is well-known for cashing in on and perpetuating the Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, which is severely damaging and becoming more and more pervasive in media. Let’s not forget the wonderful episodes in which “New Girl” characters talk about “motorboating a member of the Cherokee Nation,” which isn’t racist because it’s for “a good cause.”

    “2 Broke Girls” is full of Asian-American stereotypes that are highly offensive. Even The Guardian of the UK has written a short article Titled “2 Broke Girls: ‘so racist it’s baffling’.” The writers even specifically changed the Asian-American male character’s name to “Bryce Lee” simply to make a Bruce Lee joke. The show isn’t even above antisemitism – after the formerly rich, blonde character attempts to haggle at a Goodwill for a pair of shoes, a character quips, “I can’t believe you tried to shoe her down.” (It’s a play on the phrase “to Jew down [something];” the play on words is obvious and…not funny.)

    Even The Mindy Project had a terribly racist gag in the pilot regarding Dr. Mindi having to see an assumedly Muslim female patient. One of her assistants literally tells Dr. Mindi that he sent the patient to her because he thought she was “rich oil money.” Dr. Mindi refers to her headcovering as a “burqua” when it was a simple headscarf. However, out of the four shows suggested, it’s the least problematic in terms of race.

    Breaking down the male gaze is important, but you cannot do so without also breaking down the white gaze. Otherwise, you will not benefit all women — just white women. And that simply isn’t pro-female, or even pro-human.

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