The Male Gaze

1 January 2017

This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves’ (Berger 1972:47). Discuss how this proposition of the ‘male gaze’ has been applied to feminist studies of the media. “One thing I really envy about men,’ a friend once said to me, ‘is the right to look’ (Dyer 1982) Johnathan Schroeder posited ‘… o gaze implies more than to look at- it signifies psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze. (Schroeder, 1998)’ Keeping this in mind, in Laura Mulvey’s article ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’, she proposes that the male gaze is paramount in how women are looked at and presented throughout film and other mediums in media, using this study as a political weapon. In conjunction with John Berger’s ‘Men act and women appear. Men look at women.

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Women watch themselves being looked at’(Berger, 1982) statement, she explores how psychoanalysis displays the view of the audience. Her essay is heavily influenced by Freud’s work, including his work on scopophilia into the study. Mulvey’s ‘male gaze’ theory is key in feminist studies. (Mulvey, Autumn 1975) In order to understand the media, we must dissect the meanings that are embodied throughout all mediums and how this affects our cultures, in past and present. Not only is feminist studies important in this essay, but gender studies is key.

This essay will explore Mulvey’s feminist theory, highlighting the power imbalance between men and women, how it has changed and how it applies to the feminist studies of the media, in the 1960’s in which the essay is applied, and today, divulging the effects of the gaze on media then and now. Mulvey’s arguments are in context to classic Hollywood films. According to her work, women are objects there to provide visual pleasure to men and it is just assumed that the audience is all men. Mulvey’s essays explore how men look at women, how women look at themselves and how women look at other omen. She articulates that men are active and are the bearer of the look whereas females are passive and the erotic object for the characters within the story, putting forward that they hold the ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ aura to them. Freud coined the Oedipus complex. He describe Oedipus as “His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours — because the Oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him. It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father.

Our dreams convince us that this is so. ” To paraphrase, when the child is 3-6 years of ages, the libido and ego form, thus causing a sexual want for the mother and a hatred and jealousy for the father because he sleeps with the mother. The id in the boy wants to kill the father as id acts on animal instinct, however the more level headed ego knows that the father is stronger and will win. He will not fight the father as the fear of castration by the father is a bigger threat. ” Castration anxiety is a theory of Freud.

He explains that when a young male realises the differences between men and women, he assumes that the female had a penis at one stage and it was removed, thus the presence of the female figure frightens him. The female “connotes something that the look continually circles around but disavows: her lack of a penis, implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure” (Mulvey). To overcome castration anxiety, Mulvey proposes that there are sub gazes within the male gaze. The first being the ‘voyeuristic’ gaze, seeing women as whores.

The second ‘fetishistic’, when the man sees women as Madonnas. Hitchcock is a prime example to explain the two gazes. His film ‘Rear Window’ is based on voyeurism, however, not only is the male protagonist, Jeffries (James Stewart) the voyeur with his binoculars and telescopic lens, but using POV (Point of View) shots, Hitchcock allows the audience to also become the voyeur, almost giving the audience an uniform sexuality of man. By allowing the audience to experience such a prime role as the voyeur, he invites them to participate in a form of narcissism, as the male gaze is ometimes thought to reflect male patriarchy and disdain women. Lisa (Grace Kelly), the female protagonist sexuality is portrayed gracefully; however, Hitchcock’s use of shadows enhances Lisa’s sexuality. Fetishization is predominant throughout the film, an example being the women dancing in her underwear. Throughout “Rear Window” we see women represented in different ways, from a woman of respect to a woman of strength and sexuality. We also see women who are weak and a woman who uses her beauty to obtain what she wants in life.

All of the women are either strong due to their sexuality or weak thus their sexuality is not represented in the film at all. One predominate feature of the male gaze the lingering of the curves on the female body and how events which occur with the woman is presented from a man’s reaction of it. This enforces the objectification of women. There is also sexualizing of the female body even in the situations where female sexiness has nothing to do has doing to do with the scene/product (in reference to advertising). Mulvey explores Freud’s theory of scopophilia, which is the pleasure derived from looking at someone.

Mulvey argues that the cinema creates an environment which allows the viewers to participate in the voyeuristic process (related to the male) and the narcissistic development of discovering an ideal version of the self which is seen on the screen (relating to the female audience. ) “Women are depicted in quite a different way from men–not because the feminine is different from the masculine–but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him. ” (Berger, 1972)

As Berger stated, the image of the woman is there to entertain the male audience and to compliment the male protagonist. The direct contrast from femininity and masculinity helps makes the male hero appear more masculine, heightening his characteristics of the manly hero. ‘The male gaze’ which Mulvey contrived has been applied to all realms of media and art. However, in the times of post-feminism, women are closing the gap of inequality between men and women “… poststructuralists femininists have, since the 1970’s, sought to deconstruct patriarchal power relations… ” (Weedon, 1996).

Along with fighting for equal pay and equal opportunities, women are also gaining their own gaze within the media; – ‘The Female Gaze’. “For him she is sex—absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other. ”(Beauvoir, 1949) The third wave of feminism, known as post-feminism has seen what Beauvoir stated above manipulated as so woman can now objectify man. Now, woman is the absolute – HE is the other.

One prime example of post-feminism in the media is ‘Sex and the City. ’ The show’s appeal was centred on ‘its frank discussion of female sexuality and its refreshing representation of the lives of contemporary women. ’ (Akass, McKabe). Not only did the show redefine the traditional sitcom family, but it focused on the 4 women’s friendships and finding themselves. Henry suggests that the ‘platonic’ relationship between the females is more important than sexual relationships. “These characters, and the actresses playing them, reap enormous benefits from the women’s movement.

The characters have sexual freedom,opportunity, and the ability to be successful… ” (Sohn in ‘Reading Sex and the City: 24) Bust editor Debbie Stoller has noted a sexual credo of feminism’s ‘next generation’: “In our quest for total sexual satisfaction, we shall leave no sex toy unturned and no sexual avenue unexplored. Women are trying their hands (and other body parts) at everything from ‘phone sex to cybersex, solo sex to group sex, heterosex to homosex. Lusty feminists of the third wave, we’re more than ready to drag-race down sexual roads less travelled. ” (Karp & Stoller, 1999)

Is this a manifest that women have taken the sexuality which media has instilled within them and made it their own? The ‘female gaze’ could be explained through the post-feminism era we are currently in, and with more women behind the camera, it is hard not to have a female gaze occur. We also see the male beginning to change with New Hollywood. In Coma (1977), Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Kramer versus Kramer (1981) we see the ‘new’ man, caring about how he looks, becoming the loving father figure. In Saturday Night Fever, Tony (John Travolta) is vain, looking in windows and mirrors, fixing his hair and caring about how his appearance.

In Kramer vs Kramer, we see Ted (Dustin Hoffman) fighting for custody for his son. This shows the paternal side of the male, usually preserved for the mother. These films have realistic characters and narratives that relate to those issues of feminist movement and adapt to the demand for change. To answer the question, ‘how this proposition of the ‘male gaze’ has been applied to feminist studies of the media,’ the relationship between media and women must be explored. In other words, in order to challenge the predominant ideologies, first we must understand them.

Media and popular culture excludes women, it trivialises women, it condemns women and it maintains the sexual division of labour and the oppression of women. Through this, women are socialised into adopting particular roles in society. Ideological messages are thought to offer men and women ‘training’ in their gender roles. Women are told to be submissive, passive, subordinate, emotional and weak, whilst men are told to be authorities, active, dominant, rational and strong. I. e. everything a woman is not. Gender is a binary opposition. They are the most extreme form of signification and are a feature of culture not nature.

The commonly shared ideology is that women are naturally capable of to fulfil different social functions, such as mothers, teachers, nurses, air hostesses as these are caring roles which do not need powerful men who should take the roles of managers, doctors, politicians. (Edge 2012) Sexual violence in advertisements is predominant in quite a few. In these advertisements, the females adopt the social roles of the passive, subordinate, weak female whereas the male is active, strong, overpowering, and violent. The advertisements depict women and men enacting particular gender sexuality roles that highlight “rape myth. “Rape Myth” is the cultural belief that women enjoy sexual assault and therefore are partly to blame. “no means yes. ” The women who subject themselves to the ‘sexual assault’ are normalising this rape mythology. There have been arguments as to the impact of these advertisements on men and the true norms of society. Ads depicting gang rape, murder of women, domestic violence, stalking are common to popular companies out there, designers such as Dolce & Cabbana, Calvin Klein, Wranglers, Valentino, and even food companies such as Burger King, which in one ad uses the sandwich as a phallic object.

These advertisements shows the male not only active, but quite aggressive where as the women is in a submissive position. In some ads, the women is smiling whilst she is being attacked, furthering normalising this rape myth and the ads are found in teen and preteen magazines. This means that young boys and girls are being subjected to these violent images, making it seem culturally accepted to act like this later on in life, and for girls to be submissive and okay with this in real life. In the illustrious Mulvey’s work, she focuses on the classic Hollywood cinema and the effects on feminism. To pose a relationship between feminism and cinema , is therefore to suggest two things : one that there are connections to be made on an analytical or theoretical level between the two sets of practices and two, that taken together feminism and cinema might provide a basis for certain types of intervention in culture’ (Bose, 1997) It is clear that the ‘male gaze’ is predominant in the studies of feminism as explained throughout the essay, however, with the onset of post-feminism, is the post-feministic culture causing a repudiation of feminism?

Although women have gained their own, they are now becoming so un-lady like. Is this the new feminism? Feminism without the femininity? Covers of magazines ‘celebrate’ women’s form and is the woman’s choice, however, are women choosing this or are they conforming to the male gaze and allowing the normalisation of pornography and hostility to feminism Young women’s ‘freedom’, cool and sophistication dependant upon their complicity and acquiescence to this culture (McRobbie, 2006)

But the essential way of seeing women, the essential use to which their images are put, has not changed. Women are depicted in quite a different way from men–not because the feminine is different from the masculine–but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him. ” (Berger 1972 p64) This is an interesting point Berger raises. Although this was written in 1982, this can still be applied to the media today. Post-feminism is indubitably upon us, with women taking control of their future and their sexuality.

However, the argument stands as to whether women are in control of their sexuality or has the culture become so narcissistic and obsessive with looks that women have just conformed to what men like, as reiterated from de Beauvoir “For him she is sex—absolute sex, no less.. ” (Beauvoir, 1949) With good judgment, it is safe to accept that although the role of ‘the male gaze’ is imperative when analysing media forms, in the new era of post-feminism there the introduction of ‘the female gaze’ and it seems to be culturally accepted, through the media at least with the onset of post-feminist films, television shows such as Sex and the City.

It is uncertain how long this will last until the 4th wave of feminism occurs, and how further they can take it until they castrate themselves of their femininity completely and take on all masculinity characteristics. Sex is known as the biological differences between man and women, whereas gender is the cultural differences between man and woman. Cultural differences are learnt and instilled in us as we grow up, prompting the phrase : ‘Nurture, not nature. ’ (Edge 2012) However, if culture is changing and females are beginning to regain their power, does this mean that the cultural gender roles will change?

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