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the female gaze vs the male gaze

By Raine Roberts

The eyes are powerful things—I’ve never really concluded that until after reading Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. The eyes, in conjunction with the brain, have been able to systematically downgrade the women intellect and ensure their objectivity. The ways we see, the ways we perceive, have initiated actions to recreate fantasy and ultimately construct a cage in which woman sit idly. Mulvey addresses this notion head-on, and it’s refreshing.

She breaks her article into two sections: one delves into the psychoanalysis of viewing yourself and viewing others; the second addresses how the ‘viewing others’ bit means viewing women and objectifying them—while men recreate their fantasies as they view the male protagonist. Mulvey takes the three points of a triangle to discuss the various aspects of the male gaze and how protruding and pervasive it is; “There are three different looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion” (843). These three parts work together to create a dynamic that situates the female body smack dab in the middle. It creates this notion that women are to just be looked upon, but their thoughts, their opinions, are unimportant. Mulvey brings in a quote from Budd Boetticher that, personally, I found very harshly true, “What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires, in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance” (837). Which is blatantly true, but I wish it weren’t. I remember growing up and going to the movies and just becoming enthralled with the male protagonists—I wanted to be them so badly because their female ‘side kicks’ were never very cool nor powerful. But, then I got confused because I was a girl and I was identifying the male protagonists on-screen, so I rejected all natural femininity from myself. I became a major Tom Boy and questioned my sexuality. Then puberty came, and I started worrying about my hair and makeup, as it goes. To sum up, I believe that most of my confusion as a young girl came from watching films and only seeing the powerful character being male—I wanted a social upgrade. I wish that there were movies that made me excited to see the female character kick butt and take names, but no such luck in the late 90s/early 2000s.

Having movies that are made by men, about men, and targeted towards men create this invisible domineering system; a system where women are never represented, where women can never speak and claim themselves. What does a true woman act like? Not a male-interpreted (or fantasied) version of a woman, but what does a woman inherently do? It’s tough to say because women have been caught in the cage of the male gaze—situated between the camera, the character, and the audience. There is no room to breathe, and there is no room to express.

Which leads me into the final question, what does a counter to the male gaze look like? What is the female gaze? Jill Soloway talked how the female gaze would include being with the character—understanding their feelings and actions. I think she’s onto something. I wholly believe in communicating through body language, glances, and fleeting facial expressions. I don’t think that the female gaze would be the objectification of males, rather it would be an attempt to understand their psyche. The female gaze would draw upon the emotions felt by the character and being with them through their actions… the audience will not be voyeurists, rather they will be participants. I also think the female gaze would draw from daily anxieties and fears felt by those marginalized in an attempt to recreate the gut instinct of danger. This would play into the way in which films are being shot—less violence and more internalized fear.