With YWCA Greater Austin’s upcoming end of year event, Solidarity: Beyond the Male Gaze, it is important to break down the history of the male gaze as well as the progression of the idea first coined by Laura Mulvey.
In 1975 Mulvey published “Visual Pleasure in narrative Cinema” which began a new conversation in film theory. This text quickly became an important work in feminist film theorist circles because of its introduction of the idea of the male gaze. “Mulvey assumes the spectator is male and that females have to adopt a male point-of-view and that male spectators identify with male protagonists whilst female characters are objectified as either objects of desire or threat. She identifies masculinity as active and femininity as passive.”[i] In her work, Mulvey examined how women were depicted in many films throughout the history of cinema and the more she watched the more she was able to see start differences between ow the two genders were portrayed. Women were depicted as deliberate objectification placed for the viewing pleasure of the male protagonists and viewers. Women wanted to be the female in the film because she was lusted after by the males while the men wanted her for her sex appeal. Conversely, men were the strong hero that women lusted after and men wants to be because of their strong personas.
However, the idea of the male gaze is not simply limited to women featured in cinema, as was indicated by Mulvey. Today, we extend this far beyond this medium to describe the experience of being seen through the lens of the male gaze for all people. One article argues, “The influence of the male gaze seeps into female self-perception and self-esteem. It’s as much about the impact of seeing other women relegated to these supporting roles as it is about the way women are conditioned to fill them in real life. The pressure to conform to this patriarchal view…and endure being seen in this way shapes how women think about their own bodies, capabilities, and place in the world—and that of other women.”[ii] Although this is true, we must take this idea and apply it to all in the world today.
By living in a patriarchal society, all non cis white heterosexual men (who are the dominant ones in the patriarchal society) are victims of the male gaze. Essentially, the male gaze discourages LGBTQAI+, female, and all others disenfranchised (within the cis white heterosexual male) in society’s empowerment and self-advocacy while encouraging self-objectification while having to defer to men and the patriarchy. The male gaze, which refers to the lens through which mostly white, heterosexual men are viewing the world, is a lens of entitlement.
Since Mulvey, many have begun to develop what is being called the female gaze, however, this is not how we should go about challenging the male gaze. Some argue, “We’re essentially inventing the female gaze right now. We’re trying to show sex and desire from a female vantage point, and my ultimate hope is that I can inspire women, queer and trans people everywhere to join in and tell their truths about desire, identity and sexuality from unconventional perspectives.”[iii] One can argue that the female gaze is simplistic and takes the dichotomy of gender into play, however, “female gaze invokes a transfer of emotions from the director to the crew to the screen and finally to the audience. As a result, this female gaze depends more upon profilmic experiences and essentialist accounts of identity than on formal qualities in the finished work…Closer examination of [the] claims suggests that this theory of the female gaze is actually less a theory about structures of looking and instead much closer to a revision of auteur theory.”[iv]
Challenging the male gaze is something that is constantly in development and a theory that is constantly challenged by emerging scholars. What we must remember in this patriarchal society is that we need to take the gaze back for ourselves. We must not be dictated by the heteronormative, patriarchal gaze that is imposed onto us. Simply taking the male gaze and making it our own will not work. Making a female gaze will not work. Each one of us must create our own. Remember, the only gaze that matters is your own!
Join us on Tuesday, December 6th as we celebrate our end of year party, Solidarity: Beyond the Male Gaze. We will come and gather in solidarity with cis, trans, nonbinary, gender fluid folx where we will look beyond the male gaze and create a space where we can be vulnerable, safe, creative and free.
Event is 21+
To read Laura Mulvey’s original 1975 work click here.
[i] Spectatorship and Desire: Beyond the Male Gaze; Beyond Laura Mulvey, https://mikehibbertfms.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/spectatorship-and-desire-beyond-the-male-gaze-beyond-laura-mulvey/
[ii] Vanbuskirk, Sarah, What is the Male Gaze. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-male-gaze-5118422
[iii] Morse, Nicole and Lauren Herold, Beyond the Gaze: Seeing and Being seen in Contemporary Queer Media, https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc60.2021/MorseHerold-BeyondGaze/index.html
[iv] Morse, Nicole and Lauren Herold, Beyond the Gaze: Seeing and Being seen in Contemporary Queer Media, https://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc60.2021/MorseHerold-BeyondGaze/index.html