the male gaze- two arguments

Air India Flight Attendants - 1946

1. The Male Gaze As An Objectifying, Reductive View of Women (via Wikipedia)

In her 1975 essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Laura Mulvey introduced the concept of the ‘male gaze’ as a feature of gender power asymmetry in film. The concept was present in earlier studies of the gaze, but it was Mulvey who brought it to the forefront. Mulvey stated that women were objectified in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera. Hollywood films played to the models of voyeurism and scopophilia. The concept has subsequently been influential in feminist film theory and media studies.

The male gaze occurs when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. It may linger over the curves of a woman’s body, for instance. The woman is usually displayed on two different levels: as an erotic object for both the characters within the film, as well as for the spectator who is watching the film. The man emerges as the dominant power within the created film fantasy. The woman is passive to the active gaze from the man. This adds an element of patriarchal order. Mulvey argues that in mainstream cinema, the male gaze typically takes precedence over the female gaze, reflecting an underlying power asymmetry.

Mulvey’s essay also states that the female gaze is the same as the male gaze. This means that women look at themselves through the eyes of men. The male gaze may be seen by a feminist either as a manifestation of unequal power between gazer and gazed, or as a conscious or subconscious attempt to develop that inequality. From this perspective, a woman who welcomes an objectifying gaze may be simply conforming to norms established to benefit men, thereby reinforcing the power of the gaze to reduce a recipient to an object.

2. Sometimes A Little Objectification Can Be A Good Thing (an essay by Ann Friedman at The Cut)

An extract:

…while we can all agree the objectification of women has some pretty awful cultural consequences, it’s a far trickier matter within a relationship. Researchers Laura Ramsey and Tiffany Hoyt define objectifiers as “men who frequently survey their partners’ bodies” and think about their partners’ appearances. But isn’t that, I found myself wondering, every man — every person — who’s in a sexual relationship? And isn’t it necessary to keep that sexual relationship going in the long run?

Within a healthy relationship or sexual interaction, a little objectification is a good thing. Often, it’s a necessary thing. Even the most ardent feminist sometimes wants to feel physically appreciated and desired in a way that is separate from her other qualities. Without a little bit of objectification, every sexual encounter would essentially be gentle lovemaking with lots of eye contact. The sort of eye contact that’s deep and meaningful enough to convey complex messages like, “You really killed it at work this week, you make me laugh, and I love your hot bod.” It’s a nice sentiment, sure, but not exactly a headboard-banging night. Sometimes you just want to get laid.

Especially when you’re several years deep into a relationship, a bit of remove is often essential to getting it up. It can be hard to feel sexy when you’re thinking about the financial stress you’re under, or a parent’s illness, or your partner’s work, or any of the multifaceted aspects of your daily relationship. Focusing on bodies can provide a welcome disconnect. “There has to be an ‘other’ for there to be sexiness,” psychologist Marta Meana told Maclean’s last year.

This is especially true for women. In Daniel Bergner’s book What Do Women Want? he explains that long-term intimacy kills women’s sex drives faster than men’s — women, contrary to popular belief, are more turned on by novelty. Which means that if you’ve decided cheating and swinging aren’t for you, a little objectification is probably required for women to maintain some semblance of a sex life in a long-term relationship. Even Ramsey and Hoyt acknowledge that “despite these negative consequences, the male gaze may be an integral part of many heterosexual relationships.” I’m pretty sure this is an academic way of saying the couple that pervs each other stays together.

You can read the whole thing here.

Image- Air India Flight attendant on board a plane, circa 1946

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