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The Haze of the Male Gaze

Essay by   •  April 29, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  1,743 Words (7 Pages)  •  215 Views

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In the Haze of the Gaze

        

The “male gaze” refers to the sexual politics of media and a sexualized way of representation that empowers men and objectifies women. In the male gaze, a woman is visually positioned as the “object” of heterosexual male desire. Her feelings, thoughts, and person are deemed less important as she is “framed” by male desire. A key idea of the feminist film theory, the concept of the male gaze was introduced by scholar and filmmaker, Laura Mulvey, in her now 1975 essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Adopting key ideas from Freud and psychoanalysis, Mulvey argued that traditional Hollywood films respond to an ingrained sexual drive known as “scopophilia”: the sexual pleasure involved in looking. Mulvey argued that most popular movies are filmed in ways that satisfy masculine scopophilia. She describes this process in her essay when she says, “The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly.” (837). Although sometimes described as the “male gaze”, Mulvey’s concept is more accurately described as a heterosexual, masculine gaze.

Visual media that responds to the masculine view tends to sexualize women for a male viewer. As Mulvey wrote, women are characterized by their appearance in cinema. A woman is considered a “spectacle”, and man is “the bearer of the look”.  Modern day film has become a mirror of society’s view of the female body. From up close shots of women’s breasts, to slow motion body scans, women actors constantly being objectified to satisfy the masculine eye of our society. Therefore, audiences are forced to view women from the point of view of a heterosexual male, even if they are heterosexual women or homosexual men. This is explained by author, Lauren B. Moffit, in her essay “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research” when she says, “a woman’s body or body parts are singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire” (Moffit 8). Typical examples of this include close-up shots of women from over a man’s shoulder, shots that pan and fixate on a woman’s body, and scenes that frequently occur which show a man actively observing a passive woman.

Today, the male gaze in cinema has clearly persisted. For example the film, Bad Teacher, stars Cameron Diaz as an unqualified middle school teacher. Her character wants to get breast implants to catch the eye of a fellow teacher. To raise money for her surgery, she has a car wash. The car wash scene shows parents and dads gawking at Cameron Diaz’ character as she washes the cars. This exhibits the male gaze theory as the men in this scene are clearly enjoying staring at her; as well as proving their superiority and power by feeling that they have the right to to do so. The theory states that men feel as though they are strong, powerful and hold authority over women because they are men. While everyone in the film is staring at Cameron Diaz, the spectators watching the film experience the male gaze as the males and females are looking at her in within the film itself. As the actors and actresses stare at Cameron Diaz, so will the audience watching the film at home. For males, they will look at her as a sexual object whereas women will look at her and be comparing themselves to her. The camera purposely shows people in the film staring at Cameron Diaz. This is done so the spectator watching the film can look at her the way the actors do in the film and not feel like they are the only ones watching. An audience will look at her because other people in the film are looking at her.

In the next shot, Cameron Diaz throws herself onto a soaking wet car. It is very clear that Cameron Diaz an audience wouldn’t see her in a voyeuristic way, who would typically fall in love, married off and have children. But instead, an audience would look at her in a fetishistic way so it’s more likely for her to be punished. This shot is a wide shot, as the director wants the audience to be looking at the only girl washing the car. This is followed by a mid-shot of her spraying her face with water so you can get her facial reaction. She seems happy doing it and not ashamed as she is smiling to herself. In the other shot, she has one leg up on the car. This would come across as a sexual look as she isn’t just standing there, she is making people look at her every move and what she is carrying out. The music playing has a very strong beat and fits well with the action she is doing. The men in the scene are all staring and gawking at her and are very obviously acting towards her based on how she is being presented. This clearly demonstrates researcher John Berger’s statement in his article “Ways of Seeing” when he says, “Men survey women before treating them. Consequently, how a woman appears to a man can determine how she is treated,” (Berger 198). The next shot is a young boy getting aroused over her, demonstrating that males think that they hold authority over women and that they have the power.

From this shot, the viewer can see it’s not just men that can have the gaze but also women. This happens when they assume the male gazer’s role. When a woman, looks at another woman, the only difference is that she presents herself as actively returning and confirming the gaze of the masculine spectator. This means that women look at themselves through the eyes of men. This leads me to the two major flaws in this scene of Bad Teacher, and the process behind it. Firstly, before the main character is even fully introduced, we are made aware of her primary goal and therefore, one of the main plots of the movie, is for her to be noticed by her male counterpart. This concept is already an explicit theme of the male gaze. By getting a breast enhancement solely for the purpose of male attention, our female role exhibits the domineering force of male approval and is therefore inflicting those values onto the female audience. The second issue with this concept is the scene’s portrayal itself. Cameron Diaz is seen as a sex symbol in this scene, she is no longer seen as a teacher, rather, she is seen as an object of desire; and not just by the people in the film but by the audience. Though the scene is exaggerated to make it comedic, it still fulfills its purpose of objectifying the female in a very clear way.

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