The Male Gaze

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Question 1

'Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. 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 ‘...to 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. 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 women. 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...
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