“Male her curves. The camera moves up and down

“Male Gaze”

The “gaze” is a term that designates how viewers involve with visual media.
Originating in film theory and criticism in the 1970s, the gaze discusses to
how we look at visual depictions. These include advertisements, television
programs and cinema. What is The Male Gaze Theory?

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As you just saw, a primary example of the male gaze takes place in the
movie “Transformers” from 2007. 
In the scene actress Megan Fox is shown opening the front hood of a car
while the cameraemphases in on her body, highlighting her curves. The camera
moves up and down her body gradually and even shows her from the viewpoint of
fellow actor, Shia LaBeouf, as if each member of the audience was him. Megan
Fox is shown as nothing but a sexual body in this scene of the movie.  The Male Gaze Theory is a concept used to
study the way males view and objectify women to their own sexual desire. The
male gaze takes domicile when media reflects a patriarchy society in which they
use women to provide a pleasurable visual experience for men (Mulvey,
1975).  Another take on the theory
suggests that this male gaze view may be less about sex and less about actual
human sexual activities, than it is about power; male power (Streeter, This is
Not Sex).

So What…

One major problem in our society that certainly demands our attention is
the fact that women’s self-esteem is smashed by the gaze that this theory describes.
Another issue that is a serious problem in our society is the dominant advantage
that men hold over women. The inferiority of women in today’s society remains a
problem that is only established further by continuing to allow and accept the
male gaze. The ways in which women are portrayed in media is what frames their
roles in society today. By placing women in the positions they are dependably
put in today in all forms of media, their inferiority to men is made clear.
They are seen as sexual items rather than true human beings. As they continue
to be shown and noticed in this way, the self-esteem of many females will
continue to be compromised. As long as the male gaze remains a significant part
of media and our society, so will the overall inferiority of women.  

 How Does this Theory Explain Media
Communication?

The male gaze is a media statement theory that defines how media texts and
visuals are produced and consumed with a sexual represented portrayal of women.
Most men are made to look powerful and in control. All women are made to look
submissive and represented. John Berger (1947) once said, “Men ‘act’ and women
‘appear’. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at,” (p. 47).
This quote has helped us understand exactly what the male gaze is. For
feminists and women the male gaze can be thought of in three different ways.
How men look at women, how women look at themselves and how women look at other
women.  Western art holds a long
tradition of these different ‘looks’ and it continues into modern advertising: in
advertisements and many different movie and T.V. scenes. The disturbing part
about this theory is that not many people even know about it or what it is, and
as audiences to these advertisements and films this gaze encourages males to
objectify women without even knowing they are doing it.                                                        

 

Theorists Who Contributed to the
Male Gaze

The person to coin the term Male Gaze Theory was Laura Mulvey, who is a
British feminist film theorist, in her 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and
Narrative Cinema”.  The essay emphases on
how Hollywood films reflect a patriarchal society in which men use women to
provide a pleasurable visual experience for themselves.  These films portray women as objects rather
than subjects of matter.  When conducting
this study Mulvey identifies three perspectives from the films that function to
objectify women.  These looks include:
first, the perspective of the male in the film and how he sees the female
character, the second is the perspective of the audience as they see the female
in the film, and the third perspective is the male audience’s perspective on
the male.   The third perspective is the
most important because it allows the male audience to step into the shoes of
the male character allowing them to observe the female as their own sex object,
hence the male gaze.

This narrative is structured around the masculine gaze.  As one section of the article is titled Woman
as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look” she discusses that the women in these
films are meant to be looked at and displayed as sexual objects within this
form of media which proves her third perspective. The women’s visual appeal
distracts the development of the story line and as Budd Boetticher says:

What counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she
represents. 

 She is the one, or rather the love
or fear she motivates in the hero, or else the

 concern he impressions for her, who
makes him act the way he does. In herself the

woman has not the slightest reputation. (Mulvey, 1975, p.11)

 

This quote essentially defines the male gaze theory in terms of the
objectification of the women and the lack of status they portray in these films
that Mulvey examined. 

Like Mulvey, Erving Goffman was alternative theorist who examined the male
gaze.  Goffman however, concentrated on
“reading Images” or in other words, advertisements (Bell and Millic, 2002,
p.204).  Goffman studied many
advertisements and his main fight was that men and women are shown as
participants in “hyper-ritualization” of everyday social scenes where the
people portrayed in the ads were participating in what the media portrayed as
everyday social scenes, “the common denominator of which was female
subordination” (Bell and Millic, 2002, p.204).  
Goffman was far along quoted in Thomas Streeter’s online web essay in
which he sums up the work of Goffman and other theorists.  Streeter and a team of colleagues discusses
Goffman’s main argument in which the male gaze is not just around sex or actual
human performance but rather power.  This
discussion of power led to the cant effect which was founded by Goffman, . The
cant effect is the way in which women often pose with their heads or bodies
slightly bent at an angle.  Goffman privileges
that the effects of cant is that the, “The resulting configurations can be read
as an acceptance of subordination, an expression of integration,
submissiveness, and appeasement,” (Goffman p. 46).                                            

 

Additional combination that is often added to cant is that the typical or
actress puts a finger in or towards her mouth (Streeter, This is Not Sex).  This gives the illusion that the women are
child-like.  Another individual that
Goffman was fond of was the pose “recumbent position” (Streeter, This
is Not Sex).  The recumbent position is
“one from which bodily defense of oneself can least well be initiated and hence
one which renders one very dependent on the benignness of the surround…Floors
also are related with the less clean, less pure, less exalted parts of a
room-for example, the place to keep dogs” (Streeter, This is Not
Sex).  More often than men you see women
posed in this position because this is a male dominant society.  Goffman did a study called Gender
Advertisements in which he examined different advertisements to see the
infantalization of women.  Goffman
distinguished six factors of ‘infantalization’ of women in ads which include:
“relative size, the feminine touch, function ranking, the family, the
ritualization of subordination, and licensed withdrawal (Bell and Millic, 2002,
p.205).  Relative size mentions to the extent
of the females and the men in the advertisement; if the man appears larger or
even taller than women, it’s a sign of ‘infantalization’ (Bell and Millic,
2002, p.204).  The feminine touch refers
to the way in which women gently touch or caress objects in advertisements
versus men who are more likely to appear as grasping an object (Bell and
Millic, 2002, p.204).  When a man and a
woman were doing a task together, men were usually the enforcer of the role
whereas the women played more of a secondary role or if the task was more of a
feminine role, the man would have no role at all (Bell and Millic, 2002,
p.204).  This example refers to the
function position.  Family figures
portrayed in ads usually represented a ‘mother-daughter bond’ or a ‘father-son
bond’ in which the father-son bond was not as up close and personal as the
mother-daughter bond portrayed ads which refers to the family classifier (Bell
and Millic, 2002, p.204).  The
ritualization of subordination refers to women being portrayed as less serious
than the men or being under ‘the physical care or safety of men’ (Bell and
Millic, 2002, p.205).  And the last organization
is licensed withdrawal which refers to women in ads being given the chance to
withdraw from the scene around them because they were under the care of a male
who acted as a additional parent.  The defensive
presence of the male allows the women the license to withdraw from the scene (Bell
and Millic, 2002, p.205).If women want power, they need to get that power
through the gaze of males.  These classifications
make women look helpless and subordinate which is why Goffman emphases more on
the notion of power rather than sex. 
These poses are overly-used that we barely even notice them anymore,
even though they are exceptionally awkward and very unrealistic.  This characteristics that Goffman, Streeter,
Bell and Millic discuss in their studies brought new insights to media statement
because it showed how dangerous and influential advertisements and films can
be.

 

Both theorists of the male gaze as well as many of the others we have observed,
all focus on the male main society in which women are a subordinated
group.  Whether one sees a movie, a
commercial, or an advertisement in a magazine, the male gaze is everywhere and
the ideas of a patriarchal society and what a woman ‘should’ look alike is
being engraved into our brains and has desensitized us that this is the
norm. 

 
Critics

1975, several theorists have criticized the notion of the male gaze.  John Berger studied the male gaze as well but
also censured the theory by discussing, in his book Ways of Seeing, that most
women are responsive of being the object of the male gaze as he states, “Men
act and women seem.  Men look at
women.  Women watch themselves being
looked at” (Berger, 1972, p.45).  He uses
the example of old Renaissance paintings and how women were painted naked,
exclusively for the male viewer and the women were fully aware of posing as a
sex object.  This drives against Mulvey’s
argument because as she describes that the gaze is detrimental to women’s
health or self-confidence; Berger argues that obviously women don’t care
because they are fully alert of their actions. 
Miriam Hanson also critiques this theory in her article “Pleasure,
Ambivalence, Identification: Valentino and Female Spectatorship” (1984) by
mentioning that women are just as able as men to view males as objects of
sexual wishes.  In other words, this shouldn’t
be a problem because women are able to ignore the gaze and take a stand.  The theory goes both ways, men will objectify
women and women will objectify men. 
Another critique done by Bracha Ettinger on the other hand, proposes the
matrixial gaze which is defined by “parallel psychic activity fused with
neither subject nor object’  (Gender
Studies, 2013).  This “trans-subjective
psychic sphere” depends on a person’s values and experiences (Gender Studies,
2013).  Ettinger believes that the matrix
is “not just to exchange an organ (penis) and its image for another (womb) but
to conceive of an alternative to the phallus in terms of structure, mechanism,
functions and logic (Gender studies, 2013, 
as qtd in Ettinger, 1997).  This
gaze appears masculinity with femininity and offers a gender-neutral gaze that
is not one sided and has a more symmetrical power relation.

We hear from some theorists who address the male gaze as males realizing
women and viewing them as sexual desires for their preference.  Then on the other hand, there are critics
saying that women are fully aware of this gaze and have the ability to ignore
it and others say that it is just as easy for women to portray men in the
media, only it’s not as well-known as the male gaze because of our male leading
society.

How women are signified visually
in Bollywood cinema.

The films I will be focusing on in this study are:

Dil To Pagal Ha (The Heart is Crazy) (1997)

Mohabbatein (Love Stories) (2000)

Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai (It’s My Friend’s Wedding) (2002)

Mujhse Dosti Karoge! (Be My Friend) (2002)

Hum Tum (You and I) (2004)

Aaja Nachle (Come, Let’s Dance) (2007)

Laga Chunari Mein Daag (My Veil is Stained) (2007)

These films are ones which follow the traditional Bollywood (or any leading
cinema) formula, which is; exposition, development, complication, climax and determination.
Bollywood films differ from traditional Hollywood in that there are songs to
pinpoint each change in narrative structure and to guide the development in an
entertaining manner. They celebrate what Bollywood is seen as; a gala of
colour, song and dance, and merriment. All of the films have happy endings and
are what majority of the audience attending a screening of a Bollywood film
would expect.

The women in these films as seen in a viewing of the above films prior to
the start of the study are presented simply and in the manner in which most
cinemas deals with women and contain traits which are the generally accepted
codes of femininity. Throughout history, it has been articulated that
“truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights…all
they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a
husband and bearing children” (Friedan, 1963) and this is the premise of
femininity this dissertation will be taking into consideration. In considering
these films, I aim to provide an insight towards the way in which women are
represented in majority of Bollywood films because it is generally seen as
though “it is the women who define the boundaries of ‘Indianness”
(Sharpe, 2005:67). I do know that this is not the case all the time and there
are films which do show women as being more than the woman as defined by
Friedan. As depicted in fig. 1 (pg 1), the ideal Indian women has been
articulated through film from the early days of Bollywood, and is one who has
what is seen as truly feminine abilities,

In
movies like the James Bond Franchise the role of the female characters is significant
when it comes to the exhibitionist aspect of the film

Images in complicated forms are presently dominating the world of culture,
politics, and economy. The marketing industry is at its greatest now, and
cinema has become the most controlling and influential form of entertainment. In
these two mediums of entertainment, different methods are applied for rendering
particular perspectives, among which one of the most important is the angle of
the camera. It is the narrator’s vehicle to say and show what she /he wants.
Here the question of gaze, more definitely the difference between the male and
female gaze, comes in. It has been observed that the gaze through which the
narrative is presented in these narratives is basically male. Even in cases
where the story is sympathetic towards a woman or simply has a direct feminist
angle, the gaze cannot be proclaimed as “female” since it resorts to the
conventions and techniques used by the male gaze. However, the very idea of
gaze is directly connected to the concept of representation itself, something
which is dependent on the norms and conventions of the culture of a particular
society. Therefore, the question of the possibility of a “female gaze” becomes
a complicated one.

“One should
refer to the massive sweep of the so-called “item songs” that are freshly being
seen in these films. These songs are visually extravagant, where both the
lyrics and choreography are strongly sensuous. … These songs do not have much
connection to the key plot, but are made to look essential by providing glamour
and glitz at the cost of representing the female body”.

In the
advertisement industry as well, the same male gaze is evident. Advertisements
that we see on billboards or on the screen expansively use images of the human
body, and, in most cases, the female body. Ads of beauty soaps, body lotions,
fairness creams, and so on could be some of the best instances. For example, if
we notice the very familiar and extensively known narrative of beauty soaps
like Lux, we can see the voyeuristic basics at work. Lux is an international
brand and celebrities from Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot to Bollywood
actresses like Madhuri Dixit and Katrina Kaif made their appearances to promote
the brand. In one of the ads, we see Katrina Kaif in the bathtub, soaping
herself. She attracts the attention of the viewer with a kind of sensuality
that is attached to the actresses of mainstream cinema. Here, too, the viewer
becomes the voyeur who secretly watches the actress engaged in a private
activity like bathing.

A sensitive as well
as conscious viewer of cinema and advertisement must understand this politics
of gaze and react to it accordingly. Cinema is now one of the most powerful
forms of entertainment and also one of the most significant. As a result, what
we see on screen matters on levels the directors and writers are not always
aware of. Therefore, there should be space for an active “female gaze” which
would extend the vista and create new potentials for cinema by including
subject matters that need to be addressed and that have long been ignored by
mainstream media.

 

Conclusion

The media portrays women as sexual substances through many channels. What
Laura Mulvey explains through her male gaze theory is that women are the sexual
items that men view and take pleasure in doing so. She makes vibrant in her
theory that men are shown as greater to women in society because of the way
women are watched at in the media.  From
the ideas of Mulvey as well as others like Goffman, who examined male gaze in commercials,
a common finding was interpreted: the predominant practice of sexual
objectification of women in media frames women’s roles in society. Women are
seen as and accepted as inferior to men in commercials, films, and all other classes
of media. How can women be seen as anything but inferior and sexual when the
media alters so much of how we feel and act towards those around us?

 

The Male Gaze Theory and studies that apply the theory to media as well as
studies that examine it in preparation are all important to the connection
between media, gender, and power in our society. It makes clear the image
people hold of females compared to males in today’s age, still. The sexual
objectification of women in media is clear, and its affects on society and all
those in it is explained by the findings of research done on the theory. Identifying
that the Male Gaze Theory phenomenon is going on all around us is essential to educating
the ways our society connects media, gender, and power. Women don’t justify to
be seen and accepted as inferior to men. And by gathering and sharing the
findings of research done on male gaze, our society has the ability to better
itself.