As children, one of our parents would scold us for starting at a stranger. In film, we call that the gaze, the looking upon another person for long periods of time without a break. The gaze is intrusive and unnerving when not invited. This article will discuss the Male Gaze, theorized by Laura Mulvey, 1975, groundbreaking criticism Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, The Objectification Theory and Jill Soloway, 2020, Female Gaze she describes at Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF. First, we will identify the differences between the male gaze and the female gaze. Then we will explore the Objectification Theory, Towards Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks. Finally, conclude why this is important in the amateur videos we make for our businesses and how knowing these theories will elevate them to a professional level.
The Male Gaze, Laura Mulvey, 1975
The Male Gaze was coined in 1975 by Laura Mulvey in her groundbreaking theory Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. She intended to break the patriarchal culture and the placement of women within the order. She identified the male gaze from a cisgender heterosexual perspective.
Women stand in the patriarchal culture of signifier for the male order, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of women still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning. (Mulvey)
Mulvey draws upon Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality as a baseline for her theories. Freud’s parts from his Darwinian predecessors’ perspective on sex as reproduction, arguing that sexuality originates in childhood and gains momentum in puberty after the sexual organs come to full maturation. From this perspective, which underscored the functionality of the human instincts, sexuality has its analogy in hunger as the expression of the need for ingestion in the service of self-preservation. (Van Haute) He proposed one primary drive differentiated into various domains and functions of which the sexual function is one. He addresses the question of the origin and nature of sexuality in a section on the autoerotic manifestations of infantile sexuality. He links it to the rhythmic oral activity of the infant and the pleasure of touch. Freud observed thumb sucking lead to sleep and tied it to orgasm. Freud’s main argument is that this pleasure is sexual because it is essentially autoerotic and non-functional. It has nothing to do with taking in nourishment and is not related to self-preservation.
In cinema, we talk about the male gaze as scopophilia, the love of looking and being looked at in terms of the object rather than subject.
In Mulvey’s essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, she identifies an obvious interest in this analysis for feminists, a beauty in its exact rendering of the frustration experienced under the phallocentric order. It gets us nearer to the roots of our obsession, and it brings an articulation of the problem closer. It faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structured like a language (formed critically at the moment of arrival of language) while still caught with the language of the patriarchy. There is no way to produce an alternative out of the blue. Still, we can begin to take a break by examining patriarchy with the tools it provides, of which psychoanalysis is not the only but an important one. A significant gap still separates us from important issues for the female unconscious, which is scarcely relevant to phallocentric theory: the sexing of the female infant and her relationship to the symbolic, the sexually mature woman as nonmother, maternity outside the signification of the phallus, the vagina. But, at this point, psychoanalysis theory as it now stands at least advances our understanding of the status quo, of the patriarchal order in which we are caught. (Mulvey)
Formed by the dominant order, cinema poses a question that attempts to unveil the unconscious of the structure of seeing and the pleasure of looking. Mulvey acknowledges the evolution of cinema from the monolithic system of the Hollywood 1930s, 1940, 1950s. With the advancement of technology, the economic conditions of cinematic production made alternative cinema possible. In this system of the patriarchal order, the male is active, and the female is passive. The male gaze is an objective camera that creates a bond between the person behind the camera, the character, and the audience.
The objectification theory is a set of ideas that distinguishes the sexes through their bodies. Feminists and others tend to focus on the sociocultural influence rather than the biological or hormonal influences on personality, experiences, and behavior.
They have illuminated how the differential socialization of boys and girls and less to do with their biological bodies.
The Objectification Theory is a framework that places female bodies in a sociocultural context as a form of oppression that affects their lived experiences and mental health for girls and women who encounter sexual objectification.
This form of oppression affects employment discrimination and sexual violence and extends to the trivialization of women’s work and accomplishments. The thread that connects this form of oppression is the sexual objectification is the experience of being treated as a body or collection of body parts for the use of consumption by others.
Karen Horney indicated 84 years ago “the socially sanctioned right of all males to sexualize all females, regardless of age or status.” The gaze is the most subtle, deniable, and ubiquitous way sexualization evaluation is enacted. (Kaschak)
Sexual gazing and sexual objectification are tied together in the potentiality of objectification. Sexual objectification occurs when women are dehumanized into body parts or sexual functions. Thus, reducing her to an instrument for use and pleasure for the others. Because a sexually objectifying gaze is out of the control of women, few can completely avoid the potentially objectifying contexts. (Kaschk)
The objectifying gaze plays out in three related arenas.
It occurs within actual interpersonal and social encounters. Women are gazed at more than men, and men direct their gaze towards women more than vice versa. Women feel “looked at” in interpersonal encounters. The gaze of a man is often accompanied by commentary that evaluates the sexuality of the women, which tends to be more derogatory when aimed at women of color.
Visual media depicts sexually objectifying gaze within interpersonal and social encounters. Advertisements show males pictured looking directly at their female partner far more often than the reverse. (Goffiman) (Umiker-Seboek) In advertising, when a woman is depicted looking off into the distance, daydreaming, or otherwise mentality drifting from the scene as ‘anchored drift’ was coined by Goffman in 1979. The most insidious manner in which objectifying gaze infuses American culture is spotlighting bodies and body parts in visual media, aligns viewers with an implicit sexualizing gaze.
Laura Mulvey, in her 1975 article, identified and detailed sexual objectification in the media. Visual media spotlights bodies and body parts and seamlessly aligns viewers with an implicit sexualizing gaze is by far the more insidious form of sexual objectification. Mulvey expands upon the visual media beyond porn to analyze mainstream films, visual arts, advertisements, television programming, music videos, women’s magazines, and sports photography. Each provides evidence that women’s bodies are targeted for sexual objectification more often than men.
For women of color, these objectifying images are often infused with racial stereotypes. The images will expand beyond the sexualization of her to include depicting her as an animal as well. Asian women will be depicted as more exotic and subservient sexuality. Print media and artwork will emphasize men’s heads and face with greater detail, and women the focus is on her body.
Both the Male Gaze and the Objectification Theory viewed the female form as an object to be taken apart and devoured for his own sexual phantasies.
The Female Gaze Jill Soloway, 2020
At Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF ) 2020, Jill Soloway identified the Female Gaze, its evolution from the male gaze, and the rebound out of the male gaze.
Jill Soloway explores the gaze from a female perspective. She explores the historical development of the female gaze from the 1970s and 1980s, which remained the male gaze turned to the male form as the object and the woman as the viewer of that form. She rejects that and dives deeper into the point of view of women, which is the emotions of the subject. In doing so, there isn’t an object rather a subject.
The female gaze is a subjective camera that intention is to capture the feeling of being seen. It attempts to get inside the protagonist’s interiority, mainly when the protagonist is not a cismale, meaning a male person who identifies with his male biological body. The frame is utilized to share and evoke feelings of being in feeling rather than looking at the character. It is an attempt to bring the audience in synergy with the character’s interiority and the director. Soloway will whisper in the ear of her cinematographer during a between takes. To help her cinematographer embody his emotions, and his feelings are prioritized over the actions. The idea is to be subjective over the objective. Gender reversal or a sexual display of the form is simply the third leg of the triangle.
It is less about the sociopolitical justice demanding of art-making or the heroine journey’s story or the feeling camera about a filmic language. Instead, the female gaze is a privilege generator that crafts film to tap into our deepest levels of empathy. According to Roger Ebert, a film is an empathy machine. The female gaze uses storytelling to get you to choose sides.
It is about developing an emotional attachment to a character. Soloway hopes that people develop empathy as a political tool and wrestle away the point of view, changing the way the world feels for women and moving their bodies through the world—feeling like the subject.
The cismale artist has been controlling the narrative about women and their bodies as a propaganda tool to teach women how to behave, how to have access to their attention, money, and their privilege. It stops us from grabbing our own attention to ourselves.
Laura Mulvey intended to destroy the pleasure of the male gaze in disdain for fetishizing scopophilia. She argues that the disruption of scopophilia is the best solution to the objectification of women in cinema. She writes that Freud connected scopophilia “taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze.” Mulvey’s analysis utilizes the Objectification Theory to develop her theory further. It is a framework that places female bodies in a sociocultural context as a form of oppression that affects their lived experiences and mental health for girls and women who encounter sexual objectification. Jill Soloway parts from Mulvey and the historical attempts at defining the Female Gaze as the Male Gaze turned to the male form as the object and women as the voyeur.
By understanding these theories, the entrepreneur will be able to elevate their videos from a home movie into an art form that transcends their meaning and the women’s lives within those videos. The professional messages will connect to a more profound desire of the female audience to be the maker of the meaning and not the passive object of the gaze.