The “male gaze” is a concept coined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her influential essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975). The term refers to the way in which visual media, particularly film and art, tend to depict the world and its characters from a heterosexual male perspective, emphasizing the objectification of women and framing them as objects of male desire.
In media created through the male gaze, women are often presented as passive objects to be looked at and desired, rather than as active and complex individuals with their own agency and perspectives. This perspective has been criticized for reinforcing traditional gender roles, perpetuating stereotypes, and contributing to the objectification and sexualization of women.
The male gaze is characterized by several key elements:
- Camera Perspective: The camera’s viewpoint often aligns with the perspective of a heterosexual male viewer, objectifying women by focusing on their bodies and appearance.
- Framing and Composition: Women are frequently presented in ways that highlight their physical attributes and attractiveness. Shots may focus on body parts like legs, breasts, or hips.
- Narrative Role: Women’s roles in narratives often revolve around their relationships with men or their appearance, rather than their own desires, goals, or complexities.
- Passivity: Women are often portrayed as passive objects of desire, while male characters are more likely to be active participants in the story.
- Power Dynamics: The male gaze often reinforces power imbalances between genders, with men being depicted as the active subjects and women as the passive objects.
- Objectification: Women’s bodies are objectified and reduced to visual elements for the audience’s pleasure, rather than being portrayed in a holistic and multi-dimensional manner.
The concept of the male gaze has been widely discussed and critiqued within feminist theory and media studies. Many contemporary discussions and efforts in media production aim to challenge and subvert the male gaze by creating more diverse and authentic representations of women that reflect their complexity, agency, and diverse experiences. The goal is to move away from perpetuating harmful stereotypes and instead promote a more equitable and inclusive portrayal of gender identities in visual media.