In 1975, Laura Mulvey, a British film theorist described the “male gaze” in her essay, ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’. She wrote, “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between the active\male and passive\female”. This means that visual media reduces female characters with virtues and aspirations into mere objects of aesthetic value. We can see instances of representation of women that are present only to appeal to the heterosexual, masculine eye. We have been conditioned to normalise this. When we watch a scene where a woman is hypersexualised, we identify with them.
The male gaze has three perspectives: one that of the man behind the camera, one of the male characters, and one of the male spectators.
The male gaze can be attributed to patriarchy because of its inherent inequality. It is a clear example of how we perceive women. A woman can be talented, educated, or successful but the first question that pops up into our heads when we see her would be, ‘is she pretty?’ We are told to live in denial about our acne, cellulite, stretch marks, and body hair. Growing up, watching one item song after another, it is etched into little girls’ minds that they have to be desirable for another person, that a random man has the right to scrutinise their bodies.
Two important terms we should know about the male gaze are ‘voyeurism’ and ‘scopophilia’. Voyeurism is the practice of gaining sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity. Scopophilia is similar to voyeurism but more extreme. The male gaze has three perspectives: one that of the man behind the camera, one of the male characters, and one of the male spectators. In other words, most of the content we consume is made by a man for men. This results in a spectrum of problems. Objectification of women on-screen can have real-life impacts. It makes men think it is permissible to look at and comment on other women. Watching a single narrative of how women should be, forces us to believe that it is something that we should aspire to be.
The female gaze
Naturally, a question arises about how men are also sexualised? Just as much as we see scantily-clad women, we are also exposed to the chiselled abs of men. Let us look at it from a broader perspective. Take, for instance, any conventional movie that you can think of. Despite the male and female protagonists both appearing in songs, the man has a backstory and purpose while the woman is at best, an aide. The saddest part is that we are conditioned not to desire a man’s body as much as being desired by the man, unironically. Not that cinema is not evolving, but are we, as the audience, ready to accept the new norm where women are equals?
The male gaze can be attributed to patriarchy because of its inherent inequality. It is a clear example of how we perceive women. A woman can be talented, educated, or successful but the first question that pops up into our heads when we see her would be, ‘is she pretty?’
There should be more movies where women explore their sexualities and find purpose in more than meeting the right man. We want to see one movie where they portray period-sex and it gets messy but that’s okay because the woman is enjoying it and the man is not grossed out. Visual media needs to get past the age of eroticising the female body. No woman wants to be anybody’s ‘chikini chameli’ or ‘Sheila’. We do not want young girls, growing up, conscious of their bodies. It is overrated. Let us let go of this binary differentiation of gender and be more inclusive. We have more stories to tell than that of a testosterone-fuelled man and his sexy beau.
Aparna Mammen is an intern with SheThePeople.TV