The Male Gaze: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:00 Definition Of The Male Gaze
  • 1:25 Theory
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Deborah Teasley

Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.

In this lesson, we will discuss the theory of the Male Gaze, its role in cinematography, and the message that it sends to women. Afterwards, you can test your newfound knowledge with a quiz!

Definition of the Male Gaze

Have you been watching a film and you noticed the camera stays focused on a female's body a little longer than necessary without adding to the storyline? Or have you noticed in advertisements that women are scantily clad for no apparent reason? This is most commonly connected with the Male Gaze Theory. To demonstrate this theory, let's use the Hollywood hit The Wolf of Wall Street as an example.

In the film, the main female character, Naomi, is introduced to viewers in a very distinct way. After the camera pans a provocatively dressed Naomi, we hear the male characters mutter lewd comments and responses. Naomi, who seems unconcerned by the questionable behavior happening around her, merely laughs and carries on with her business.

For the rest of the film, Naomi remains an aesthetic object to the male characters. While the film seems to show a level of self-awareness of this portrayal, she speaks very little about her life and is normally dressed in tight dresses, lingerie, or wearing no clothing at all.

Naomi's role in the film is a good example of the Male Gaze Theory. This theory is defined as a specific 'lens' through which we view visual pop culture. More specifically, it's the idea that films and advertisements were created to please a heterosexual male audience.

Theory

The supporting factors that make up this theory had been around for quite a while; however, the actual phrase 'the male gaze', was coined by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay on cinematography titled 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'. In the essay, Mulvey discussed the role of women in films and boldly stated that women are often portrayed as objects because of the lack of diversity in directors. Since men were mainly in control of the camera, the audience experiences the film from a heterosexual male perspective.

As a result, Mulvey believed that women were 'the bearer of meaning and not the maker of meaning.' Her statement suggests that women were not placed in a role that has control of a scene. Rather, they're something that's looked at in a scene and from a very specific point of view. Additionally, she also believed that this perspective was never reversed so that men were the ones being viewed. She argued that this inequality enforced the notion that, 'men do the looking, and women are to be looked at.'

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