At one point, this was the most accessed post on my former blog. It’s an essay I wrote while in college for film class covering the Male Gaze, which seems to be coming up a lot around here lately. As such, it is being reposted here in it’s entirety.
Apparently people are starting to realize that most of the female roles out in Hollywood carry along some sort of stereotype or cliché. A website I’ve never heard of, Radar, compiled a list of this millennium’s most misogynistic (see women hating) films. Superbad took home last year’s top prize.
Like Whitney Houston, we believe the children are our future, which is why the sexual politics of Judd Apatow’s adolescent romp left us so depressed.
While I don’t think Superbad will doom this generation, I do think that most female roles tend to be a bit stereotypical. Cinematical blogger Monika Bartyzel said it best with the following:
The female star may be professionally successful, but she’s neurotic. Or she is obsessed with beauty and fashion. Or she wants to have a family. The lady butt-kicker might be tough, but she’s also half-naked, or doomed, or… Each female protagonist might have modern aspects, but there’s almost always a stereotypical aspect tacked along with it.
All of this talk about misogynistic films reminded me of a paper I wrote for the Multicultural Film class I took at Florida State about the male gaze, which is the idea that male directors tend to cast scantily clad female leads for stereotypical roles because they are more pleasing to look at. So, in honor of full disclosure, you’ll find the entire paper and my thoughts on the male gaze below. Enjoy.
The Male Gaze - 2005
When Jessica Alba’s character Nancy is introduced to the audience in the film Sin City she is dancing at a sleazy saloon wearing not much more then a pair of chaps and cowboy boots. The camera pans around and focuses on Alba’s body as she gyrates, pleasing both the on-screen patrons and the audience watching in the theater. This focus on the feminine body is not limited to Sin City, it is actually a common trait known as the ‘male gaze.’ This notion of the gaze stems from what Sigmund Freud referred to as scophphilia, or “the pleasure involved in looking at other people’s bodies as (particularly, erotic) objects.”[Chandler, pg. 1] This notion is then applied to film as male directors produce “representations of women, the good life, and sexual fantasy from a male point of view.” [Chandler, pg. 1]
A film we watched in class that gives in to the traditional male gaze is Mean Girls. Here the focus is a small group of highly attractive high school girls — affectionately known as ‘The Plastics’ — lead by Lindsay Lohan’s character Cady. The film is full of toe-to-head panning body shots of the girls, particularly when initially introduced to the audience or after Cady undergoes her indoctrination into The Plastics. Director of Mean Girls, as well as another Lohan centered film called Freaky Friday, Mark Waters explains his use of the gaze: “When I find myself reading scripts I find the female stories just grab me more. It’s not a conscious choice. I think it comes back to in directing you basically have to wake up early in the morning and get up and shine a bunch of lights in a camera. It’s better if it’s a pretty girl than the sweaty guy. It helps you get out of bed in to work.”[Lybarger, pg. 3]
However, the male gaze is not limited solely to film. The series of graphic novels by Frank Miller that Sin City draws its inspiration features curvy female characters, often nude or carrying weapons, on almost every-other page. Gail Houston states that desire “motivates all speech, culture, and human behavior.” [Houston, pg. 249] Thus, a conclusion can be drawn that the gaze, whether in film or other forms of media, stems from human desire.
One facet of the male gaze as it relates to film can partially be blamed on typecasting. Typecasting, or actors “playing similar kinds of characters from film to film,”[Belton, pg. 98]locks actors into archetypes of individuals typically relying on stereotypes. When it comes to men, a prime example would be Bruce Willis. He is always the action hero that ends the movie bloodied and bruised with a few dead bodies under his belt. However, female actors tend to be typecast in roles that feature their bodies. Referring back to Jessica Alba, before the showing of Sin City a trailer ran for an upcoming movie which she stars called Into the Blue. Here images of a bikini-clad Alba diving underwater filled the screen. Couple that with Alba’s dance routine in Sin City and it is safe to say that she is being cast for her physical features.
Though, is all this talk about the male gaze and how it tends to dictate the filmmaking process bad? Well, not exactly. Again referring to Jessica Alba, in both Sin City and in a television show which she was the star, Dark Angel — where Alba played a genetically engineered teenaged girl who could break into anywhere and always wore black spandex while doing so — despite being objectified Alba was shown as a strong character and always came out on top of the situation. In Dark Angelshe was constantly fighting for a cause greater then herself and towards the end of Sin City she was shown as having a tremendously strong will as she resisted her captor. Looking back at Lindsay Lohan, she is shown in Mean Girls as standing up for what is right and unifying her high school at the end of the film.
The male gaze drives everything seen in a film. Marcia Pally explains that “film depends on a series of looks — yours, the director’s, the hero’s — with the gaze goes the entire construction of cinema, from the list of characters to the way we see them.” [Pally, pg. 253]Because in this culture where sex seems to sell just about everything from movies to soap it is safe to assume that the male gaze will be ingrained with the filmmaking process for a long time to come. Though more and more the heroine is fighting for injustice or representing a goodness that only a female can bring to film — she just happens to be wearing a miniskirt while doing so.
Belton, John. American Cinema/American Culture: Second Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005.
Cahill, Ann J. “Feminist Pleasure and Feminine Beautification.” Multicultural Film: Essays Spring/Summer 2005. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2005. 259-76.
Chandler, Daniel. “Laura Mulvey on Film Spectatorship.” Notes on ‘The Gaze.’Accessed 4 April 2005. http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/gaze/gaze09.html.
Dark Angel: Season One. Dir./Pro. James Cameron. Pref. Jessica Alba, Michael Weatherly, John Savage. DVD. 20th Century Fox Television, 2000.
Houston, Gail T. “Psychoanalytic Criticism.” Multicultural Film: Essays Spring/Summer 2005. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2005. 241-52.
Lybarger, Dan. “Mean Girls: How to Be a Cool Misfit.” Interview with Mark Waters—Nitrate Online. Accessed 4 April 2005. http://www.nitrateonline.com/2004/fmeangirls.html.
Mean Girls. Dir. Mark S. Waters. Perf. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert. DVD. Paramount Pictures, 2004.
Miller, Frank. Sin City: The Hard Goodbye. New York: Dark Horse, 2005.
Pally, Marcia. “Object of the Game.” Multicultural Film: Essays Spring/Summer 2005. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2005. 253-58.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Accessed 4 April. 2005. http://www.imdb.com/.
Sin City. Dir. Robert Rodriquez. Pref. Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba. Theater. Troublemaker Studios, 2005.