It seems as though I play a role in someone else’s movie. The director and the writers are men, and they tell me what to wear and what to say to be appealing. And even when I want to fire them so I can direct and write my own life, there’s still a man’s voice inside my head telling me what to do to make the boys like me.
This ideology refers to something called the male gaze.
The male gaze was first introduced in 1973 by filmmaker Laura Mulvey in her paper Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In the paper, Mulvey stated, “…pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.”
This suggests that our society is structured by and benefited from heterosexual men and that women are objects of ‘visual pleasure’ for male viewers. According to this thought process, women are there to support the male lead.
In the paper, Mulvey also states “…demonstrating the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form.”
To summarize: by living in a patriarchal society, we fall into this habit without realizing that the male subconscious runs our current society.
The film industry is highly influenced by men. According to Statista, in 2019 84.9% of directors of theatrical films were men.
For example, women in the Marvel franchise are depicted in tight outfits to keep male viewers interested in their character. If Black Widow was wearing a baggy shirt and sweats, men would simply not pay attention to her.
Men seem to complain about movies that are written and directed by women and for women. Movies that cater to the “female gaze” — where women aren’t objectified, and the movie deals with feminine issues — seem to receive unwarranted criticism from men. Almost like the movie wasn’t made for them.
Along with being objectified, we as women objectify ourselves. Because women have seen other women being objectified in most media outlets for years, we tend to have an “internalized male gaze.” No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that we are doing certain things for our own self-interest, in the end, we are just fulfilling a male fantasy. A woman may not wear makeup and may play sports, saying she’s doing it “for herself.” Another woman may say, “I’m getting dressed up for myself,” but in the back of their female brains, there is a voice asking how the boys will like it.
We walk around comparing ourselves to female characters in media that were created for men so we live our lives sexualizing ourselves and the women around us.
This is a habit we have all learned and seem unable to break because we ourselves have a man inside our heads controlling us like puppets.
According to Margaret Atwood, “You can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
With this newfound knowledge of the male gaze, the only thing that can counteract it is looking at life through another perspective, the female gaze.
Although this could be tough living in a patriarchal society we as women, learn to delve within ourselves and find the truth behind what it means to “do things for ourselves” instead of others and not caring what men have to think or say about it.