The controlling male gaze

Laura Mulvey, author of the essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, influenced by the works of Freud, is an important figure to the Feminist Film Theory Movement and has been of great influence since the mid-1970s. She explores in her essay how cinema is a voyeuristic platform that makes women the subject of the ‘male gaze’ and subject to the forms of the male-controlled society that has, for quite some time, ordered the way we see and perceive.

Nevertheless, the concept of selling sex has been around ever since TV, cinema and advertising progressed. Almost all of the fashion shoots and advertisements are based on the same concept of selling sex. There are so many wrongs with that, as one cannot refuse to acknowledge the unethical and immoral views it portrays. Ironically, one also cannot refuse that the concept of selling sex has been one of the strongest marketing implications in the Print media.

However, in her essay Mulvey argues that in classic Hollywood films, women were merely represented to provide visual pleasure to men, as the audience at that time was constructed in a manner where they were all expected to be men. This ‘male gaze’ is both voyeuristic and fetishistic, she says.

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Take the above image for example. This advert, like many others, portrays stereotypes of women. However, there are some ads that go beyond the line of what should be considered acceptable. This advert promotes the idea that women can be bought and sold, that women are sex objects and the female form can be dehumanized and still sell. This image shows the woman as a decorative piece- beautiful, poised, surreal- but this image also dehumanizes her. The woman is shown as a mannequin and promotes the idea that women can be bought.

Another disturbing image is this advertisement of Calvin Kleins jeans.

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This advert clearly exploits women’s sexuality, depicting women as sex objects and the subject of the ‘male gaze’. The dominating male models have surrounded the barely-clad woman, and while one leans down towards her, the other man holds a steady gaze at her, his expression seems as if he’s waiting for his turn to have a ‘go’ at her. This also explains the term, scopophilia, pleasure received through looking at other people’s bodies. With one look at the image, one can instantly tell that the men in this advertisement are enjoying looking at the woman’s barely-clad body.

The concept of the ‘male gaze’ can easily be applied in the above images. The male models have locked their gazes on the female model’s figures and bodies. They, along with any other man who will happen to look at the image, will think of the female model as a sexual object.

Mulvey also highlights in her essay that a man is subconsciously afraid of losing his genital organs, which sums up castration anxiety. For example, if a woman was not objectified the way she was in the classic Hollywood films, then the male would not have felt as powerful. The unconscious idea is that a male’s power and dominance over a female is through his genitals, and that a woman threatens his dominance if she does not arouse him.

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