Friday 7 February 2014

The male gaze - the female gaze

I went to this Symposium last week, mainly to hear Laura Mulvey speak, but as it was very interesting, I stayed on.

The Male Gaze

With her 1975 essay, 'Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema', Mulvey used psychoanalytic theory to identify the influence of patriarchal ideology in relation to film. She developed the theory of the Male Gaze, describing how the audience, or viewer, is put into the perspective of a heterosexual male. Using Freud's concept of scopophilia which involves taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze, she showed how women are displayed as sexual objects in film: 'in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly'. The woman in this scenario is displayed as an erotic object for the characters within the screen story, as well as for the spectator within the auditorium. In herself, the woman has not the slightest importance, she is an icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, as opposed to the man who is the active one in the narrative, making things happen. She calls for the freeing of the look of the camera to set women, 'whose image has continually been stolen and used', free.

Men then look at women as sexual objects, the camera focusing on their physical appearance and sexuality, on their breasts, suggestions of or actual nudity, reducing them to objects. This is a result of the necessity to reproduce patriarchy and patriarchal ideology.

Mulvey's theory has been extremely influential and has moved beyond the analysis of film as a mechanism of viewing art and the mass media as a whole, in the way they represent women.

The Female Gaze or The Female I/Eye

Mulvey is currently working on a paper on the work of filmmaker Alina Marazzi who was present at the Symposium as she is on a three week visiting fellowship at the University. By using the concept of Female Gaze the organisers were not thinking of a straight reversal where women look at and use men as objects, but as a retrieval of lost female experience, of looking at history afresh to bring to the fore what has been hidden, ignored and suppressed.

Marazzi's work involves an investigation of women's history, a history that has been silenced and suppressed. The past is always appropriated and re-written by the powers that be, in this case patriarchy, to justify the present. Women's lives and experiences have always been inscribed within fictions of one kind or another. A feminist aesthetic would involve the re-writing of those fictions, giving them new meaning, displacing the old patriarchal myths and rewriting their narratives in order to break the silencing of female voices. Mulvey talked about gleaning - the gleaning of footage in film. Gleaning in the sense of collecting the discarded, what was seen as valueless and what was actively suppressed. A word that takes on a metaphorical meaning referring to the marginal in culture, the sphere of women's history and women's position in that culture as well as in language, and how this could relate to a feminist aesthetic.

In Un'ora ti vorrei, Alina Marazzi used home-made movies of her family taken by her grandfather and through editing and using scrapbooks, family photographs and diary entries she created a new film in which she explored the life and death of her mother who committed suicide when Marazzi was seven. Using existing footage but also looking at the gaps that had been left in the original footage she was able to reveal what had not been recorded, what had been left unsaid, forgotten or hidden.

Even though this film is autobiographical Marazzi has created a pattern of how to tell stories in a different way, using gleaning of old footage to reveal hidden or implied power relations, so that her mother's story is not just that woman's individual story but a record of women's cultural marginalisation - a transformation of individual suffering into a political and social issue.

A trailer of Tutto Parla di Te Marazzi's latest feature film by Marazzi with Charlotte Rampling, where the relationship between two women is explored.


  1. Interesting. My sadness is evoked by all the girls and women who strive to capture the male gaze as described above, and who believe that that goal is what is being a woman is all about. I just wish that more good works of art: films, pictures, books, were interested in humans interacting - using the extraordinary range of gazes that we humans can present to ourselves and others when we all listen.

    1. I guess a lot of women and girls don't feel they have many choices. And I agree about interacting, Olga.