The male gaze is composed of two words: male as masculine and gaze which by the dictionary means “a steady intent look”.
This concept refers to the cis-hetero male perspective that represents women mainly as sexual objects -pleasurable to look at – in visual arts and literature.
Examples of the male gaze concept are those movie scenes in which the camera is staring at a woman’s body, or showing a man intensely looking at a woman’s body, or how the woman’s naked body looks like in classic paintings.
Although John Berger first used the term male gaze in his analysis of the treatment of women as objects in European painting, the term was coined by Laura Mulvey in 1975. In her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, she combines the psychoanalytic perspective of Freud and Lacan with feminist perspectives, and she “psychoanalyses” the mainstream Hollywood cinema typical of western culture.
Following Freud’s theory, she identifies activity with masculinity and passivity with femininity, which means that “we identify with the active protagonist (the male actor) and desire the passive objects of the gaze (the female actor)”.
In this situation, there is no room for identification with an active female character, and the consequent message is that women have no possibility of agency.
The male gaze is particularly present nowadays because we are surrounded by visual arts, photography, cinema, advertisement, and exposure to these images has a huge impact on the way we see and interpret the world around us.
Some implications of the male gaze are the reinforcement of gender stereotypes and body shame, and a feeling of inadequacy experienced by women in considering themselves attractive to men only if following the standards imposed by the cinema. Therefore, there is a need of shifting the gaze in visual arts into a more inclusive, queer, and feminist perspective.
See more resources
Oliver, K. (2017). The male gaze is more relevant, and more dangerous, than ever. New Review of Film and Television Studies, 15(4), 451-455.
Patterson, M., & Elliott, R. (2002). Negotiating masculinities: Advertising and the inversion of the male gaze. Consumption, Markets and Culture, 5(3), 231-249.
Bell, Vicki (2017-01-14). How John Berger changed our ways of seeing art. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/john-berger-ways-of-seeing-a7518001.html