Saturday, September 21, 2013

"Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is"

Male gaze is the basic concept that in media, the perspective of the consumer of that media is often clearly assumed to be male by default. The camera is operated by a man, for men. John Berger agreed - “[the consumer is] presumed to be a man. Everything is addressed to him. Everything must appear to be the result of his being there."

Have you seen the movie Batman Begins? If not, spoilers ahead. At a certain point in the movie, a leading female cast member and love interest is poisoned and loses consciousness. It's a very dramatic scene, as Batman has to race to save her. Oddly enough, for this scene the actress appears either to not be wearing a bra, or to be wearing a thin bra, as the outlines of her nipples are quite apparent.

This would not be a big deal, but the camera angle during several shots makes it clear that the audience is meant to see the outlines of her nipples.

It had no bearing on the story, on the characters, or on the action. If the filmmakers were looking to arouse their audience (which I'm sure they knew straight women would be a part of), why is there was no mirror scene where Bruce Wayne is sporting a half-chub when getting out of bed? That scene is an example of male gaze. Rachel, the character with the obviously erect nipples, became the passive subject of gaze, while my boyfriend didn't even realize all those years ago that he became the active viewer. He is the one who showed me this scene, as I've never been much into the hero/action movies. He told me he didn't even realize what was going on until years later when he started researching feminism.

If, according to Bell Hooks, "[Mainstream Hollywood white male-oriented cinema] perpetuates white supremacy and with it a phallocentric spectatorship where the woman to be looked at and desired is ‘white,’” doesn't that mean that any mainstream film or TV show created by a man of any race perpetuate male supremacy?

I'd love to see what female gaze might look like by studying films with direction and camerawork done by women. Sure, some of them might have internalized the male gaze, but I'm sure there's a female gaze out there, somewhere, we can find, study, and sort of map out.

Also, some movies are made from the perspective of a female protagonist/s, so for movies like that, the male gaze doesn't even make any sense, but you can still find it because of how embedded it is in our society. If you've seen Sex in the City 2 (hardly the pinnacle of feminism, but useful for the purpose of illustration), I'm sure you can tell this is a movie intended to have a primarily straight female or gay male audience. And yet, there are several scenes in which a protagonist's jealousy of an attractive young woman is used as an excuse to get an attractive young actress to run in slow-motion without a bra or to get her thin t-shirt all wet. Perhaps this was a bone thrown to uninterested boyfriends dragged to the movie, but it was really out of place and didn't make a lot of sense in the movie. Sex in the City, though, also seems to have at least some of the more shallow aspects of female gaze down, from having attractive men in little to no clothing being shot as much as objects as people and with the whole shopping/clothing thing. Now watch the 2nd clip:

According to Laura Mulvey, Freud predicted this turn in our media's history. "[Freud] associated [voyeurism] with taking other people as objects, subjecting them to a controlling and curious gaze.” More-so now than ever before, if a woman is on camera, you're likely to see the camera linger on her, or pan up her body. Advertisements show more of the female body than the male body. Men are rarely framed in a way that shows them off as sexually desirable to the audience. 

In short: media tends to frame women in a way that accentuates they're hot for the male heterosexual audience, but doesn't do the same to men, by and large.

The male gaze does not necessarily have to only describe the trend of representing women in male-dominated media. It can also describe the ways in which many women have internalized a male gaze, meaning they evaluate themselves and other women based on male standards of beauty. As feminists, we also have to recognize and find ways to be women-identified women. Finding ways to understand ourselves based on female-ways of knowing, which is tricky because so much of our world is constructed and saturated by the male gaze and male standards of "objectivity." It is this oppositional gaze that we should be casting on the media which serves to only undermine us.


  1. I didn't notice the Batman scene. That is really out of place. I feel like most movies have the element of placing women, sex scenes, or slow motion zoom- ins where they don't belong, for no reason at all. I find it ironic how movies get edited and these useless parts find their way to the final cut. I liked you examples because they are just the right amount of exaggeration, found normally in movies.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Life doesn't have a difficulty setting. And no, I did not read your post.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this. It was both entertaining and informative, and I didn't have to fight myself to stay awake. You did a great job bringing things like Katie Holmes nipples to my attention, but also getting a necessary point across.

  5. I agree with your saying that the male gaze has been internalized by women. Many people overlook the fact that the practice of the male gaze is no longer exclusive to males. They continue to stick with the outlook that even should a female perform a male gaze, they are still stripped of the power it entails because they will always be the "bearer" and not the one performing the "action". To receive something is also a form of action and should one argue otherwise, modern women don't have to just lay down and wait for penetration from males like in the nude drawings of women, women can be the one on top as well.