Written by Grace Robinson
The Male Gaze is a feminist film theory coined by Laura Mulvey that highlights the sexualisation and objectification of women in film while empowering men simultaneously. Some of your favourite films and TV shows have this, including every Disney princess film ever (even Frozen!), The Queen’s Gambit, Bridgerton, and Justice League.
In Netflix’s hugely successful Bridgerton, I personally noticed many unrealistic sex scenes. There is a focus on male pleasure, much like the porn industry, rather than female pleasure, despite the large target female audience. There is one thing you do before you start having sex that every woman should know, and that is foreplay. In Bridgerton, they go straight into it; I could not help but cross my legs because all I could think about was the friction burn that even a carpet could not compete with.
Then, there is the focus on the standard boring penetration. A fun fact, which is actually a depressing fact, is that over 80% of women could not reach orgasm from penetration alone and that is all that Bridgerton concentrated on. People would talk about the swoon-worthy Duke, but if I were Daphne, I would be swooning into a divorce if that were all my sex life was going to be. The one thing that got to me more than anything was the synchronised orgasms. Daphne was lucky she came the first time with the Duke, but the Duke must have an amazing pole for it to do that for a woman. The other issue with the Duke’s pole is that there is a concentration on his orgasm as there is a whole plot around it. For the Regency era, this portrayal of sex was probably rare and a step forward, but for a modern audience, it makes you cringe.
Another Netflix TV show that highlighted The Male Gaze was the Queen’s Gambit and Beth’s mental breakdown scene. Now, if there is one thing I thought when watching that breakdown scene was, “I want to look like that when I have my next mental breakdown.” Considering you are meant to sympathise and feel for Beth as she struggles with her addiction, the scene really misses the mark. The depiction of Beth’s mental breakdown where she is wearing make-up and her hair is nicely styled is completely wrong. The real kicker is when Beth is dancing around in her underwear, which is unrealistically sexy considering she is having a mental breakdown.
Jennifer’s Body (2009) is a prime example of when writers go against the male gaze. The film flopped hard with a 45% Tomatometer rating and arguably ended Megan Fox’s career. However, the marketing was where it went wrong. Robert Ebert, a film critic, described the film as “Twilight for boys, with Megan Fox in Robert Pattinson’s role.” This is entirely wrong because the film is about “a commentary on girl-on-girl hatred, sexuality, the death of innocence, and also politics in the way the town responds to tragedies [of the bloody deaths of several young men]” as Cody explains. The film was not intended to be marketed to teenage boys, but to teenage girls, as in the #MeToo climate, the plot highlights the role of patriarchal society with the severe issues of sexual assault.
You not only see The Male Gaze in film and TV, but in everyday life such, as dating profiles. For example, when men use photos of their abs or their biceps on their Tinder profile, they think they are appealing to the female gaze when it is the male gaze that they are appealing to. These men focus on the appeal of the body, when women are attracted to the hands and eyes, as they invoke desire for affectionate acts like hand- holding or looking into each other’s eyes.
As long as there is a patriarchal society, there will be the male gaze. However, as women create more in the TV and Film industry, something I can only hope for is more concentration on the female gaze, such as the hands and eyes.
Grace Robinson (she/her) is a first year English Student who loves everything books. She is also passionate about feminism and pop culture. You can find her on Instagram: @grace.lizz12