Male Gaze

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A 'Male Gaze' In the Way Laura Mulvey Describes

A 'Male Gaze' In the Way Laura Mulvey Describes


Scholars of visual and cultural studies based on British screen theory made use of Lacan's psychoanalytic theory of the gaze throughout the 1970's in cinematic writings appearing in the journals Screen and Screen Education. Laura Mulvey's groundbreaking essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” written in 1973 and published in the journal Screen in 1975, became the seminal essay that politically incorporated psychoanalysis for feminism into visual cultural studies, especially cinema. Mulvey argued that Hollywood's female characters of the 1950s and 1960s were “to-be-looked-at” by the spectator put in a masculine subject position. The unconscious gaze was coded as (hetero-sexually) male, whereas the woman's body was a desiring object that offered the male visual pleasure split between voyeurism and fetishism in the former as the beautiful virginal Madonna and in the latter as an evil whore who possessed femme fatale attributes (Lacan 1977, pp. 5).

Historically, women and people of color have been subject to surveillance in particular ways. For instance, as art critic John Berger outlines in his 1973 book Ways of Seeing, women have become accustomed to perceiving themselves as always on display on television, in film, in photographs so much so that they look upon themselves in this manner, possessing a profound understanding that their physical appearance is integral to their identity. In her influential article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, film theorist Laura Mulvey argues that women in film are constantly on display and subject to what she terms a “male gaze,” that is, that they are filmed from the perspective of an imaginary masculine spectator who objectifies the women on screen. This suggests that women may experience visual surveillance as particularly stressful because of the existing focus on their physical appearance and the emphasis in much popular culture in putting women visually on display. Additionally, research has shown that some men who operate surveillance devices use them to objectify women for their viewing pleasure, by focusing a closed-circuit camera on a woman's body parts, as Kevin Haggerty notes in his research on the topic. Thus, a person's gender can affect how an individual experiences surveillance and how it is directed at him or her (Rosenberg 1983, pp. 3).

Visual Pleasure

Visual pleasure refers to the enjoyment one feels when viewing an object of desire. Visual pleasure is a common topic in feminist theorizing; including the role it plays in the formation of women's individual and social identity. It has also been the subject of an article by British feminist film theorist and filmmaker Laura Mulvey. This entry focuses on Mulvey's article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and its relevance to feminist intervention, film theory, and psychoanalytic concepts of identity.

The primal scopic scene considered by Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” echoes the search for identity through the intermediary of the image and conforms to Freudian and Lacanian paradigms; that is, models that centre on the castration fear of the male ...
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