In her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" 1975 (the middle of feminism), Mulvey used a psychoanalytic viewpoint to analyse the ways in which the very mechanics of cinematic production affect the representation of women and reinforce sexism.
MULVEY ARGUED THAT...
- Men predominate behind the camera.
- Using various film techniques, such as the point of view shot, men are able to (consciously or unconsciously) create images that satisfy male desires.
- The whole audience, male and female, see through male eyes.
- The audience identify with a leading male character.
- The viewer becomes aligned with the point of view of its male characters.
- Even the women in the audience identify with the male gaze and see the world through men's eyes.
- Thus, the gaze affects how women look at themselves and other women.
This relegates women to the status of objects.
The female viewer must experience the narrative secondarily, by identifying with the male.
Cinema provides visual pleasure through scopophilia, a pleasure from looking which can be related to voyeurism.
Women function as voyeuristic objects of a male gaze.
THE INTRA-DIEGETIC GAZE
The gaze also idicates power relationships between characters within the frame.
The gazer is superior to the object of the gaze, and women are more likely to be the passive looked at object.
The women exists for the possession of the male lead.
- Critics of Mulvey say that she sees the audience as passive and that she does not allow for the female spectator.
- Postmodern theories see the audience as active. Women and men, are perfectly able to elicit their own meanings.
- Jackie Stacey looks at how audiences use and make meanings from texts in "Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship" 1993.
- Recent audience theory says that texts are polysemic and readings depend on variables such as education, social status, etc.
- Responses to cinema are so infinitely varied that it is difficult to create a coherent academic approach like "the gaze".
- Not all central heroic characters in film are male and there have been many challenges to stereotypical gender roles since Mulvey's essay was written.
Gender Trouble (1990) by Judith Butler is a highly influential book in academic feminism, queer theory and postmodern/poststructural feminism.
Gender is seen as much more fluid in the post modern world. Women are capable of identifying with male characters and men with women characters.
Butler sees gender as a performance. Gender can be a playful, subversive or negotiated thing.
Madonna is seen as an icon of this (or Lady Gaga more currently).
Women may not want to be seen as objects but they can enjoy the "guilty pleasures" of escapist presentations of women in chick flicks.
Women can enjoy being feminine and looked at.
As womens roles change so does media representation. Women today can be presented as career driven, intelligent, confidence empowered and violent, etc.
However, remember changes may be made cynically and in order to make money rather than change ideologies.
There is still objectification. How many female starts are there who are not attractive?
As male directors/industry may still mean male ideologies.
So, Mulvey and feminism still has things to tell us about representations of women in the media.