Critical study of the Male Gaze predates popular adoption of the internet by like 20 years.
That doesn’t invalidate what Chris said though…
I don’t pretend to be conversant in sexual politics, and there’s probably no way to say this without sounding like an asshole to those who are, but:
- the male gaze is the very definition of “no shit, Sherlock”, isn’t it? Most directors are male. Most cinema goers are male. The audience for these type of movies is predominantly male. Criticising the male gaze seems like a sure fire way to create an artificial, anti-septic product that alienates your core audience chasing after an illusive female audience that are just not interested in your product in the first place. See Marvel Comics recent efforts for diversity, and how well that worked for them.
- the people complaining the most about unrealistic depictions of the female form are those people who don’t look like that. The ones who won’t exercise, complain about their own weight, and use that to argue how “unrealistic” these superheroes are. It’s a strange argument to make. Yes, Wonder Woman is unrealistic, but you can certainly look like Gal Gadot if you put the time & effort in. She did. Btw, you can just as easily substitute Captain America and Chris Evans into the above sentence and my point remains the same.
The whole discussion of the Male Gaze in the DCEU came about by comparing Wonder Woman’s appearance in her own film, a financial and critical success with her appearance in Justice League, a critical and financial failure. The idea that not applying the Male Gaze to your characters alienates the audience is not borne out by the evidence.
Secondly, the Male Gaze does not state that “sexualisation is bad”, it says that in popular culture, women tend to be sexualised in a way that is attractive to men, but men are also sexualised in a way that is attractive to men, rather than women. A male character being shirtless does not invalidate the Male Gaze, it often confirms it.
This is bad for all genders - because, well -
The point the Male Gaze would argue - or more accurately that Laura Mulvey argued in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, and others built on in the intervening 42 years, is that Gal Gadot and Chris Evans’ appearances and portrayals in superhero movies are both products of the male gaze. And let’s leave Gadot aside for a second and talk about men.
Chris Evans is portrayed as a physical adonis in Captain America - the way the Camera pans over him when he comes out of Doctor Erskine’s machine is designed to make you in awe of him, and his now fucking huge muscles.
And this is not a movie that sexualises any women, but it’s still doing the Male Gaze right there. Compare it to the bus scene in Fight Club, when The Narrator calls out underwear models for their physique
Fight Club is at its core a critcism of what we now call Toxic Masculinity - which the Male Gaze would be considered part of - in that we as men have a set of social pressures pressing down on us that are at their core unfair and serve to exclude those of us who don’t match up - men don’t cry, we’re big and strong, we provide for our families, we like tits and explosions and sports and we don’t talk about our feelings.
(ignore for a second that the loudest contingent of Fight Club fans don’t understand the book or movie at all)
Lindsay Ellis, a film theorist and video essayist is in the middle of a deep dive into the Michael Bay Transformers movies and recently did a video on the Male Gaze and specifically how it’s used to idolise some men and demean others. If you have 15 minutes to spare I recommend it:
It’s worth noting as well that the idea that someone can’t talk about unrealistic/exceptional physiques unless they also posses them is quite reductive. It’s the same as demanding that someone make their own successful superhero movie before criticising one they don’t like. Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder put the effort in, after all. It’s also very unfair, as Gadot and Evans are able to afford the time and money it takes to cultivate and maintain that physique. Again, this isn’t an inherently bad thing, it’s part of their jobs just like I spend time and money to maintain my technical knowledge and expertise - but should my co-workers not be allowed to call me out when I underperform because they don’t know how to patch a network port?
Just want to chime in on this one particular small point - This is something that only appears to be true in the West. Over here in Asia, there doesn’t appear to be any relationship between gender and enjoyment of the big comic films.
Asian women love Hemsworths six pack!
I suspect Vik might have an idea about Asian or non western culture and demographics.
Just call it a hunch.
Perhaps he does, but his original statement made no such distinction. Given the size of the international box office these days, I think it’s worth including it as a part of the conversation.
I need to drink coffee before reading MW because I saw your first line as “Sex smells” and thought “What is it about the DCU movies that lead us here?”
I believe there was something about a jar of piss in Batman vs Superman?
Lorcan already covered this very well and more extensively than I could right now, but maybe one very general point deserves reiteration: sexual objectification - and this is basically what we are talking about - is not the same as depicting somebody as sexy in general.
Criticising the male gaze seems like a sure fire way to create an artificial, anti-septic product that alienates your core audience chasing after an illusive female audience that are just not interested in your product in the first place.
That assumes that sexual objectification of women is what the majority of men want from their movies. Admittedly, the term “male gaze” invites that generalisation. But as Wonder Woman demonstrates, a large part of the audience - men included - may not actually be all that much into that. Michael Bay’s target audience probably is, but then again there’s a reason why I don’t watch his movies. (Although admittedly it’s not because of sexual politics, but because he makes crap movies. Chris S may be happy to watch Megan Fox’s butt for two hours, but that’s not what makes a movie for me).
I kind of doubt that the main audience craving butsshots and whatnot are fitness freaks. Just like most of that new men’s rights movement seems to rather consist of guys who are glued to their screens, bag of crisps in hand.
Me. I’m triggered as fuck by that shameless flaunting of raw masculinity.
Great post, Lorcan. Food for thought.
That’s not what I’m saying, and I think you know that. The loudest, most vocal detractors of anything are those that do not have an understanding or appreciation of what it takes to attain that level of success.
Everyone thinks they can look like those famous actors. If they had the time and money. They can’t.
Everyone thinks they can direct a hit movie. C’mon, how hard can that be? They can’t.
No one thinks they can patch a network port. I know I can’t.
Step away from the world of actors for a moment. Weight lifting is a sport, where the whole point is to attain physical perfection, however you define that. To an outsider, lifters are “meat heads”, and the women are demeaning themselves competing in those bikini competitions. To anyone inside the gym, who has put in the hours to do so, those are the people you admire. And encourage.
I don’t know if what I’m saying makes any sense. Like I said to begin with, I don’t have the vocabulary, or intellectual credentials to argue this further.
It is possible to appreciate the male gaze in entertainment without objectifying women in reality. Everything about the Fast & Furious films is about the male gaze. I make no bones about loving those films. I also enjoy a lot of Snyder and Bay’s work too. But, that doesn’t mean I reduce my female friends, family, and co-workers to nothing more than their physical appearance. I don’t think it’s a binary situation.
I am sure it is. And it is possible to enjoy the depiction of male macho posturing without actually believing that this is how you should behave. However, in the sum of things, it’s reasonable to assume that entertainment is both a reflection and an affirmation of certain societal structures.
By I which I mean to say: I am sure your description is accurate where you yourself are concerned, and this probably goes for many other people, as well. But overall, I’d rather see less objectification in movies all over the place, not just because it diminishes my enjoynment of movies but also because I don’t think it’s a very healthy thing for society in general.
It what sense?
If it motivates people to get fit and lose weight, which I’m certain it does, then that is a good thing.
I am not sure that that is actually the effect it has, but let’s even say it does: You can get that effect without overly objectifying bodies, surely? We already talked about the difference in the staging of females and males (where you don’t get the camera lovengly lingering on their butts). Showing people in perfect shape being sexy and doing amazing stuff should surely be enough to motivate - without constant focus on tits and ass?
What I think is unhealthy is the “objectification” part: staging the body as something that is apart from a woman’s personality, and that we have a right to possess, by showing sexually charged bits of the body in lingering close-ups. Again, this is not something that is - as you kind of suggested - equal in the depiction of both genders, but very different in the way men and women are shown in many movies.
Who in their right mind would look at these things in movies and take that away from it?
I think if it inspires even a few people to get off their arses and lose weight then it’s doing more positive for health than negative.