The female/male gaze and its cultural consumption

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

25 Pages, Grade: 2,0


“The Female/ Male Gaze and Its Cultural Consumption”

Movies have always reached many people through the cinema and with the help of film techniques, sensational topics, and contemporary issues the spectator is very likely to identify with the characters in the movies. The conference on “Perspectives and Challenges for Cinema and Media Studies” beginning on June 21st, 07 and ending on June 23rd, 07, which took place in Vienna, Austria, focussed on the study of film and media on an academic level and is concerned with distribution, presavation, and programming of film and media art and, of course, the film heritage.

The aim of the paper is to show that the (male)/female gaze is not only used to identify with female/male characters, but also to bring the viewers into focus. The identification of the spectators with the actors hence is used for consumption because females sometimes want to be like their role models on the big screen. For that is the reason that more and more sex, nude, and love scenes are produced to also have, in particular, more men watch the movies in which women strip (emotionally or physically) because this is the way the market works; sex sells, which in this case accounts for the male gaze. But movies is not the only case this is also true for commercials, photographs and paintings; when we see female models, e.g. on advertisments selling products. The (male)/ female gaze spectatorship and hence the visual pleasure will be discussed on the basis of Blow Up and Network, which each focus on two different media; photography and television.

The important context in which films are produced to focus on a certain audience also needs to be considered. Important to note is that this kind of filmmaking already started in the 1960s and is still used in contemporary Hollywood movies. Visual pleasure is just too important as not to focus on power relations, sexuality, and knowledge.

I. Relevance 2007

A. Introduction

The study of film has been going on for several decades. During this time, the focus has been, especially in the 1970s, on looking (the gaze) and the spectator in general. Here in this paper I would like to look at the female also a bit on male gaze in connection with the movies Network and Blow Up. This means I will also consider film theory of the 1970s and 1980s but I want to focus my insight on contemporary spectatorship.

To do this, I will also give a short overview of historical findings and important authors and their theses and how their theses would work in this day and age. However, my intention is to argue that Laura Mulvey’s thesis that the male gaze focuses on female objects only is partly outdated and that she left the female as a passive spectator, which is not true, because nowadays females are more active than males in terms of identification with their favourite stars on the screen. That identification can take on different levels starting with admiration because of looks, talent or taking them as role models which will furthermore end in consumption; may it be fashion, cosmetics or haistyles.

A.l. Contemporary Relevance

The contemporary relevance for that topic is that the gaze can be applied not only to heterosexual men but also to gay men and women but also to women in general. Spectatorship cannot simply be defined as male; there are lots and lots of women in the theater auditorium when it boils down to the question of who is in the audience. That is just the same with the process of identification. Not only men identify with the male hero also the females identify with their heroines; but nowadays that identification process has translated into cultural consumption and so filmmaking focusses more and more on making blockbusters with nude scenes, love scenes, etc, which attrack gazes. Generally speaking, scenes that get people into the cinema. The film market has changed to sell a cultural product. These products can be clothes, cosmetics, cars even; any goods to make the identification process, which also involves imitation and copying, easier for the fan or spectator.

A.2. Related Conferences and Topics

Related conferences that also deal with film, television, consumption or aesthetics in media are, for instance, the conference on “Screen Aesthetics” which already took place in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom, on June 22-23, 2007. It focused on the visual style of film and television media and aesthetics were also used to analyse the moving picture. Here the creation of the moving images are interesting to explore in terms of how the spectators would perceive the images in the completed movie in the end. Another conference that fits the topic of consumption, especially in the media, is “Media in Transition 2007/ From Gutenberg to Google” which took place in Munich, Germany, on September 12, 2007. It mainly focused on consumption and marketing in various kinds of media and it brought together lots of international guests who each focused on different categories.

A. 3. Main Focus

My main focus will be on spectatorship concerning movies but since Blow Up picks up the medium of photography I will broaden the topic and include a discussion of photography and painting; since the topics are related. Through television and photography as presented in Network and Blow Up spectators can very easily identify with the main characters and either want to copy or imitate them or pleasure their desire when seeing them on the screen. For Blow Up both male and female gazes and hence desires can be satisfied as we see the two protagonists half naked in the film; also identification can take place. First of all, with the photographer and, second, with the female heroine. In Network we can also apply the female gaze first in terms of identification because we see the female protagonist, Diana, as a young aspiring journalist working in the television business and, second, for the male spectator and his desire projection on the leading lady.

B. Historical Findings in Film Theory in the 1970s/ 1980s

Film studies started somewhen in the 1960s and has since taken its focus on very many things, among them spectatorship. Crucial discussions about spectatorship, especially about the male gaze, arose in the 1970s when Laura Mulvey published her paper on “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1973. She triggered the whole discussion about spectatorship off and belongs to the most importand people in film theory studies. Her essay was so influential that still today her theory can be applied but needs to be completed in various points. Other theorists who discussed and still deal with Mulvey’s theory are, for instance, Teresa de Lauretis, Mary Ann Doane, Judith Mayne, Jackie Stacey, Linda Williams and Christian Metz; they have challenged and also disproved her theory and came up with other interesting explorations.

B.l. Standard Findings (Mulvey 1970s)

Laura Mulvey offered two different visual pleasures in her famous essay, which are looking and being looked at (scopophilia vs. exhibitionism). The voyeuristic manner can easily be applied to the spectator because “the darkness in the auditorium...and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation” and the male spectator is therefore likely to identify with the male protagonist (382). Then she adopted Lacan’s theory of the mirror phase, which shows “identification with the image seen” (383). Furthermore, she argued that in the 1970s the gaze was male and heterosexual only and that the male is active when looking at the screen and the female is passive when being looked at (see 383). Another interesting discovery was that the male gaze and power belong together. That works when the male spectator identifies with the male protagonist and therefore controls the film fantasy, but at the same time, “the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look” (384). And another point of scopophilia she focused on, besides voyeurism, is fetishism, which is focused on “the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself” (386). As a conclusion she suggested three different ways of looking: the way the camera looks onto the event, the audience way of looking and the way of looking of the characters at each other within the movie (see 388). That were the 1970s and in the 1980s, Mulvey (1981) revised her theory and implied that for a female spectator “ to relinguish phallic activity and the female object of infancy, women...oscillate between masculine and feminine narrative identifications” because she originally discussed the mirror phase, which tales place during infancy, for males only (qtd. in Jackie Stacey 25).

B.2. Other Accounts of Spectatorship

The 1970s were obsessed with the male gaze/ spectatorship, so the 1980s finally went a step further and gave more insight for the account of the female spectator. As Judith Mayne in Cinema and Spectatorship (1993) implies, the 1970s film theory made “the woman object of the look and man its subject” (23). Theorists like, Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry, do not agree with Mulvey’s conception of identification. Metz (1975/1982), for example, “distinguishes between primary and secondary cinematic identification” and for both, Baudry (1975/1986) and Metz, the notion of a subject position is more important than the look or the characters (qtd. in Mayne 26). Unlike Mulvey, Raymond Bellour (1979) says that in the 1970s there was also a female spectator and hence female desire was rather pessimistic:

The mechanisms for eliminating the threat of sexual difference represented by the figure of the woman...are built into the apparatus on the screen to be punished and controlled by assimilation to the desire of the male character.”

(qtd. in Stacey 24-5)

Teresa de Lauretis (1984) does not adopt a masculine reading position, she rather implies a “double identification of the female spectator...who is involved in a twofold process: identification with the active masculine gaze and with the passive feminine image” (qtd. in Jackie Stacey 26). Even though she does not adopt a masculine reading she still argues that the female is passive and not active, which Mary Ann Doane supports in her essay Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator (1997). She thinks that “the female spectator is given two options: the masochism of overidentification or the narcisissm entailed in becoming one’s own object of desire, in assuming the image in the most radical way” (191). Doane (1982) also argues that the female cannot be a voyeur because “the female spectator, there is a certain overpresence of the image- she is the image” (qtd. in Stacey 26).

Today, the role of the female spectator has become equal to the role of the male spectator. Since not only men go to the movies and fall for the hero/ine the female spectator has the same right to do so and that may also involve either homoeroticism or admiration for the star. The fantasies evolving when sitting in a darkened auditorium can also apply to a female, especially when she is gay. Here the process of identification, as Jackie Stacey implies, “between femininities contains forms of homoerotic pleasure...This is not to argue that identification is the same as desire, or only contains desire” but still there is the possibility that female spectators also fall for females on the screen (29). The other possibility is that the female spectator becomes the ‘cultural eye’ and identifies with the person on the screen. When the female spectator identifies with a female actor and finds similarities and develops admiration and worship; subsequently she will end up trying to imitate or copy the star persona which will then end in cultural consumption. To look like one’s favourite star persona some people would do anything and spend money on things like garments to make the first step to look like one’s desired object.

II. Contemporary Film Studies A. Identification: Females Identify with Actresses

Identification with famous stars can occur in very many steps or levels. It can start with finding similarities or differences in that character, or one simply has an emotional bond to that particular person. What is at stake here is the consumption that results from star gazing. Important to keep in mind is that this kind of star gazing is used by the film industry to ‘tie’ their viewers onto the famous stars , for film makers know that devoted fans who adore their idols or role models so much would do anything to be like them.

A.l. Similarity and Difference

Two factors are important for building a feminine fascination and connected with it the identification with the star and these are similarity and difference. One can either identify with someone on the screen or recognize the clear difference and acknowledge that and hence admire someone because the star persona has talent or is so beautiful that one does envy that person. Another way to think of both ways of identification is that the spectators “value difference for taking them into a world in which their desire could potentially be fulfilled...they value similarity for enabling them to recognise qualities they already have” (Stacey 128). Jackie Stacey had many women write to her about their memories of great stars and why they admire them. A fan of Ava Gardnr, M. Palin, said “I don’t think I consciously thought of myself looking like any particular star- it was more the semi-magical transformation of screen identification! I adored Ava Gardner’s dark magnetism, but knew I wasn’t like that” (126). But not only similarity or difference identifies females with their idols it is also an emotional bond.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


The female/male gaze and its cultural consumption
Free University of Berlin  (John F. Kennedy Institut für Nordamerikastudien)
Framing Reality
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
481 KB
Network film, Blow Up, Vanessa Redgrave, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Male gaze, female gaze, Cosmetics, Fashion, Imitation and Copying, Laura Mulvay, Visuals and cinema and pleasure
Quote paper
Magister Anke Werckmeister (Author), 2007, The female/male gaze and its cultural consumption, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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