Monitored by the Male? The representation of the “Panoptical Male Connoisseur” and the process of female sexual identity formation in Little Miss Sunshine

Term Paper, 2018
8 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Female Sexual Identity Production in Contemporary American Patriarchal Culture

2. Performing solely for the pleasure of males? –Feminist Research and the role of the “Panoptical Male Connoisseur” in Patriarchal Culture

3. Representations of the Panoptical Male Connoisseur in Little Miss Sunshine
3.1. “I coached her. I gave her the moves” – The Grandfather as a Panoptical Male Connoisseur in Little Miss Sunshine
3.2. “You’re gonna become big and fat” – The Father as a Panoptical Male Connoisseur in Little Miss Sunshine

4. Monitored by the Male – The impact of the “Panoptical Male Connoisseur” in the process of female sexual identity formation as represented in Little Miss Sunshine


“Let Olive be Olive”! demands her mother Sheryl from the rest of their family right before her daughter’s performance. And indeed, at first sight, Olive’s stage act appears to be an act of positive self-assertion, even rebellion, for herself. Deliberately set as a stark and rather shocking contrast to the conforming performances of the other girl-contestants, the viewer receives the impression of Olive as being a self-governing and independent girl, acting out her own authentic self, out of her very own decision. But is this really the case? Further investigation shows that Olive’s identity is predominantly shaped by the two most important men in her life: her grandfather and her father. Both males seem to play an instrumental role in Olive’s identity formation process. She strives to please them both and “is left to negotiate between their desires for how her body should look” (Happel 4). Happel and Esposito argue that in Little Miss Sunshine both, the father and the grandfather act as literal versions of the so called panoptical male connoisseur (cf. 4). Feminist researcher Sandra Lee Bartky contends that “[i]n contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the consciousness of most women: they stand perpetually before his gaze and under his judgment.” (72) Dolezal agrees that “Women in the patriarchal order, identify with men and learn to see themselves through their eyes.” (113) Furthermore, “[h]aving internalized the gaze of the (male) Other […] women begin to regulate themselves according to his standards” (Dolezal 113). In my research paper I am going to analyse how this panoptical male connoisseur is made visible and represented in the movie Little Miss Sunshine by the two adult men in Olive’s family. I am going to investigate in what way the behaviour and opinions of those two authority figures impact Olive in her sexual identity production. I argue that Olive’s sexual identity formation process is monitored and shaped by the male and their own personal preferences - not her own. Although she herself does not (yet) consciously realize it, Olive performs for the pleasure of males – not for her own.

To support my claim, I will analyse two frames from the movie featuring interactions between Olive and the male relatives who are playing the role of the panoptical male connoisseur in this particular scene. Both frames will be taken from scenes in which Olive is taught by the male how to be a desirable female. I will compare and contrast the male authority figure that impacts Olive the most, her Grandfather, with the impact of Olive’s father Richard.


Primary Texts

Little Miss Sunshine. Dir. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Perf. Greg Kinnear

and Toni Collette. 2006. Twentieth Century Fox, 2013. DVD.

Secondary Texts

Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal

Power”. Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance. Eds. Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988. 61-86. Print.

Brumberg, Joan J. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. New

York: Random House, 1997. Print.

Dolezal, Luna. The Body and Shame: Phenomenology, Feminism, and the Socially

Shaped Body. Lanham: Lexington Books. 2015. Print.

Happel, Alison and Jennifer Esposito. “Pageant Trouble: An Exploration of Gender

Transgression in Little Miss Sunshine.” Gender Forum 46 (2013): n.pag. Web.

Levin, Diane E. “So Sexy, So Soon: The Sexualization of Childhood.” The Sexualization of Childhood. Ed. Sharna Olfman. Connecticut: Praeger, 2009. 75-88. Print.

Oppliger, Patricia A. Girls Gone Skank: The Sexualization of Girls in American

Culture. North Carolina: McFarland & Company. Inc, 2008. Print.

Problem-Oriented Sample Analysis

The chosen frames analysed below feature two males who act as the so called panoptical male connoisseur. I will show how Olive’s sexual identity formation process is deeply intertwined with the actions of specifically two male authority figures: her grandfather and her father.

Formal and Media-Specific Analysis

The frame is set in a motel room. The set is decorated as follows: The walls of the motel room are painted in the colour purple and are decorated with two pictures that depict natural landscape scenes (e.g. trees, green hills). The motel room is furnished with two single beds with bedlinen and pillows. The two bed are put alongside each other, leaving a small aisle between them. Between the two beds stands a nightstand with an orange curvy lamp, an alarm-clock and several of Olive’s colourful sweatbands on it. The lamp is on and it shines brightly onto the wall behind it.

Olive is wearing a light blue t-shirt with indecipherable words on it (probably worn as a nightshirt), as well as her huge horn-rimmed glasses. Her hair is braided into a pigtail. The grandfather is wearing a white v-neck t-shirt. The Lighting of this frame is low key lighting: the only source of light is diegetic, namely the light of the lamp on the nightstand. The dominant colours in this frame are greyish hues of white, brown and blue (shirts, furniture, wall, pictures). Those cold/shady hues form a stark contrast to the bright white light of the orange curvy lamp. Olive and her grandfather are positioned on each one of the beds, facing each other. Both are moving their arms, hands and mouths, imitating the hissing and scratching sounds and movements of an aggressive feline. Olive’s movements are slightly delayed in time, suggesting that she is imitating her grandfather’s moves.

The frame is in shallow focus, all objects in front of the camera are in sharp definition. It is a two shot, with Olive occupying the right portion of the frame and her Grandfather the left. They both sit in the foreground and the furniture is positioned in the background. The curvy orange lamp takes centre stage in the frame and divides it in half. Both sides of the frame look like mirror images of each other (except for the actors: one is a child the other an older-person).

The frame is an eye-level shot. From his position, the taller Grandfather is looking down on small Olive. The point of view is an establishing shot, it introduces the location of the motel room and the interaction of Olive and her Grandfather rehearsing together. It has also zero ocularization, it is a nobody’s shot.

Functional Analysis

The chosen scene analysed above showcases the relationship between Olive and her grandfather. Instead of sleeping in a room with her parents Olive prefers to share a room with him to practise her dance performance for the beauty pageant. The focus of the frame analysed above is an orange curvy lamp. This lamp acts as a symbol and recurring theme throughout the whole movie. It’s varying red/orange colour and curvy form hint at its function as a symbol of the sexualized female body. It is also a marker for scenes that are crucial as pertaining to Olive’s sexual identity formation process regarding her own body: we first encounter it in a scene where Olive is imitating Miss America. The fact that this lamp is lit and is the only source of light in this otherwise shady room might hint at its importance: it reveals a darker and rather sinister layer of this scene. Instead of portraying a rather harmless emotional grandfather-grandchild relationship, this frame, in reality, throws light on the role of the grandfather as a literal version of the so called panoptical male connoisseur in Olive’s sexual identity formation process.

The lamp divides the frame into two sides that are practically mirror images of each other. This set arrangement illustrates the real-life action of psychological mirroring that is happening in that scene at this very moment: Olive tries to emulate all the moves and noises that her grandfather teaches. The crux of this scene lies in the double meaning of the grandfather’s teaching role: not only is he teaching Olive how to dance in order to win a competition, he is also subconsciously ingraining in her psyche his very own ideal of a physically desirable woman

That Olive is unconsciously adapting to the desired preferences of the male in this scene might also be suggested by the clothes that she is wearing in this frame. In contrast to her otherwise colourful and mostly red outfits, she is now wearing a dull greyish blue t-shirt – blue as generally being connoted with the male. This colour change could be interpreted as Olive being swallowed up by patriarchy through the act of imitating her grandfather.

Correspondence or Contrast


Excerpt out of 8 pages


Monitored by the Male? The representation of the “Panoptical Male Connoisseur” and the process of female sexual identity formation in Little Miss Sunshine
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
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Research Paper Outline
Quote paper
Melanie Buettner (Author), 2018, Monitored by the Male? The representation of the “Panoptical Male Connoisseur” and the process of female sexual identity formation in Little Miss Sunshine, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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