‘The Male Gaze’ Theory and Feminism

This is working towards objective 1.

After looking into the new Barbie Doll line-up for 2016, this resonated with theories of Feminism and the Male Gaze theory which were slightly touched upon, and are extremely relevant to my current practice and research question, therefore wanted to look into these more intently.

The Male Gaze:

“The male gaze is the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. The phrase male gaze was coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975.”


In addition to this, John Berger in ‘The Ways of Seeing’ stated that, “according to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned but have by no means been overcome — men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”

Furthermore, theories by Lacan surrounding the idea of “seeing oneself and seeing the ideal” can be noted in related to both theories of Mulvey and Berger in the sense that each relays back to ones self-perception as an impact of external influences and triggers, such as the Male Gaze for instance, in addition to the pressures of the media in the 21st century. Perhaps that this can be said especially in relation to Lacan is the difference between looking at a still photograph and that of a ‘real’ person allowing for a comparative nature to take over. In addition in regards to the Male Gaze, this is evident across the media with magazines such as Vogue to those such as Playboy, for example, amongst many other forms of print and digital based media.

Furthermore, as times have changed and women have become more conscious of how one and another perceive themselves, be it in real life, or on social media for example, Mulvey also notes that the ‘Female Gaze’ is the same as the ‘Male Gaze’ stating that women see themselves through the eyes of men, therefore influencing our choices on what is perceived and deemed attractive by the opposite sex, or the ‘male gaze’. Again, this is reflected though the likes of Playboy models whom tailor their appearance purposely to obtain such roles and careers.

Feminist Perspectives on The Male Gaze:

“A good deal of feminist criticism has been focused on eighteenth-century philosophy because of the many influential works on beauty, pleasure, and taste that were written at that time and that became foundational texts for contemporary theories. “Taste” refers to the facility that permits good judgments about art and the beauties of nature. While the metaphor for perception is taken from the gustatory sense, these theories are actually about visual, auditory, and imaginative pleasure, since it is widely assumed that literal taste experience is too bodily and subjective to yield interesting philosophical problems. Judgments of taste take the form of a particular kind of pleasure—one that eventually became known as “aesthetic” pleasure (a term that entered English only in the early nineteenth-century).”

“The phrase “male gaze” refers to the frequent framing of objects of visual art so that the viewer is situated in a “masculine” position of appreciation. By interpreting objects of art as diverse as paintings of the nude and Hollywood films, these theorists have concluded that females depicted in art are standardly placed as objects of attraction (much as Burke had lined up women as the original aesthetic object); and that the more active role of looking assumes a counterpart masculine position. As Laura Mulvey puts it, women are assigned the passive status of being looked-at, whereas men are the active subjects who look (Mulvey 1989).”

“Theories of the gaze reject the idea that perception is ever merely passive reception. [The approach] assume that vision possesses power: power to objectify—to subject the object of vision to scrutiny and possession. The male gaze has been a theoretical tool of inestimable value in calling attention to the fact that looking is rarely a neutral operation of the visual sense.”

Naomi Scheman states: “Vision is the sense best adapted to express this dehumanization: it works at a distance and need not be reciprocal, it provides a great deal of easily categorized information, it enables the perceiver accurately to locate (pin down) the object, and it provides the gaze, a way of making the visual object aware that she is a visual object. Vision is political, as is visual art, whatever (else) it may be about (Scheman 1993: 159).”

“Since the turn of the last millennium there has been a veritable explosion of interest in beauty among philosophers, artists, critics, and cultural theorists–feminists among them (Brand 2013: 4-6). While some of this work continues to consider the general traits of beauty in art and nature, quite a lot of it focuses on the norms of appearance of the human body, and the “violation” of “standard” norms according to race, disability, age, history, and variant sexual morphologies. Such standards govern not only artistic depictions, but also the way that real people shape and reshape their own bodies to conform to reigning standards of attractiveness (Devereaux 2013; Wegenstein 2012, 2006). Feminists and critical race theorists have been especially mindful of diversity and suspicious of general norms and the harms that they can occasion.”


Mulvey, L. (1999). Woman as Image, Man as Bearer of the Look. In: Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings.. New York: Oxford UP. p.837.
Unknown. (2016). Male Gaze. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_gaze. Last accessed 9th November 2016.
Berger, John (1973), “Section 3”, in Berger, John, Ways of seeing, London: BBC Penguin Books. p.45.
Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa (2001), “Spectatorship, power, and knowledge”, in Sturken, Marita; Cartwright, Lisa, Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture, Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, p.81
Sassatelli, Roberta (September 2011). “Interview with Laura Mulvey: gender, gaze and technology in film culture”. Theory, Culture & Society. Sage. 28 (5): p. 123–143.
Korsmeyer, C. (2012). Feminist Aesthetics. Available: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-aesthetics/. Last accessed 10th November 2016.