gazeLast night I watched Iron Man 2, (having a bit of a Marvel moment) and despite RDJ’s sarcastic prowess and the awesome-ness of Mickey Rourke’s Russian accent and hair, something really pissed me off; the way in which the women in the film were represented. Imagine this; men fight it out with scary electric whips and Iron Man magic; woman sits in car screaming at loud noises. Man ponders how to save world; woman serves him a cocktail and purrs, ‘is that dirty enough for you?’ You see my point?

scar

It’s frustrating that the women in the film are almost dehumanised; reduced down to body parts and what they can offer Stark; at one point he is on stage surrounded by scantily clad dancers whilst he spins around and the audience cheer. Not one of those women has a voice; she is just breasts and legs and there to be ogled as the camera deliberately, slowly, focuses in on parts of her. Then we have Scarlet’s character, Natasha. Despite Black Widow being a badass secret agent, in this film she is reduced down to little more than tight pencil skirts and pouting. As Pepper points out, she is a ‘potentially very expensive sexual harassment lawsuit,’ identifying that Stark sees her as a plaything, fodder.

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Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America.. they all get their own films, and sequels. Does Black Widow? NOPE. I’ve heard that there are concerns that a woman lead couldn’t ‘carry that kind of movie.’ AKA; we’ll shove a woman in a catsuit in the films and call it diversity but let’s not get too carried away.

It’s not just superhero films; the male gaze is everywhere. A concept coined by Laura Mulvey, it refers to the idea that women in film are often objectified and shown through the eyes of a man; focusing in on body parts, sexualising content, reducing the roles of women down to pleasing men, eye candy and obsessing over relationship woes. Female characters exist to serve the interests of the male characters.

megWhat’s the issue here? Firstly, sexism and how women are seen by audiences. There is a fear that if women are objectified in the media, this spills over into society. Women will only be valued in terms of their sexual appeal; how attractive they are, how desirable they seem whereas this isn’t the same for men. Not to the same extent at all. What Mulvey argued was that female characters often only have two roles; to be objectified/found erotic within the narrative (i.e. by the male leads) or to be objectified by the audiences. Women, watching movies filmed in this way end up objectifying women as well; judging and subjecting them to unrealistic expectations and ideals of beauty. We see this every day in the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, or in magazines where the focus is on ‘improving’ our bodies’ ( AKA YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH AS YOU ARE!!)

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Secondly, there is something elitist about the male gaze; heterosexual, white men seem to be in control, rendering massive groups in society obsolete from the process, thus implying that this world isn’t for them. It enforces compulsory heterosexuality and hegemonic masculinity suggesting that only one type of masculinity is acceptable; sexually driven, aggressors who relentlessly pursue women and routinely save the world. In face, the male gaze pretty much invalidates any sexuality that is not heterosexual. Patriarchy and the male gaze are not just hurting women; it hurts everyone by implying that only one type of femininity, one type of masculinity are allowed. Women as passive, damsels in distress, men as strong types who don’t say much but can carry a swooning girl out of a burning building whilst looking brooding.

Lastly, it contributes to male entitlement. That men are somehow owed a beautiful women just by default of being born with a penis. Films shot from the male gaze show women as little more than trophies, as important as the fast car and witty one liners. Films often end with the man grabbing the woman for a reward kiss. His prize for saving the world is a thin, white woman who has managed to keep her hair and lipstick perfect whilst flying through the air in the arms of Spiderman, or dragged from a building in Batman.

jossWhat we need to do is be aware of this, discuss it, challenge it. When you watch a film, ask yourself ‘what are the women doing in this movie?’ ‘Am I happy with the way that women are represented?’ ‘Are the female characters developed in the same way as the male characters?’ If not, ask yourself if you’re happy with watching films that promote sexism and inequalities. Don’t settle.

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  • Clare

    This is my dissertation all over, I love it. I studied fine art and wrote about how women are represented, the cutesy feminine side with pink and lace and flowers juxtaposed against the coarse, sexualisation that is plastered all over magazines and the tv. It delved into the world of the glamour industry and questioning whether these glamour industry women really want to be noticed and if they do, the irony is that they all conform to the idealist image. Consequently they all become a blur of the same stick thin, big boobs, big hair, tanned and made up getting those same cliche poses over and over again. Ultimately these women on a whole aren’t doing this all for themselves, it’s for that male gaze and we’re back to the start of the viscous circle asking why is this the culture, how does it really empower women and why has it become so normal and acceptable to parade this view of women all the damn time?? Good post, keep them coming! 🙂

    • em

      Thank you for this comment! I did my dissertation on hegemonic notions of beauty and how far modified bodies subvert/resist this ideal. Yours sounds amazing; I completely agree with the two representations of women you’ve identified; the innocent, pure pink princess versus the highly sexualised red lipped, vamp. You can argue that when a woman doesn’t conform to either of these she becomes ‘the bitch,’ ‘the nag’ or ‘the psycho.’ Shown as deviant or ‘other.’ xxx

    • Thank you for this comment! I did my dissertation on hegemonic notions of beauty and how far modified bodies subvert/resist this ideal. Yours sounds amazing; I completely agree with the two representations of women you’ve identified; the innocent, pure pink princess versus the highly sexualised red lipped, vamp. You can argue that when a woman doesn’t conform to either of these she becomes ‘the bitch,’ ‘the nag’ or ‘the psycho.’ Shown as deviant or ‘other.’ xxx

      • Clare

        Exactly, the non-conforming weirdo, what a strange society we live in! Xx

  • Simone Roberts

    Just so you know, Black Widow TOTALLY carried the latest Captain America film. She was the bees knees and without her it would have been a total yawn fest. I love cinema but tend to shy away from mega blockbusters with ALL THE CGI-ZZZZZ! I would absolutely love love love if they would give her her own film. I would watch it out of principle to show that she can carry a blockbuster!

    • em

      I completely agree, I loved her in Winter Soldier. I think she can definitely carry a movie on her own but my fear is that they would sexualise the hell out of; lots of low cut tops, bending over, slow mo camera shots on her breathing in and out or pouting as she wrapped her legs around a bad guy. It would be made incredibly sexual to appeal to a male audience who wouldn’t really respond well to a female hero saving the world. It’s hideous but you can already imagine it ! xxx

    • I completely agree, I loved her in Winter Soldier. I think she can definitely carry a movie on her own but my fear is that they would sexualise the hell out of; lots of low cut tops, bending over, slow mo camera shots on her breathing in and out or pouting as she wrapped her legs around a bad guy. It would be made incredibly sexual to appeal to a male audience who wouldn’t really respond well to a female hero saving the world. It’s hideous but you can already imagine it ! xxx

  • BR

    It’s from blogs like this one and from a group of folk on Twitter that I learn how not to be a dick, so thank you.

    • em

      I’m sure you’re not a dick, love but I’m glad you are reading my blog and liking it somewhat?! xxx

    • I’m sure you’re not a dick, love but I’m glad you are reading my blog and liking it somewhat?! xxx