Monday, 7 January 2013

The Gaze in the Media Writing Task

In modern media, it seems there is an ever present voyeuristic gaze. There are many theories and issues that surround this concept, and by studying key texts, we can aim to establish the reason for this male gaze through theories such as fetishism and the male desire for dominance over women.

Sigmund Freud's theories support the idea that there is a constant theme of fetishism and sexualisation that runs through the media of cinema. By being presented with snapshots of the female form, the male audience will be reminded of the absence of the penis and a juvenile fear of castration that is embedded into the male psyche. This means that perhaps the female role in cinema is to present a fetishised object for the viewer. '...she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it' (Mulvey 1975) tells us that perhaps the actress is burdened with a oppressed objectified role dominated by the male protagonist. We can also consider the concept of scopophilia, the idea of the 'pleasure in looking at another person as an object' (Mulvey 1975). The 'peeping tom' as it were,  'can always stay in control' (Coward 2000). This links back to the male desire for dominance, which is often released in cinema with the presence of the gaze. (Coward 2000) raises an interesting point about the male desire to control women's sexuality: 'So when a woman is upheld by society as beautiful, we can be sure she expresses, with her body, the values currently surrounding women's sexual behaviour. The emphasis on women's looks becomes a crucial way in which society exercises control over women's sexuality.' Again it seems there is male sexual desire to be dominant. Even marriage, is said to 'operate to secure women's labour and reproductive capacity to the advantage of men' (Coward 2000) There is likely a male need for ownership of women, which makes the objectifying of women on screen appealing, as the male viewer will feel they can truly gaze at this object of fetishism without the risk of being shunned and belittled.

We have thus far observed the possible part men play in this media gaze, so let us now consider the effect this objectifying of women effects female viewers: 'Women like looking at glamorous and highly sexualised images of other women because these images are meant to function like a mirror' (Coward 2000). Elaborating on this 'mirror' concept, it could be said that the awareness of the male gaze causes the female to try and conform to how society (particularly the male sex) perceives beauty. It almost becomes compulsory for the female to fulfil the fetishised needs that have been presented by the the male dominant media industry.

When considering the relevant media of game, this over-sexualisation of female characters carries over across platforms. I would like to consider the popular transmedia character 'Lara Croft'. It is very clear to see that the character has been over-sexualised to appeal to the predominantly male oriented game industry. However from a feminist stand point, the fact the female is the protagonist of the franchise contradicts the idea that the feminine role in narrative media is often to be seen as a sexual object rather than the progressor of the plot. So in this instance, we are presented with a strong female protagonist who fights male antagonists and emerges victorious. But could there perhaps be a more cynical undertone, that men relish in the ability to control and puppeteer this object of fetishism? This would be supported by the theory that mean demand control over women.

In conclusion, it seems that across the media,  which is seems is primarily dominated by the male sex, men are constantly presented with oppressed female objects of erotica. Simultaneously, women are almost given instruction on how they should hope to be perceived by the rest of society.


Coward, R., 'The Look', in Thomas, J. (ed.) (2000), Reading Images, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pages 33-39

Mulvey, L. (1975), 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', in Badmington, N. and Thomas, J. (eds.) (2008) The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, London and New York: Routledge, pages 202-212 

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