Female gaze

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The female gaze is a feminist film theoretical term representing the gaze of the female viewer. It is a response to feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey's term, "the male gaze", which represents not only the gaze of the male viewer but also the gaze of the male character and the male creator of the film. In contemporary usage, the female gaze has been used to refer to the perspective a female filmmaker (screenwriter/director/producer) brings to a film that would be different from a male view of the subject.


Mulvey discusses aspects of voyeurism and fetishism in the Male Gaze in her article, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". She draws from Alfred Hitchcock's film, Rear Window, applying terms from Sigmund Freud's theories of psychoanalysis to discuss camera angle, narrative choice, and props in the movie while focusing on the concept of the male gaze. From what Jeffries, the protagonist in Rear Window, looks at through his camera to the camera angles in his discussion with his girlfriend, the Male Gaze is accentuated by each move in Mulvey's article. Mulvey's article focused on the concept of "scopophilia", or a pleasure in gazing and placed women as spectacles to be objectified and viewed, unable to return a gaze and dismissing women in film as adequate representations of human beings.[1]

Theoretical implementation[edit]

The female gaze looks at three viewpoints.

  1. The individual filming
  2. The characters within the film
  3. The spectator

These three viewpoints also concern Mulvey's male gaze but focuses, instead, on females. Viewpoints expanded alongside diversity in film genres. Woman's films were a genre that focused on female leads, showing the female as a diegetic story-teller rather than that of a spectacle. Movies such as Rebecca and Stella Dallas are examples of such films in which the traditional narrative is told through the female protagonist. This genre of film has evolved into modern day "chick flicks" such as 27 Dresses and The Devil Wears Prada. The films are meant to represent the desires of female protagonists and, therefore, are to represent the desires of the female movie-viewer.[1]

Zoe Dirse looks at the female gaze through the documentary film genre, analyzing aspects of pleasure and viewer identification. She analyzes the gaze at the points of production and reception. She notes that if the cinematographer is female and the subject is also female, the object of the film takes on a different role. Dirse argues that by having a female cinematographer allows females to be viewed as they really are and not the voyeuristic spectacle that the male gaze makes them out to be. While filming in Cairo, Dirse was in a crowd and observed being noticed by the males around her. At first they seemed curious, and Dirse wondered if it was because of her gender or the fact that she had a camera. It was not long before they began to push past her, and she felt a sense of danger that she felt other females in Cairo shared. This is depicted in her film, Shadow Maker. She said that her gender allowed her to be an unobtrusive observer – unlike a man – when filming gypsies singing.[2]

Paula Marantz Cohen discusses the female gaze in the chick flick genre, with specific attention to the attire women wear. Spectacle overrules plot in films such as The Awful Truth. Irene Dunne's wardrobe is regarded as a central aspect of the film. The different dresses that Dunn wears are extravagant but not sexualized. While the clothing may be regarded as comical, they are also supportive to Dunn's independence and femininity. Cohen notes that in the film The Wedding Planner, Jennifer Lopez is fully clothed throughout the entire film. The clothes, as in The Awful Truth, are regarded as comical yet they catch the viewer's eye without sexualizing her. Cohen also analyzes the relationship between the female lead stars of these films and their male co-stars. She states that these films truly depict what women want, that they are accentualized in a positive manner and have a partner who amplifies this accentuation.[3]

Contemporary usage[edit]

Critics have focused attention on the presence of the female gaze in cinema and television, in works such as The Handmaid's Tale, I Love Dick and Fleabag.[4]

The controversial lesbian drama film Blue Is the Warmest Colour received considerable critical comment for the dominance of the male gaze and lack of female gaze, with some reviewers calling it a "patriarchal gaze".[5][6][7][8] The author of the book upon which the film was based was among the harshest critics, saying, "It appears to me this was what was missing on the set: lesbians."[9]

Filmmaker April Mullen has said, "Women have this vulnerability and connection to a depth of emotions that I can see and feel in certain moments of truth in the films we create. To me, the female gaze is transparency – the veil between audience and filmmaker is thin, and that allows people in more."[10][11][12]

At the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Jill Soloway, in her keynote address, explored the definition of the female gaze in film-making.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". Screen. 16.
  2. ^ Dirse, Zoe. "Gender in Cinematography". Journal of Research in Gender Studies. 3.
  3. ^ Cohen, Paula Marantz. "What Have Clothes Got to Do with It?: Romantic Comedy and the Female Gaze". Southwest Review. 95.
  4. ^ Blake, Meredith. "From 'The Handmaid's Tale' to 'I Love Dick,' the female gaze is thriving on television". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Blue Is The Warmest Color: The Male Gaze Reigns Supreme". Autostraddle. 2013-11-06. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  6. ^ Juergen, Michelle (2013-11-08). ""Blue Is the Warmest Color" gets lesbian sex wrong". Salon. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  7. ^ Hanna, Anne Thompson,Beth. "Feminists Debate Cannes-Winner 'Blue is the Warmest Color"s Patriarchal Gaze | IndieWire". www.indiewire.com. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  8. ^ Dargis, Manohla (2013-10-25). "The Trouble With 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  9. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin. "'Blue Is The Warmest Color' Author Julie Maroh Not Pleased With Graphic Sex In Film, Calls It "Porn" | IndieWire". www.indiewire.com. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  10. ^ "Director April Mullen on how "Below Her Mouth" is all about the female gaze - AfterEllen". AfterEllen. 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  11. ^ "'Below Her Mouth' Dir. April Mullen Talks About The Female Gaze & Working With An All-Female Crew - GirlTalkHQ". GirlTalkHQ. 2016-10-03. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  12. ^ Mullen, April (April 26, 2017). "How Being Called a "Female Filmmaker" Helped Me Understand the Future of Cinema". Talkhouse. Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  13. ^ "MASTER CLASS Jill Soloway". TIFF. Retrieved 2017-09-01.