In 1975, the British feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey published an essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, which used psychoanalytic methods to propose the concept of classic Hollywood films. “Scopophilia”, in which the female character is a “spectacle”, receiving the joint gaze of the person behind the camera, the male character in the film, and the audience; this gaze, which is heterosexual, masculine gaze. Since then, “Male Gaze” has been used as a complete concept by feminist media analysis to this day.
“In a world dominated by gender inequality, the pleasure of ‘seeing’ divides between ‘active/male’ and ‘passive/female’.” – Laura Mulvey
In the typical narrative style of Hollywood movies, the male gaze is projected onto the stylized female body, which is encoded as a strong visual and erotic symbol, and the presence of the female is only to satisfy the male gaze, and the male through this “voyeurism” “Satisfying sexual desire and obtaining visual pleasure. For example, in Hitchcock’s film “Vertigo”, the female protagonist Marlen’s body is presented, and the shadow of the “male gaze” can be seen.
The hero of the film, Police Officer Scotty Ferguson, resigned due to a stumble and was injured at a height, and became a private investigator. He accepts a friend’s commission to follow his friend’s wife, Marlen. In the process, Scotty has a deep infatuation with her; as everyone knows, Scotty has fallen into a conspiracy – Marlen has Murdered by a friend, the actor falls in love with Judy, the impersonator, who wants to use him to create an alibi for himself.
Most of the narratives of “Vertigo” are unfolded through the perspective of the hero Scotty. The lens showing the heroine is Scotty’s eyes. What he sees, the audience sees; This episode legalizes “voyeurism”, and “Marlen” is always under Scotty’s viewing; in particular, “Marlen” is often in door frames, car windows, and shadows, and she is molded into a piece A work of art, not a person with subjectivity; and for Judy, Scotty uses her as a substitute for “Mallen,” requiring her to dress up as “Mallen,” a naked “fetish.” As Mulvey said: “Hitchcock’s films often sway between ‘voyeurism’ and ‘fetishism’.”
As the foundational theory of feminist media analysis, “male gaze” has been widely used in the criticism of various media such as film and television works, advertisements, and artworks. Although Mulvey’s theory has certain limitations of the times, today, we It can still be found when watching movies, dramas, and commercials that the male gaze is everywhere.
2016 advertising photography “Plaything Gentleman”
Art that challenges the male gaze
From ‘nude’ to ‘nakedness’
In fact, before Mulvey formally proposed the “male gaze”, this feminist analytical thinking has been applied by some researches. In Ways of Seeing, John Berger, by analyzing the female figures in European nude art, proposes that women are a kind of spectacle that is watched, and that women pay attention to themselves through the eyes of men: ” Men want women, women want to be wanted, men want women, women want to be seen by others.” This assertion profoundly reveals the inequality between gender power.
Art historian Kenneth Clark has argued that nakedness is nothing but stripping, while nudes are an art form. Clark believes that male sexuality does not exist in artistic nudes.
However, Berg’s view is the exact opposite of Clark’s. “Being a nude image is to let people watch their naked body, not autonomous. To become a nude image, a naked body must first be regarded as an object of viewing.” That is to say, nude images do not have subjectivity, and women’s nude images are based on Shaped by the way men look, her nudity is not a presentation of self-emotion, but to be watched. For example, women in European classicist paintings never have body hair, because body hair is a symbol of sexuality, energy and passion. In a patriarchal society, this is a trait that men expect from themselves and does not belong to women. Berg therefore proposed that nudity is the way to restore oneself.
In the 1960s, with the rise of the second wave of feminism in the West, the art world will naturally not be absent. Female artists intend to subvert the male-dominated power relationship, and feminist art emerges as the times require. The 1960s and 1980s were the bursting period of contemporary art and the glorious age of feminist art. Many female artists challenged the male gaze and expressed their resistance to the oppression of male power through subversive creations of naked bodies.
American artist Hannah Wilke used her own body as a material to create a series of works from 1974 to 1982, completing S.O.S. — Starification Object Series. In this series of works, Welker is naked and posing in various poses. Her body is covered with chewing gum in the shape of female genitals, suggesting female pleasure; but it looks like a small scar from a distance. Alludes to the suffering of women.
Another well-known representative of feminist art, Judy Chicago, launched an art project called the Birth Project in the early 1980s. Chicago initiated the project because she found that in the long history of art, there have been very few images of women giving birth. Under the male gaze, women who give birth are often less sexually attractive, however, giving birth is an important experience in many women’s lives. In the piece, titled “Earth Birth,” soft blue curves outline the body of a naked woman in labor, her breasts and uterus glowing golden.
Painting, sculpture, performance art, selfie… Through the continuous efforts of female artists, more and more feminist art has entered the public space. To a certain extent, feminist art takes the female body or the artist’s own body as the creative prototype, transforming from being watched under the gaze of men to actively watching by the self, thereby constructing the female subject consciousness. These works, which may be “shocking” in the eyes of some people, represent the cry of women from the bottom of their hearts.