The male gaze is a phrase that basically means content created purely by men and for male audiences. So it’s not a stretch to say that most movies, tv shows, books, art, and video games are created under the assumption that only men will be exposed to them. While there’s nothing wrong with men creating art and entertainment – after all, everyone should see themselves represented in our culture – this doesn’t leave room for women and those with LGBTQ+ identities. Thus, the phrase “the female gaze” was born!
The female gaze has been a recent sensation made possible by more women becoming involved in art and entertainment industries, specifically women leading new projects (i.e., women directors). So, technically, any creative project created by a woman will include the female gaze, but I want to talk about a couple of film projects that highlight this best. For example, I’ve begun to notice that more and more films (some directed by women, but not always) include shirtless men that are self-proclaimed feminists. These male characters were definitely not created for cis straight white men but purely to satisfy a female audience. Also, a bonus: it’s a nice treat for LGBTQ+ audience members! Some famous examples of this include Chris Hemsworth in the Thor films, Regé-Jean Page in the Bridgerton tv series, and Mr. Darcy in any adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
It’s important to mention that – if you’re arguing that the female gaze allows for male characters in films to be overtly sexualized – hasn’t the male gaze done the same? The female gaze is by no means perfect and does lead to the hypersexualization of male characters, but that’s because the female gaze is arguably a product of the male gaze hyper sexualizing women for hundreds of years. However, the female gaze isn’t just about including aesthetically handsome male characters on-screen but allowing for women to be depicted more realistically, relatable, and honestly. One of my favorite examples is in the film Birds of Prey (2020) where we see the first film depiction of Harley Quinn where she isn’t scantily clad and obsessed with a man on an unhealthy level. Instead, she’s an empowered villain who is part of a girl gang. Fans of the film argue that this depiction was only possible because the cast and crew were predominantly female, specifically with a female director at the helm.
Sometimes, female movie watchers luck out and get a film where male directors have enough women on their team that the female gaze is still present. For example, in every period drama starring Keira Knightley, Knightley as a female lead feels so relatable. My theory as to why the female gaze is so strong in Knightley’s films is because she has worked as a producer in the past. Honestly, in an industry where women are forced to look like Barbie dolls in order to appear traditionally beautiful, Knightley isn’t afraid to run in the rain, wear natural makeup, and dress in various ways that allow her characters to run around and be active. As a tomboy myself, Knightley’s characters make me feel more empowered.
What are some of your favorite projects that highlight the female gaze? Feel free to tell us in the comment section!