Listen gals, pals, and enbies. We all know that we live in a patriarchal society where men are strong, wise, attractive, and “the only reason we live.” This happens mainly in the media and popular culture, where we see the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by the rippling, shiny (for some reason?) muscled man. We all know, and a little too well, that this cliché is tiresome, and it’s not giving what it’s supposed to give. It begs the question of why the media perpetuates these tropes. I present to you: the female gaze.
Mainstream media is typically approached through the male gaze. The male gaze is when you see Megan Fox fixing a car bare-midriffed in Transformers, or Ana de Armas in a deep v-neck dress drinking with pursed lips from a straw in a coke bottle in 007: No Time to Die. The “male gaze” is a term coined by British film theorist Laura Mulvey in 1975 and shows the objectification of women so clearly, you don’t even have to have 20/20 vision. It focuses on specific visual cues portrayed by women like in the examples above.
The female gaze is not far from the male gaze; however, the female gaze captures emotional intelligence, social interactions, and respect.
In film and TV, we can see this portrayal perfectly in Pride and Prejudice (2005). Around 20 minutes into the movie, Mr. Darcy was helping Elizabeth into the carriage when their hands touched. The camera pans to their hands, and according to 19th century etiquette, a man and a woman are not supposed to touch. The grazing of their hands made Darcy abruptly walk away. The camera focuses on his hand. The stretch of his hand explains to the viewer the tension and torment he felt because he simply grazed her. Now let me tell you. Watching that for the first time, I had to pause it and take a lap around my living room. That intense emotion from his hand was insanely powerful, hence the power of the female gaze.
Another film that shows the power of the female gaze is Marvel’s Black Widow (2021). We all know ScarJo is an absolute bada** babe, and this movie proves it. The character Black Widow has a tragic backstory of being a child assassin and being sterilized in the Red Room. In Avengers (2012), Nat was hypersexualized, wearing tight black suits that were subject to lots of close-up shots. Objectifying the character diminishes her overall essence as a brainwashed assassin. Even outside of the MCU, Scarlett was always at the disadvantage of her male co-stars, particularly when it came to fighting for equal pay on the job.
Director Cate Shortland rewrote this narrative, proving that the Black Widow is just as powerful without the objectification of her character by considering the female gaze perspective. The same flow with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in the Snyder Cut. Don’t get me STARTED on that.
Platforms of social media like TikTok have intensified the female gaze trend. User @strangek3vin on TikTok has women in a chokehold with their most recent videos. Not the traditional-looking dude we see in movies saving a princess, however, there is so much more depth to it. In their videos, the use of their eyes in the way they look at the camera, and the body language they use to capture the female gaze are incredible. The audience can almost know what they are thinking with a subtle dart of their eyes. Other male creators known for their good looks, like @curlyfuq, stitched the video with their own versions. But viewer’s comments ranged from “ick on the left, I felt like prey” (@bethhtok) to “You look at us like we would be so lucky. He looks at us like he would be so lucky” (@quoththeraven75)
This sensual, not sexual, perspective of film, TV and mainstream media is a concept that has dominated the internet, affecting how these gazes are portrayed. It is key to refocus the normative male gaze criteria from these forms of media, as it can cause mental anguish to the young people who compare themselves to or have been compared to these characters’ standards. Working with female and non-binary professionals whether that be directors, cinematographers, writers, or producers can open up a whole new world of media that challenges the mainstream norm focus.