Project Gendering the gaze

The source material for this project is Laura Mulvey’s excellent essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Mulvey proposes that the western cinema has been structured along the lines of the patriarchal society that exists today. Films are made to satisfy the scopophilic urges of the dominant male. Women are presented in as passive objects to be seen. According the Mulvey the cinema goes “.. far beyond highlighting a woman’s to-be-looked-at-ness, cinema builds the way she is to be looked at into the spectacle itself.” The main thrust of her argument is about how men derive pleasure when watching films both from looking (voyeuristically) at the women characters and through identification the male characters,as ‘ideal ego’ role models.

I have also to watch Hitchcock’s Vertigo and comment on it. I have yet to obtain a copy of the film. I will post some comments on this at a later stage.

The project also asks how the portrayal of contemporary black music in video matches up to Mulvey’s insights. This image is typical of the way in which women are represented in these videos:

E! reality series “Candy Girls”

They are scantily clad. Their involvement is largely visual. The vocalist could be either male or female. In the case of a female star she too is likely to appear in provocative clothing. The videos are constructed to provide the (male) viewer with intimate views of the bodies of the female dancers. They satisfy the male scopophilic gaze. They most certainly turn the women’s to-be-looked-at-ness into a spectacle. The women also serve as Ideal-ego role models for female viewers. This is clearly evidenced in the mode of dress of young women at clubs, parties etc. They emulate the provocative poses of the role models in the videos.

The final part of this project involves annotating Manet’s Olympia in terms of the gaze and the various characters within and without the image.

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
(Musee d’Orsay)

The form of this portrait reflects a classical representation of the reclining nude. What differentiates this painting is the nature and direction of the gaze.The nude female figure would normally be expected to avert her gaze  or cast her eyes down – not so in this painting. This is what made it so shocking at the time it went on show. The woman looks directly at the viewer. She is given a face and a personality.  Her gaze is confident, strong and uninhibited. She does not show modesty and she confronts the male viewer head on. This makes it difficult for the viewer (assumed to be male) to objectify the nude figure. In a way the confrontational gaze seems to deflect the male gaze, and to cause embarrassment to the male onlooker seeking scopophilic pleasure. The black servant also looks directly at the woman. She is holding flowers but the woman is ignoring her and looking straight at the viewer, without distraction.

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  1. Influences – 10 key photographers « photo-graph

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