Looking at the film industry in the category of gender representation, it is apparent that the majority of the protagonists are male. This margin demonstrates that men dominate and gender is continually misrepresented in cinema. Men are seen as the protectors, the saviors, the breadwinners, and epitomize power and independence.
Women are constantly misrepresented in films by being illustrated strictly for purposes of objectification, supporting the male characters, or most commonly as love interests that drive the male characters, Women in cinema, even in action roles, are portrayed in a way that objectifies them, even if that is not the end goal of their role. This repetition of the stereotypical gender roles correlates with Laura Mulvey’s theory of the “Male Gaze. ” Mulvey innovated the idea that active and passive aspects of scopophilia (the urge to look) are shared among the sexes.
Relatedly, in his article Ways of Seeing, John Berger had already proposed that in Western culture, from painting to advertising, “men acted and women appear,” or rather men look at women and women watch themselves being looked at, (Berger, p. 198). Accordingly, Mulvey’s theory works in Hollywood film as follows: the male character looks at a woman and the camera films what the man is seeing (a point-of-view camera shot), and because the camera is showing what the man sees, the viewer is seemingly required to look through the male’s perspective.
Thus, the ‘male’ gaze consists of three main components: the camera, character, and the spectator. There are many films that explicitly and implicitly illustrate the male gaze. In this essay, the films Charlie’s Angels (2000) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) will be compared in each film’s usage of the male gaze and its function throughout the movie. While the two movies are similar in aspect of both being a basic example of Mulvey’s male gaze, the two differ in the sense of the way the male gaze is portrayed.
For example, Charlie’s Angels seems to be promoting female independence and power, as the three main characters are strong and threatening female detectives; nonetheless, there is a substantial amount of objectification of the Angels as the three women use their sexuality as power. On the other hand, in The Dark Knight Rises, the female supporting character Selina Kyle or “Catwoman” (played by Anne Hathaway) is tacitly presented as a sexual object as she seemingly is resilient and self-governing due to her fighting and stealing abilities.
However, Selina is Bruce Wayne’s love interest as well as an image of sexuality as she is consistently dressed in a tight, leather body suit and seductively uses manipulation to get her way. Thus, these films both illustrate the objectification of women with the male gaze; yet, in Charlie’s Angels, it is more explicitly demonstrated whereas in The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway’s character is more implicitly sexualized as an object of the male gaze. The focal aspect of Charlie’s Angels is the relationship of power and sexuality.
The Angels consistently use their sexuality to gain what they want from male antagonists in the film. Though some could regard Charlie’s Angels as empowering due to the fact that the Angels are always victorious over their male counterparts, it is still full of feminist concerns. For example, in a scene where the three women are trying to put a tracking device on a car, Dylan (Drew Barrymore) flirts and then seductively licks a steering wheel to distract the male driver, while Natalie (Cameron Diaz) sexily reveals cleavage and flirts with the owner of the car.
This example illustrates where a repeated debate surfaces because this representation of women implies that a woman must have both power and sexuality or else she may be both powerless and objectified. Laura Mulvey argues that the world of film is surrounded by the voyeuristic fascination with scopophilia. Scopophilia, according to Mulvey, is “taking other people as objects” by subjecting them to a gaze, mainly defined by the gender divide as the women as objects and the male gaze controlling them (Mulvey, 1975).
This coincides completely with the Angels’ use of sexuality to gain their power. Mulvey’s theory adopts two things, dealing with the plot of the film and then the film’s popularity. Firstly, it attests to the fact that the plot of the film only progresses because the Angels use their sexuality to attract the attention of the men they are trying to defeat, thus gaining power. Without this there would be no plot. Secondly, it assumes that the only reason the film gained popularity was because of society’s voyeuristic obsession with viewing others’ sexuality.
Even ignoring Mulvey’s arguments, it is still clear that the film is filled with sexual innuendos that draw from the “strength” of the characters. The film poster itself promotes the catch phrase, “get some action” while showing the three Angels dressed in tight, leather outfits amidst a backdrop of flames and explosions. “The film was intended as ‘a fantasy, an escape, an ode to fun, and to California, mixing elements and styles which the director likes,” (Schubart p. 292) as he dual meaning of the phrase indicates both the genre of the film as an action movie, and the sexual “action” one would assume to see while watching the movie. Female heroines in comic books have been continuously drawn with exaggerated curves and flaunting their bodies in impractical costumes, their sexuality heightened to please the chiefly male demographic. It makes sense, then, that the translation from comic book to screen would follow, continuing to demote these women to roles that are — while relatively crucial to the plot — for all intents and purposes, minor in comparison to their male counterparts.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway’s character of Selina Kyle (“Catwoman”) is crucial to the plot, but the male gaze is prevalent in many scenes in which the cat suit-clad Hathaway straddles Batman’s motorcycle and the camera gave the audience a rather eye-popping view of her from behind. Additionally, there were numerous scenes where Selina uses the female stereotype to her advantage. For example, in the scene where she steals Bruce’s mother’s pearls and flees, she proceeds to seductively enter another man’s car and flirtatiously asks, “Can I get a ride? There is a sexual innuendo in the tone of her voice and the sensual look she gives. Selina Kyle is introduced similarly with the focus being on her body not on her as a person or a character. Throughout the movie, the focus of the camera is on her body and how she uses it. Moreover, this focus on her body is not in terms of her fighting skills but rather her sexual skills. She is made into an object meant for the pleasure of the male gaze even when she should be seen as a subject.
The camera narrows in on the curvature of her body in the cat suit as well as her lips that are frequently sensualized with bright red lipstick. When she is crashing out of the window of Bruce Wayne’s mansion, or when she is jumping off of a rooftop and is fighting her way Bane’s henchmen, it would be thought that the audience should be viewing her as an action star, but instead she is depicted as a fetish. In all of these instances she is posing for the male viewer. Her poses are forced and unnatural. She seemingly winks at the viewer as she fights and coyly teases the men she beats up.
The notice is on her body, not her skills as a thief or as a fighter, “so, of course, is the ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ costuming of today’s [female] protagonists as erotic dancers and dominatrixes in mainstream films,” (Schubart p. 2) a clear example of the use of a woman as a sexualized spectacle and object of the male gaze. In The Dark Knight Rises, despite the fact that Anne Hathaway’s character of kicked butt in addition to being equally well written and rounded, she is objectified by the male gaze.
As Morley and Robins discussed, “one should not over estimate the freedom of the media consumer to make what he/she likes of the material transmitted. Even if they could, their choice of materials to reinterpret would still be limited to the ‘menu’ constructed by powerful media organizations,” (Morley & Robins, p. 365). Hence, it can be acceptable to have characters like Selina Kyle that rely on their looks to get what they want; and in Selina’s case in The Dark Knight Rises, she uses female stereotypes like emotional weakness and vulnerability to cleverly manipulate her way out of dangerous situations.
Nonetheless, when an entire character is built on the basis of appearance and sex appeal, little is left for the audience to empathize, creating a dynamic in which the audience objectifies rather than relates; thus, the movie “invite[s] the audience to ‘take’ the message in some particular way,” (Morley & Robins, p. 365). This particular film allows for the continuation of women to be dismissed as more attention is paid to how she looks and what she’s wearing rather than her character development, her intelligence or even her humanity.
Thus in conclusion, the powers attributed to female superheroes or independent protagonists are inevitably tied to stereotypical ideals of what constitutes female power: manipulation, sexuality, and masquerade as such wearing leather jumpsuits, wigs, etc. Accentuation of the physical elements largely involves arranging the female body to capture voyeuristic shows to depict the idealized form. Consequently, this stylized positioning and camera angels further objectifies women through the male gaze. This in turn, devalues women’s roles in film and cinema to be an object of sexuality.
Works Cited Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing. ” The Media Studies Reader. Ed. Laurie Ouellette. New York: Routledge, 2013. 197-204. Print. Morley, Davis, and Kevin Robins. “Under Western Eyes: Media, Empire, and Otherness. ” The Media Studies Reader. Ed. Laurie Ouellette. New York: Routledge, 2013. 363-377. Print. Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. ” Screen 16. 3 Autumn 1975: 6-18. Brown U, 10 June. 2010. Web. 12 April 2013. . Schubart, Rikke. Bitches and Action Babes: the Female Hero in Popular Cinema, 1970-2006. Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers, 2007.