10 Most Effective Feminist Movies: The Perks Of Avoiding The Male Gaze

Explaining the perks of eliminating the male gaze from movies in these ten feminist-themed movies.

The male gaze, in cinema, is a way of viewing and portraying women as sexual objects from a cisgender, heterosexual man's point of view.

Films that work to eliminate the male gaze and treat their project like it is meant to simply enhance and move along the plotline are far more effective at storytelling than those that utilize the male gaze.

Here is a list of movies that effectively avoid using the male gaze to tell their stories.

1. Carrie (1976)

carrie movie stephen king blood prom still
Image Source: The New Yorker

As a horror movie, I don’t think Stephen King anticipated eventually creating a movie that would become important to feminists and women everywhere.

Although the feminist message focuses more on the fact that the audience can root for Carrie to get revenge on all of her classmates and bullies at the end, the most effective thing King and the movie crew did was not treat Carrie like an overly sexual being.

Carrie is in high school and part of the story centers on her getting her period at an inconvenient time in the gym shower, which goes more to show that she has gone through the hardships of being a woman.

Her mother, however, who was the most masculine figure she had in her life, construed her as an overly sexual being despite only getting her period which is a normal part of becoming a woman.

Carrie’s repression of her feminine side resulted in her being more masculine and ignoring her true self. But when she gets the pig’s blood dumped on her at prom, she embraces it (and her womanhood) to fully unleash her strength and show it to the rest of the world.

Most film buffs know horror is a generally misogynistic and female-suppressing genre, but this story doesn't fit the mold. Sure, Carrie doesn't end up sexually liberated but, symbolically, she does.

All the while, Carrie is not being sexualized on screen. She is being shown as a modest woman and even when she lashes out, the story and cameras focus more on her power than on her sexual femininity.

This allows the story to continue to develop at a normal and useful pace to portray the still-feminist message that women are naturally strong creatures if we just learn to embrace it.

2. Alien (1979)

alien 1979 movie still sigourney weaver astronaut ripley
Image Source: ScreenCrush

Although Alien is not an overtly feminist movie, its symbolism and camera techniques contribute to a unique take on the male gaze.

One of the most memorable scenes is when the alien is trying to get out of the body of one of the male scientists. This gory depiction is a form of unwanted penetration and is symbolic of a man being sexually assaulted.

Forcing a male character to undergo what (phallically) represented something similar to childbirth flipped the scales and forced the female scientists, specifically Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley, to take on more of a male role in the film without the hindrance of the male gaze.

During and immediately after this scene, the men are reacting very emotionally, while Ripley got to be the calm and level-headed one. In reality, the men become emotional when they endure what a majority of women have endured in their lifetime and that just goes to show the strength and capability of women in this film.

The camera angles, shooting men from just below them and women from just above them, recognizes a power dynamic that, when combined with the prior symbolism, is completely negated and then almost used ironically.

The women in this movie also are the ones driving the plotline forward and working toward a solution to the alien problem, while the men are being overtaken by the alien and becoming frightened as a result.

3. Clueless (1995)

clueless movie still cher dionne alicia silverstone
Image Source: iNews

Despite appearing like just another ‘90s comedy movie, Clueless is one of the most popular and impactful feminist movies on this list. Comedy is another genre where women don’t usually thrive and are usually used as comedic relief, but the characters in this movie seem to be free from being sexualized by the camera.

However, the characters’ sexualities aren’t completely ignored in this movie either. Cher and her friends embrace that aspect of their lives, but the filmmakers don’t dawdle and focus on that for the enjoyment of viewers.

Overall, the movie is just about women being able to stand up for what they believe in and become the people they truly want to be, with all of their choices being made by them.

They do the same thing with race in this movie, just letting Cher’s best friend be a character without feeling the need to capitalize on the fact that she is black or using her as a token character.

The makers of Clueless understood what had to be done and made sure viewers know how to be true to themselves without feeling the need to adhere to the male gaze, which would have negated the whole point.

4. Fargo (1996)

fargo movie 1996 coen still sheriff marge gunderson snow
Image Source: Senses of Cinema

One of the main characters is Sheriff Marge Gunderson, who is adept at solving crimes in the small town of Brainerd, Minnesota. Her job can come across as masculine, her behaviors combined with the fact that she is pregnant negate making her either too masculine or feminine.

She is essentially the 'elite' of womankind in this movie since she is bearing a child, but she is also the highest-ranked of a male-dominated profession. Sheriff Gunderson is balancing the roles of being hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine without leaning too strongly one way or the other.

The feminine agenda of this movie is also shown through the absolute absurdity of the male characters. They showcase the overly masculine side by most male characters acting more as a follower than a leader or individual.

The majority of the men in this film did not act nearly as level-headed or intelligently as the women did, making the women's roles seem more important to the continuation of the plot as a whole.

Since the couple leaders in the movie are criminals and even end up getting caught by Sheriff Gunderson, she is essentially considered the 'alpha male', but is also the 'alpha female' by being 7 months pregnant.

The movie may not appeal to people as feminists since there aren't very many female speaking roles, but it really only capitalizes on the fact that the male gaze is absent throughout the film.

By representing the women as people essential to the plot without overly focusing on their sexuality, the plot is successfully continuing and effectively delivering the message of the movie.

5. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

bend it like beckham soccer win movie still
Image Source: Entertainment Time

Set around a young female, Jesminder Bhamra, who has dreams of playing soccer and admires the famous player David Beckham, Bend It Like Beckham was one of the first movies that inspired me as a female when I was growing up.

Similar to other mainstream feminist movies, it raises questions about inequalities between men and women in sports. Jesminder dresses very athletically and is incredible at the sport she loves, which are things about her character that can be construed as masculine.

But, she isn’t just dealing with the problems of being a female playing the sport, but the struggles of being a Punjabi Indian girl whose family doesn’t support her dreams.

She has to prove herself to her family and her peers and ends up showing the audience what a dedicated young woman can be capable of.

It would have been especially disturbing if this movie utilized the male gaze since Jesminder is a high school senior, so the movie’s purpose of inspiring women to strive beyond what is expected of us.

6. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

kill bill 2003 uma thurman movie still quentin tarantino
Image Source: The Spool

Quentin Tarantino is not a feminist, nor should this movie and its sequel trick people into thinking he is. He is notorious for creating hyper-masculine characters and only accentuating that with his storytelling, as well as physically abusing his female stars.

However, this particular movie lends to the idea that women are strong and have the same (if not stronger) survival instincts as men. It was rare for him to give a female character (Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo) so many characteristics considered masculine, and even rarer for the male characters to be shown as considerably weaker than a woman.

The Bride is even noted to be driven, intelligent, unpredictable, troubled, and violent. Since she is acting ‘emotionally’ in her response to the events of the movie, Beatrix is what men would consider a typical woman. However, her violent and calculated actions also lend to a more masculine personality in a strong female character.

Lucy Liu also stars in this movie and is presented as another skilled and violent woman, which further lends itself to the idea that women, especially when provoked, are even stronger than men.

By taking a step back and simply letting women behave and react in a way already accepted by men, Kill Bill forgoes the male gaze in favor of showcasing badass female characters.

7. Frozen (2013)

frozen 2013 movie still anna elsa snow sisterhood
Image Source: Geeks + Gamers

Disney is notorious for making their movies all about a female character finding true love so when this movie went in the opposite direction and instead focused on the true love between sisters Elsa and Anna, things were flipped on their heads.

Even in the second movie, Elsa isn’t pressured to be looking for a husband and the filmmakers just let her be the powerful female character she is intended to be.

Elsa remains a powerful woman and ruler, and she shows compassion for her family and her kingdom. Any time a woman is in charge of a kingdom, I get excited because that is a traditionally male role. In her case, her ‘emotional’ female side actually plays toward Arendale’s benefit.

Anna’s role in the movie focuses partially on her search for love, but more on the purpose of showing her naivety. Although she doesn't possess the power Elsa does, she is still shown as being a grounding character and utilizing her people-pleasing skills to better serve their kingdom.

Neither character is depicted as existing solely for the benefit of finding a male counterpart and when combined with the extensive power Elsa holds, Frozen pushes the narrative of becoming an independent person (a more masculine trait) while being able to reach out to and rely on other people (a more feminine trait).

The dichotomy of masculine and feminine traits, like other true feminist films, emphasizes that women like Elsa can exist and be the best for a position of power.

8. Ghostbusters (2016)

ghostbusters 2016 movie still leslie jones kristen wiig melissa mccarthy kate mckinnon
Image Source: Feminist Frequency

This would have been more impactful if the original had been with an all-female main cast, but it got the point across that the funny heroes could just as well have been female.

It was nice to see a well-loved concept with gender-flipped characters, but that wasn’t very well received by some people. That stems back to something feminists have been trying to address for years, which is that women can be funny without being used as comedic relief.

The characters were all very unique women, with some of them being awkward and others being more comfortable with their sexuality. Either way, the movie didn’t shove their sexuality in our faces and didn’t change the original Ghostbuster uniforms to look like they were exclusively meant to be worn by women.

The villain, Rowan North, is also a symbol of male entitlement and while he is angry his intellect hasn’t been recognized, the Ghostbusters have all been experiencing the same thing and never tried to become the bad guy. Additionally, Chris Hemsworth’s secretary character was fun to see as a reimagination of the female secretary stereotype.

By purposefully switching all of the characters’ genders in this Ghostbuster reimagining, it takes on a more meaningful message of motivating women to pursue whatever dreams they want, to keep working hard, and to understand how important it is to stand up for themselves.

9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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Image Source: Gadgets 360

The Star Wars franchise is notorious for not including serious female characters. Both Padme and Leia, although being incredibly strong and influential women themselves, were focused on in a way adhering to the male gaze. Rey is the opposite.

She has a very similar origin story to Luke: being abandoned as a child, living off of the land (although Luke had a lot more help with that than Rey), and realizing they have the power within them.

It took a long time for Star Wars to catch up to where the rest of the world was showcasing and supporting women, but they did so in a way I really appreciate. Each trilogy has essentially told the same story, just with different characters, so it made sense to let Rey be a version of Luke (her mentor) without it feeling forced or shoved in our face that she is a woman.

Phasma, even, is the only female stormtrooper to ever be shown and she holds more authority than almost anyone on the dark side.

These powerful female characters are highlighted without being sexualized as Leia had been in Return of the Jedi. Even the return of Leia in this movie is marked by her intelligence and strategy as a leader of the Resistance.

This movie is the first of the franchise to eliminate the male gaze and instead work with the strengths of each member of the cast, which made the story flow much more smoothly.

10. Mulan (2020)

mulan 2020 live action movie chi still
Image Source: Deadline

The original story was already feminist, but making it live-action and really highlighting the strength and personality of Mulan in a more serious way made it even more impactful.

The story, as many of us know, follows Mulan impersonating a man so she can join the Chinese army in her father’s place. Although the main point of the plot comes from a woman stepping up to save her family, it is also obvious that Mulan is not set up to conform to the strict idea of a woman needing to be a wife that lives to serve her husband.

Introduced early in the film, we elevate Mulan to the status of a powerful man when it is revealed she has the power of Chi, which is believed to only be possessed by men.

My only problem with this movie was when Mulan challenges the only other powerful woman on the battlefield, Xian Lang because Disney didn’t allow us to see two strong women unite and work together instead of one defeating the other.

However, the simple presence of another powerful woman who wants Mulan to reveal her true self to her fellow warriors is a stark difference between this and the 1998 animated film.

In the scene depicted above, Mulan has come out as a woman to everyone and is embracing the power she holds as a masculine woman, and she is eventually credited with saving many of the Chinese army's men.

In this version, Mulan’s love life is a lot less emphasized (although it is still present), which enforces the idea of a powerful woman not necessarily needing a man to feel complete at the end of the movie.

The negative effects of the male gaze

Although the theme of a movie may be obviously feminist, the way a movie is shot can tell just as important of a story. A female-boosting movie can be completely negated by using the male gaze to sexualize the character(s) and thus undercut any kind of inspirational message to viewers.

Another common mistake many filmmakers make when trying to avoid the male gaze is to make their main characters too masculine, but the films above have all found a happy medium between letting their characters be sexual but not sexualized, and letting them act as normal and powerful women.

By removing the male gaze from cinema, female characters are allowed to be more of themselves and inspire others. This is becoming more of a common practice throughout films, but it should be eliminated altogether as a technique.

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