The Female Gaze: Simply, What Is It?

Have you ever had a look through feminine eyes?

In most aspects of our lives, we have lived in and been dominated by a mostly male point of view regarding the world. From movies to shows to books, plays, art, and more, our society has made sure to fit itself into this view regardless of whether or not focusing too much on it would cause an unbalance in the general experience of people.

In only seeing the male perspective we completely forget and ignore the female one, which then leads to a lack of understanding and appreciation for the female perspective. This is where the female gaze comes in.

Image Credit: Pexels

The Female Gaze

The female gaze is a new perspective, and there is not much information about it. This concept is still being explored and defined by the people who are now beginning to study and experiment with it. 

When you look up information on the female gaze, most of what you will find are pieces from people who are either studying film, working in the film industry, and film enthusiasts. This is mostly due to the fact that the first time the female gaze was coined was in a 1975 essay titled Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema, written by Laura Mulvey. 

Since then, mostly people from the film industry, have slowly been exploring this concept and translating it into visual works of art for others to enjoy. 

What is the female gaze?

Essentially, the female gaze is the way that women are portrayed through the eyes of a woman instead of a man. Through the eyes of a woman, women are seen as people with feelings and intelligence. The focus isn't necessarily on what the eye can see but on what the heart can feel. 

The female gaze looks to evoke emotions and feelings, focusing on touch, interactions, and atmosphere instead of action and just sexuality. The female gaze looks to balance the man and the woman, making them equals in all areas. 

So, the female gaze is not the exact opposite of the male gaze, which focuses on stimulating visual cues, desire, action, logic, sex, ego, and objectification (mainly of women), among other things. Even when female desire is shown and represented, through the female gaze, the character that is being desired by another character (whether principal or secondary) isn't objectified. 

As Wit and Folly said in her video essay: when female desire is shown through the female gaze, it doesn't objectify the man (or partner), instead it helps both masculine and feminine energies move effortlessly between being the object and the subject of the desire between the two. 

Through the female gaze, the characters are seen as human and relatable, showing both strength and vulnerability. 

Female Gaze
Image Credit: Pexels

Analyzing the female gaze

Whenever we see people analyzing the female gaze, we almost always see them refer to three points that Laura Mulvey makes in her 1975 essay. These points point out and summarize how the male gaze works and, who and what it affects in film specifically.

The first aspect is the camera, then we have the spectators and the characters in the film. The camera and the audience are second to the characters, which are the ones who primarily create the illusion. But the camera helps by pointing out, or focusing, on what the male gaze usually focuses on, the physical, the action, the logical, and not the emotional or spiritual.

With the help of the camera and the characters, the audience is then shown and put into the perspective of the male gaze. A product of one of many male fantasies shown through different media. As Wit and Folly state, it masculinizes the audience regardless of whether they are men, women, or any other gender.

To balance out the scales, Joey Soloway (previously Jill Soloway), recreated the three basic principles that contributed to the male gaze in movies, to fit and describe the female gaze.

The first principle is the Feeling Seeing.  When explaining this principle Soloway describes that it is a way to get inside the protagonist.  Meaning that, by making the camera subjective, they use the frame to invoke a feeling of in-feeling, rather than looking at the character.

In simpler terms, the camera makes the audience feel what the characters are feeling. Reclaiming the female body and using it to fuse mind, body, and feelings as a tool to invoke these sensations to the audience. 

The second principle Soloway called it The Gazed Gaze. In this part, the components of the story convey to the audience what it feels to be the object of the gaze. What it feels to be seen, to be looked at, to be the object of actions, emotions, situations. And, what it feels like to have to live with the consequences of being the object of the gaze. 

The final principle is Returning the Gaze. Here, the one who used to be the object says 'I see you seeing me and I don't want to be the object anymore, I want to be the subject so that I can make you the object'. 

In a sense, the elements of the story make the audience feel like they are the ones being gazed at as if they are the objects themselves.

Or, as Wit and Folly put it, to switch the roles of the characters and audience equally between object and subject of desire and the gaze. 

Female Gaze
Image Credit: Center for Health Progress

Masculinizing vs feminizing the audience

While neither the female nor male gaze is a fixed perspective, there are things that happen whenever the audience sits down to consume a work of art in either of these points of view.

When the audience consumes a male gaze-centered story, the perspective masculinizes the audience. That is, it gives the audience masculine characteristics. In the case of the male gaze, the masculine characteristics include those of making the audience think of the woman as an object no matter the gender of the person consuming the work.

Think about the women you have encountered that say things like "women need to serve men to make them happy" or "you should always look good for your man". This type of thinking is partly created and reinforced by works of art that are from the male gaze. 

With the female gaze, however, the audience is feminized. Meaning that the audience is made to feel the desires of the women. These female desires include wanting to make the audience know how women really feel to leveling the playing field on every aspect of life between men and women. 

So, the female gaze aims more to bring awareness, consciousness, and balance. Whereas the male gaze, up to this point, aims to keep the masculine on top and make everything else seem lesser. As well as diminishing and objectifying in many cases. 

As the female gaze is explored and experienced progressively, there will be more elements added to it that will help it be better defined. And, to encompass every aspect of what it means to be feminine to different women.

Until then, we encourage you to look deeper and explore what is the female gaze and what does it mean to be feminine. Maybe you too and add to the emerging discussion about perspectives in the arts.

A writer with a love for hot chocolate and rainy days. Has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and is experimenting with fantasy writing.

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