Formal Analysis

The male gaze has been a long debated topic in cinema and it is the theory that the view point that we get when watching a film is from a male perspective. This idea was brought up in Laura Mulvey’s book¬† “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” where she talks about how woman are portrayed in films as well as how they’re looked at. She further explains how woman are only there in films for their “to-be-looked-at-ness” and are merely ornaments that are there to be admired. But what if the opposite is implied as well?What if certain characters are looked at from a female perspective?My goal is to show that characters can also be shown from a female perspective or more accurately, a “female gaze.”

One of the best examples of the concept of female gaze was in the famous mirror scene in “The Lady Eve” where the main character, who is portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck, is trying to figure out the type of a certain man. In the entire scene she is looking at the man through a mirror and giving her commentary on what kind of woman he likes and what kind of man he really is. But what is most evident in the scene is that we are looking at the man from a female perspective or “female gaze” We are looking at the man from her eyes and that is a great example of how “gaze” can go both ways when we watch films.

In the scene the man is shown through the mirror in sharp focus which implies that he is important to the scene while the woman offers a voice over. The camera is placed directly behind the mirror so that we can only see what the woman sees and in this case the woman only sees the man. Sound and dialogue is central to the scene as the woman continually shares her insights on what kind of woman the man likes. We are able to look at the man from her point of view and hear about what she thinks of him as well as all the woman trying to capture the man’s attention.

As more and more women wander around the man trying to capture his attention, the camera along with the mirror wander around as well with the different characters so that we see everything going on around the room. As we get a couple of glimpses of the woman we see that everything behind her is in shallow focus with very limited depth of field which emphasizes that everything behind is of no importance to the scene. When the man is standing up getting ready to leave she offers us an insight into his mind trying to explain why none of the woman he’s seen captures his attention. And then as the man is passing by her, she puts away the mirror and sticks out her feet purposely causing the man to trip and that was all part of her plan to meet the man.

In the scene we are only able to see everything from the viewpoint of the woman and all she cares about is the man sitting behind her who appears to be very rich and famous. In this scene the “female gaze” is very evident because we see how the woman portrays the man by giving commentary as various other women pass by him trying to get his attention and what he would say in each situation. So not not only do wee see everything from the woman’s point of view but we are able to find out a little more about the man and what type of woman he does not like.¬† This all shows that there are also female perspectives or “female gazes” in films and that certain characters are viewed from a feminine sense as well.

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6 Comments so far

  1.   Steven Rengifo on December 6th, 2011

    Hey Roberto, this was good analysis. I clearly remember that scene from “Lady Eve” because in my opinion, it was very innovative. Looking at the scene carefully, you can see that the reflection was recorded and then later during the editing process, was put into the frame with Barbara Stanwyck holding her tiny mirror. I agree with how in this case, the typical “male gaze”, is then switched to the “female gaze” instead in this scene. The film was released in 1941 and to have a female guiding the audience to look at a male was very different than most of the movies that featured women as “things to look at”.
    Also, I just wanted clarify, Laura Mulvey didn’t write a book about the “male gaze”, it was an article.

  2.   Kaitlin Stevens on December 9th, 2011

    This was a perfect example for the gaze analysis. I loved this scene. Seeing everything from Eve’s point of view was a refreshing change and her commentary was very entertaining. You were absolutely right about how her commentary gives insight on why Pike didn’t like any of the girls that we saw in the mirror. Your focus in this analysis was very clear. This was a well-written post and I enjoyed reading it.

  3.   Raaj Mangroo on December 9th, 2011

    I did the same movie as you so I can understand what you are saying. I also like that you qouted the “female gaze” because Mulver did not talk about a female gaze. I saw this as kind of humorous using this term.

  4.   Mitchell Mays-George on December 15th, 2011

    Interesting writing and perspective on the gaze.

  5.   Jihae Park on December 16th, 2011

    This scene is the best example of “female gaze”. The audiences not only watched what she sees but also heard the woman’s thoughts and interpretations about what’s going on.

  6.   Amy Herzog on December 20th, 2011

    Thanks for this challenge to Mulvey’s theory, Roberto! It’s a wonderful scene for thinking about the possibilities of a female gaze. It’s interesting, though, how the female gaze here does function differently than the stereotypical male gaze. We see what Stanwyck shows us, and do focus on the male object of desire. But so much of his desirability is comic, and linked not to his physique, but the money everyone is trying to con away from him. Thanks for getting us to think about all this.

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