Visual Pleasure its Humanities Way

I must say after swimming in a sea of complicated English words that I almost drowned in as I began reading this article, I finally figured out what Laura Mulvey is talking about in the article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Simply put she discusses how women for decades have been subjected to being sexualized on film and television and some how its partially our fault. Wow sounds a little hard but after reading this particular sentence from the article I was convinced and you’ll also agree with me, “Women then stands in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tired to her place as bearer not maker, of meaning.” This is so depressing yet its reality, think of all the great actresses, ie. Halle Berry in Monster Ball, the ones with academy awards those movies that they were in for the most part, they were objectified and sexualized. Why? Because of the person who shoots that film, the director, guess who? A Man! A man has always been behind the camera calling the shots and women have snapped to the beat, so we could get somewhere career wise and in life in general. Think about music videos and rappers your typical video will have these elements cars, an entourage, and beautiful women. Some of these rappers songs wouldn’t be known without their music videos. Its come to a point now where more women in your video is key to the formula of success.
With this article Mulvey seeks out to destroy that visual pleasure which only exists as result of our patriarchal culture, by seeking to understand the critical use of the female image as well as the defining meaning would be the way in which to go about destroying this reality. Mulvey talks about Freud and his Three Essays on Sexuality, where he examines scopophilia defined as the love of looking, and how as young children we are curious to see and understand ourselves physically as well as others. As we get older this turns into the need for viewing a person as a mere object. I find this so hilarious but this possibly has truth to it. The phrase “Love at first sight” surely this phrase must have come from this. Love isn’t possible just because of personality but because of looks. The other thought that came to mind is if this is the case, is it possible to observe children and know who the “budding rapists and paedophiles are? Those people who are overly aggressive when it comes to objectifying others, or are they our porn directors?
Mulvey talks about the obsession with the pleasure of image beginning the first time babies are able to look in the mirror and are able to recognize that this is me. ( Side note its so cute my nephew is 7 months and when I put him in the mirror he smiled and then tried to eat himself interesting LOL ). That young we are able to look out ourselves and that is when our ego is born and for some becomes a monster, think a la Paris Hilton, This constant awareness of self image as well as the pleasure in objectifying another person as a form of sexual fulfillment are equal to out dream where out ego and sexuality live happily ever after. Long story short Mulvey who is writes very pro feminists offers that as result of our lack of a penis is somewhat symbolic of our feeling of “castration and as result unpleasure”. I’m not sure what I am suppose to do with that but somehow I feel like that Mulvey wants us to realize that we are not as perfect as our male counterparts but hey you are woman you are just as magnificently created.

10 Comments on Visual Pleasure its Humanities Way

  1. Katherine
    December 3, 2007 at 11:01 PM (12 years ago)

    I thought that was a good point where you suggested the concept of the “overly aggressive” child may be a budding rapist or something worse. That is a scary thought. I am just unsure how you say that ties into knowing “at first sight” or by looking at them. Are you speaking about mere looks or observed behavior as well?

  2. alison kattleman
    December 6, 2007 at 12:07 AM (12 years ago)

    I’d hate to believe that women’s “lack of a penis” makes us feel castrated and thus a sense of lost pleasure. Plz. “Lack of” implies that women are supposed to have one, and that’s just not right. Besides, isn’t there that book – “Why do Men have Nipples?” and it’s because all fetuses are formed as females originally, since male nipples are totally pointless… I agree with your point about Halle Berry and bunches of successful females winning awards for works of art they appear to be overtly sexual in, but I also think there are plenty of Oscar-winning women who are honored for roles where they’re not objectified. Jodie Foster isn’t exactly a sex symbol; Anna Paquin was a little kid; howz about Dame Judy Dench! 😼

  3. jess bernat
    December 9, 2007 at 9:19 PM (12 years ago)

    When you talk about the music videos, that is clearly proof that most things in society are for the male gaze. You see all these women, sometimes genuinely pretty and more often than not slutty, and you automatically know that this is just for the pleasure of the man who is creating it and for the men watching. Especially for what some of the women do in those videos.

  4. robb ware
    December 12, 2007 at 4:55 AM (12 years ago)

    I wonder how the new feminist movement is helping to change or protract this condition. It seems like the most popular female actresses and musicians among women are perceived to be sex symbols in some shape or form – and this is seen as “empowering” to the female audience. This is sort of paradoxical… women have bought into the notion of the male gaze and appear to do whatever they can to appeal to it – through clothes, sexual behavior, etc; but still shake a finger at it. TV shows like Sex and the City are equally perplexing – in some ways it’s the pinnacle of this behavior. People cried out, “Finally, a show about strong, independent women,” but failed to notice or acknowledge that the show is 90% about their sexual exploits. No wonder so many husbands gladly watch the show with their wives…

  5. samschac
    December 12, 2007 at 6:40 PM (12 years ago)

    It is an unfortunate truth that men do control the way women and men view the female form. However, i think that women are sexualized because they have to be. As far a human nature goes, women have always been looked at as sexual objects more than men have been or will ever be. I am not stating that this is all women are meant to be, But to change this objectified image of women, you must change the human nature of man, and i think that would be an impossible task to take on.
    It was interesting to see how you made it a point to say that only men are objectifying women in their films. I have to disagree with this idea. Take for example Sophia Coppala (Marie Antoinette, Lost In Translation, and The Virgin Suicides) she as a woman has fit into the forum in which women are sexualized and objectified. ANother example is Amy Heckerling ( Clueless and Fast Times @ Ridgemont High) who is the epitome of sexualizing women and more importantly young women in her films. She is also responsible for creating a generation of young women who believe that this is the right way for a young woman to behave (see: the hills, laguna beach)
    The problem is, i think that there is no “female gaze” but just a male one. So women just like men will never be able to break out of the shell that has been created for them. Your essay is one of the few that has provoked me to write alot. SO thanks!

  6. doomsayerunited
    December 14, 2007 at 12:58 AM (12 years ago)

    In light of Rob’s comment above, I’d have to agree that a show like Sex & the City is indeed steeped in the male gaze. Mulvey’s article is hard to defy, as we might argue almost any seemingly strong portrayal, or even portrayals of women in which the last thing we are supposed to do is objectify her, may still cater to the male gaze. I say this with two films in mind: Monster and Irreversible. The former, starring Chereze Theron, hinges on a prostitutes empowerment through violence toward men, culminating in a lesbian love with a younger woman. What is interesting about Monster in light of Mulvey is that, although Theron’s makeup and demeanor in the film make her somewhat grotesque, her fame as a beauty predicated the film’s inception. Therefore, we might easily argue there is enjoyment in watching a beauty act the part of a monster. With Irreversible, the climactic scene (and frankly one of the most disturbing I’ve ever been privy to) depicts Monica Belluci being maimed and then subsequently raped. The film does not celebrate this; in fact, the cinematography and pacing of the film suggest the complete opposite. However, and this is hard to articulate without watching the scene itself, the camera during the rape scene is fixed. Our eyes are privy to a long hallway, and a horrifying rape scene. I’d be more inclined to say this is supposed to work as a kind of reverse psychology critique on the male gaze, one could still argue that there is subconscious pleasure in the passivity evoked by the cinematography.

    Danniel Schoonebeek

  7. Manon Roux
    December 16, 2007 at 5:48 PM (12 years ago)

    i agree a lot with the commentators in the sense that I feel that women are lucky to be without a penis and the whole fact that men start from women and that if you really wanted to change the male gaze you’d have to change men’s ways. We are what we are and although women have been put down by men for centuries and eve is the downfall of man (so called), women have come a long way from being just the housewife. Now i don’t want to offend any men or women here but frankly it is a woman role today to be the infatuate men because the male brain sees and works very differently from that one woman (sort of a short attention span or stare at the shiny thing) just kidding. But seriously there is something different going. Actually most interestingly, last year my college writing class was based on the way people dress, men and women. What i found to be most interesting in one of the articles was that before the Enlightenment it was the male role to be most elegant. Don’t get me wrong women dressed up too, but the men got more pampered, more dressed up and chose to wear more jewels. I kid you not!!! after the enlightenment men felt they had to change their ways and take on the role of the leader of the house hold. in either case my point is that women and men are both different and history has shown that. We live in a overly sexual society and since Mulvey has written her article we see much more exploitation of the man in the same way everywhere. I mean women look at men like objects just as much.

  8. EMP
    December 17, 2007 at 8:55 AM (12 years ago)

    I agree with what you say throughout the blog for the most part. However, after reading the article I realized that it doesnt even really matter if the person behind the camera is a man. Even if it’s a woman there is going to be another beautiful woman as a star role. Its just the way society works, and I think you said it best when you say that women are also to blame because we have been so taught and molded by society to look at ourselves in terms of appearance. Let’s face it… no one wants to be bad looking, especially women, who are most hard on themselves when it comes to body image.

    Elaina Parina

  9. skylarsaltz
    December 17, 2007 at 6:49 PM (12 years ago)

    I think that you bring up some good points. However, I wonder if you considered that the “male perspective” that Mulvey talks about is something that we supposedly all take part in, even women. I am not sure if I agree that all women are objectified in film. I believe that beauty is something that can be found in many things, including women, and is not always a bad thing. Showing a woman’s beauty in film might not be much different than showing a beautiful landscape. However, this is not to say that some times women ARE objectified, I just do not believe that it is simple enough to declare that they are all of the time.

  10. Kendra Lee
    December 17, 2007 at 9:04 PM (12 years ago)

    Your reference to music videos and how they objectify women reminded me that VH1 documentary about video girls. I agree with you when you said that for most of those artist they wouldn’t be known if it weren’t for their video. It’s unfortunate that those women are objectified and completely degraded in those uncut videos yet if it weren’t for the girl shaking her ass, who would watch the video? In most of those videos women are having money thrown at them or having it shoved in their underwear but it’s quite ironic because they are the ones truly earning it and making that money possible to exist. In a perfect world things would be portrayed for what they are and it would be those women shoving their money into some beefy guy’s jock strap.


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