So you know the male gaze sucks, but you’re not quite ready to give up your favourite rom-coms, action blockbusters or reality shows. I feel you.
Maybe breaking away from the male gaze doesn’t mean we have to boycott every single movie or TV show written by a man. Instead, we can bring a critical awareness to the media we consume, look for the male gaze in action.
Observe the absurdity
Checking if the male gaze is at work? Simply reverse the gender roles and see if a man would look foolish, inappropriate or downright absurd posing the way a woman does.
The Hawkeye Initiative challenged the ridiculous, and unnecessary, sexualisation of female comic book characters, even when they’re supposed to be strong, empowered women. It simply put the superhero Hawkeye in the same pose as his female counterparts, to highlight just how hypersexualised and unrealistically dressed the women were.
It’s an approach that has been replicated to stunning effect. This is one artist’s take on the Avengers:
(Credits: Kevin Bolk)
It’s not just the costumes and movie posters — the way characters move can be highly gendered. Recall the Stoic, Unmoving Man vs the Supple, Coy Woman encounter, kind of like Mr and Mrs Incredible?
Then, enjoy this brilliant reversal of Catwoman and Batman, which points up just how ludicrous Catwoman’s overtly “sexy” body language really is.
Take note of the tropes
To change the gaze, we also have to look beyond the sexualisation and objectification of females onscreen. The dialogue, action and personality traits of female characters in TV and film all send a message about how women are expected to behave in society.
This interactive site breaks down various character stereotypes by gender:
The Bechdel Test is a measure of female representation in film and television that uses three criteria for evaluating the presence and visibility of women characters.
It’s based on this hilarious and painfully true comic book strip by Alison Bechdel:
Next time you’re watching something, you can ask yourself the same three questions:
- Are there at least two named female characters?
- Do they speak to each other?
- Do they speak to each other about something other than a male “love” interest?
Of course, this is only a starting point and hardly enough to measure strong female characterisation, but it’s already interesting to see how many films fail this simple test.
Variations of this test also measure diversity for other groups, including LGBT and racial representation onscreen.
Laugh off the cringe
When women characters in film and TV are so overwhelmingly determined by men, sometimes the best antidote is to take it with a heavy pinch of salt.
The hashtag #writtenbymen, with over a hundred million views in TikTok, pokes fun at how women onscreen are made to perform even the most mundane tasks in a ‘sexy’ manner, just to conform to some wildly unrealistic tropes.
@tabeabussmann Reply to @justsimon__ It took me only 5 hours to make 🪁 #womenwrittenbymen #comingofagemovie #writtenbymen #cinematictiktok #firstdate ♬ original sound - Evé
@iamswastishukla We could not stop laughing during this 💀 #womenwrittenbymen#writtenbymen#malegaze#bollywood#southasian#desi#comedy#90sbollywood#bollywoodheroine ♬ original sound - Evé
People everywhere have found these sharp, funny ways to point up the effects of the male gaze. Take it as the media literacy we never had in school, a toolkit for becoming a little bit more conscious of what we’re watching.
And if you are wondering how media can offer a different kind of gaze, Go Off the Beaten Track!