Discussions around Laura Mulvey’s Male Gaze Theory have recently cast a new light on how female characters are portrayed in literature, film and popular culture. Label volunteer, Rebecca Pearson, explores the Male Gaze Theory and how TikTok videos have been challenging its use.
It is a fact of film and literary tradition that viewers and readers alike have become accustomed to seeing characters through the male gaze. Laura Mulvey’s ‘Male Gaze Theory’ – that visual media frequently responds to and appeases the male viewer by sexualising female characters – has recently been thrown into debate, challenging the trope and encouraging its disposal.
Popular culture has been renowned for the over-sexualisation of female characters. Whether it’s Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, or the female actors of Mean Girls, the portrayal of female characters who are ditsy or hyper-feminine – combined with camera angles which objectify the female body when male characters don’t receive the same treatment – compounds the theory that the female body is viewed as an opportunity.
Whilst Mulvey’s theory still frequents discussions of female portrayal, counter-creations are beginning to tackle and mock the male gaze trope. Most recently, Bridgerton was praised for its depiction of the female gaze and point-of-view – Daphne seeing Simon in moments of intimacy and desire, rather than the other way around. And Birds of Prey was also seen to deconstruct the male gaze, with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn donning a choppier and less face-framing haircut, as well as clothing that wasn’t strategically ripped. She becomes a figure of power, rather than only assuming the role of seductress.
When the construct of the male gaze is unpicked, it becomes easier to read its superficiality. To date, #malegaze has more than 202.8M views on TikTok, with many trending videos satirically poking fun at female characters ‘as written by men’. Everything from overly sexualised depictions of school girls, secretaries and businesswomen feature, mocking the absurdity of characters who are objectified when doing very normal things.
The trend has been part of an interesting wave of TikTok themes which have been geared towards emphasising female individuality and re-centring female existence away from the male voyeur. Everything from #thatgirl on TikTok, to Instagrammers choosing to post un-posed or “casual” posts has seen a move towards the female form being restructured. It is a task which seeks to unpick stereotypes about what appears to be “feminine” whilst also attempting to dislodge the use of these stereotypes in literature and film now that the surrounding discourse has highlighted them as silly.