The Male Gaze of Hollywood Cinema: Objectifying Women & Empowering Men?

For our presentation, I am looking at how media (and film especially) represent male mental health. For this, I chose two extremes: mainstream Hollywood and films that are specifically on mental health.

For one aspect of our presentation, I am looking at how men are represented in Hollywood cinema, from their emotions to the power they are given on screen. This made me think of Laura Mulvey’s iconic 1999 text Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In this text through the use of Freud’s psychoanalysis, she explores the way women are filmed in the classic Hollywood cinema of the 50s, the Golden Age.

The male gaze is a concept that focuses on the objectification of women on screen, it suggests a sexualised way of looking that empowers men and objectifies women. In the male gaze, the woman is visually positioned as an “object” of heterosexual male desire. Her feelings, thoughts and her own sexual drives are less important than her being “framed” by male desire. Although sometimes described as the ‘male gaze’, Mulvey’s concept is more accurately described as a heterosexual, masculine gaze. Therefore from a male perspective looking at the female object.

Mulvey exemplifies this with the portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the River of No Return, particularly in the scene where she is singing with men surrounding her. In this scene, she is represented as both the object of pleasure as well as the object of entertainment. The scene starts with a close up of her legs and rests there for a while before showing us her face. This symbolises her purpose in this film: to be a sexual object of the male gaze.

So how does this relate to male mental health?

With these kinds of Hollywood films that objectify women, they also empower men and give them an on-screen power that does not allow them to show emotion or be ‘weak’. Men, according to Hollywood, have all the answers, they never crack or show weakness. I believe that just like reality shaping the media, the media has a big influence on men growing up thinking that that is how they should act. It makes them idolise these powerful male characters and believe that that is how masculinity should be.

A couple of films that have a strong male gaze:

  • Vertigo
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice
  • Bananas
  • American Hustle
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • River of No Return
  • Carrie
  • Most James Bond films

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