Mulvey’s Theory of the Male Gaze in Alien: Does it Hold Up?

alien cover2

Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze completely revolutionized our approach towards film criticism. In short, it asserts that “there is a pattern of male domination that runs throughout popular culture, and this doesn’t only determine what we see—it determines how we see. Hollywood cinema, in particular, treats the camera as though it were male. It compels all its viewers to see through male eyes.” The male gaze is asserted in three ways, first using the camera to subtly force the audience to gaze on females “as an object of sexual stimulation through sight” (Mulvey 397) Secondly, the films present their male protagonists as controllers of the narrative and of the gaze, eliciting the audience’s identification with said protagonist such that: “The male protagonist is free to command the stage, a stage of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action” (396) The third mode in which the male gaze asserts itself is through “that of the characters within the screen illusion” (403) i.e. the male protagonists (with whom the viewers identify) assert their power by gazing upon the women. Essential to her theory is the fact that “The conventions of narrative film deny the first two and subordinate them to the third, the conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presences and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience. Without these two absences (the material existence of the recording process, the critical reading of the spectator) fictional drama cannot achieve reality, obviousness and truth.” (403) Thus, the invisibility of the male gaze to the viewer is critical to the functioning of the male gaze as a medium of male power in film.


Hmm… I wonder if this is an instance of the male gaze

Mulvey’s theorizations were adopted and widely supported for good reason. One need not look far to see it’s prevalence in Hollywood movies today. Yet we should always be skeptical of such theories that claim to totally change the way we see the world. While Mulvey implies that the male gaze is ubiquitous in Hollywood cinema, inextricably linked to the Hollywood industrial production of cinema, she does not provide comprehensive evidence to prove its universal applicability. She admits that she does not analyze films with a female protagonist, but offers that typically “the female protagonist is more apparent than real.”(398)  Furthermore, there are assumptions in her argument that must be examined under a more critical lens. As Carol Clover notes, if we see gender as a social construct (rather than solely determined by the subject’s possession or lack of a penis as Mulvey’s Freudian analysis takes for granted) we may not be able to wholly categorize the character’s, camera’s, and audience’s gaze as so one-sidedly gendered. In other words, does this black-and-white distinction of the “split between active/male and passive/female” create a false dichotomy? Lastly, Mulvey claims that “the conscious aim [of Hollywood cinema is] always to eliminate intrusive camera presences and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience” (403). What then do we make of certain Hollywood movies that actively call the audience’s attention to the male gaze? I’d like to test how Mulvey’s theorizations hold up in a film in which many of these assumptions are tested, Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Despite its controversial classification by some as a feminist film (Shone), in the exposition Alien does conform to an extent to what Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze. While, the women are not objectified or eroticized by the camera to such a degree that the lack of objectification is actually noticeable in itself, there is a “split between active/male and passive/female” in the first portion of the film. For instance, with the exception of Mother’s decision to wake the crew, Dallas makes all of the key decisions in the beginning of the film. He is the only one given access to Mother, who is in part a stand-in for the corporatist patriarchal power elements back-home. The external society is represented by one of its dominant forces “The Company”, gives Dallas power to wield over his crew. Within the crew, Dallas is respected as one who is “free to command the stage.. who “articulates the look and creates the action.”. The crew always looks to Dallas to answer their questions and his authority is reinforce by the use of tracking shots as the camera typically follows Dallas in his journeys about the ship, focuses in on his face (typically observing i.e. directing his gaze or explaining something to the crew). In times of tension or distress, such as when the issue of equal pay is raised, and the debate over whether or not to visit the planetoid Dallas is answers calmly and resolutely, occasionally even standing above the crew. The movie viewer has been conditioned to see Dallas, the attractive, calm, in control, camera-hogging, leader as our archetypal hero of the film (Newton 77). Notably, when the Nostromo has finally arrived on the planet, there is a shot of the three highest ranking men, discussing their course of action, while Lambert looks on passively, and Ripley is absent. This assertion of male power, is accepted because at this point the audience trusts Dallas’s judgement, identifying with him

dallasAlien initially centers around Dallas, an archetypal hero, with close-ups and tracking shots.

As the film continues, it begins to draw the viewer’s attention to the issues with the male gaze. When Lambert, Dallas, and Kane leave to investigate the location of the mysterious transmission, the male gaze is present in full form present in the contrast between Kane’s desire to investigate, look upon and probe the aliens and the clichéd desire of the female, Lambert (who “can’t see a goddamn thing”) to leave. According to the conventions of horror, the audience already knows that Kane’s over-exuberant gaze and curiosity will be his downfall in one way or another. Moreover, for much of the planetoid sequence, we are forced to adopt the gaze of Ash, first literally looking down on the search party from his position in the ship, and later watching them through a variety of cameras.

Yet, we begin to be suspicious of Ash and his gaze, as he fails to pick up on or disclose the recognition of the transmission of the warning. Furthermore, upon the crew’s return to the ship, it is Ash who re-admits the crew to the ship in direct contradiction to Ripley’s justified orders and legal authority. Given that this can be recognized by the viewer as an obvious mistake in the horror genre,and a breach of trust, we begin to question the male gaze and faith in male authority that has led the characters down this dark road. It is at this point that the movie’s gaze begins to evolve from Mulvey’s stereotypical, cut-and-dry male version, towards a more complex, less phallocentric vision. We are creeped out by Ash’s fascination with the alien, (Ash picks up right where Kane left off). The film begins to adopt Ripley’s viewpoint as she watches the medical operation. While Ash is constantly “collating” i.e. doing nothing, it is Ripley who propels the crew into unified action. Even before Dallas has died, it is Ripley who begins to gain power in scenes justly interrogating both Ash and even Dallas as the camera begins to adopt her gaze.

Finally, we are left with perhaps the climactic confrontation of genders in the movie: Ash’s attempted assault of Ripley. Angered by Ripley’s assertion of her power in spite of his efforts to thwart any action against the aliens, and determined to enforce the role of the Company (the patriarchy) Ash attempts to put Ripley in her place by throwing her to the ground, forcing her onto a table, and beginning to choke her with a pornographic magazine, while his entire body vibrates and makes involuntary sounds. It’s as close to oral rape as a (soon-to-be-outted) “male” robot can get (Newton 85).  Now that the movie has made us suspicious of the male gaze through the failures of the company, Dallas, Kane, and Ash, and begun to adopt a contrary viewpoint through the empowerment of Ripley, it draws our attention in Ash’s abduction to the male gaze only to highlight its most horrible and exaggerated manifestation, and assertion of power over women. The viewer ,once wholly adopting and yet unaware of the male gaze, is now cognizant and repulsed by at least some of it. In direct opposition to Mulvey’s claims, in this instance, the male gaze has ceased to deny or hide its existence.

From this point on, Ripley is clearly anointed as the heroine of the film. On the pathway to becoming a version of Carol Clover’s final girl, who the (typically male audience of a sci fi/ horror film) identifies with (Clover). This needs some qualifications, however. First and foremost, Ripley seems to exhibit more and more stereotypically male characteristics. She is authoritative, telling Parker to “Shut up”, and tall with a deep voice. In the climactic moment she fires a harpoon from her midsection, destroying the phallic alien with a more potent phallic weapon of her own (Newton 76. While her gaze is not a male one, it’s hard to call it a wholly female one either. Certainly, elements of the male gaze still exist in isolated instances throughout the film. Lambert continues to act (or rather fail to act) as a stereotypical, powerless, passive female. Not sexually objectified by the camera’s gaze she nonetheless is little more than an object, voicing the audience’s (stereotypically feminine) fears, while often literally paralyzed and is attacked between the legs by the highly phallic alien (Creed). Make of that what you will, but there’s no way you can tell me that’s a pro-feminist characterization.


Our patriarchy defying feminist hero!

It is at the very climax of the film though, that the male gaze resurfaces in all its voyeuristic splendor, as Ripley controversially strips down to her tiny panties for no plot-necessitated reason, to be watched and panned over by the camera. It’s a bizarre, seemingly out of the blue moment, inconsistent wight the tone of the film (Newton 77). Ripley clothed so completely, and hardly objectified for the entirety of the film is now being made a complete spectacle of by the camera, when she is most vulnerable (Creed). There are few more obvious cases of the male gaze. Before her moment of triumph and full assumption of power she is first obviously and needlessly degraded and objectified. But perhaps that’s the point, while the male gaze is often impossible to detect, the viewer having grown to identify with this new somewhat alternative gaze, is now thoroughly confused as to why the character they identify with has become thoroughly objectified. In fact, the camera angle as we watch Ripley take off her clothes is not very dissimilar from the perspective of the predatory (and often predatory in a sexual manner) alien, with whom the viewer is sharing this spectacle. Having slowly encouraged us to identify with Ripley, the film has now turned the male gaze on itself, asking the viewer to adopt a view that it is thoroughly uncomfortable with and parallels that of an undeniably evil alien, and thus highlighting the issues inherent in the male gaze.


…And why our we watching our patriarchy defying feminist hero voyeuristically while she walks around in panties two sizes to small?

In light of these contradictions to Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” present in Alien we should consider qualifying and revising her claims. While, her explanation of the camera’s power and immense influence on perspective, is crucial to the understanding of a film’s meaning, the assumption that Hollywood will deny this camera’s power is not always valid. Through drastic shifts in perspective, that jar the reader, Hollywood films like “Alien” can highlight and critique the power of the gaze. Secondly, we should not assume that the camera can so easily be pigeonholed into a specific gender. While, in conventional cinema the camera does tend to perpetuate male as the looker and the female as the looked upon, the fluidity of genders makes such an assumption not always valid. Hollywood film has a tendency to build the audience’s experience through the eyes of it’s protagonist. Furthermore, typically the protagonist is the one “who commands the stage… articulates the look [on the screen itself, through the camera, and for the audience] and creates the action.” In our society, and particularly in male-dominated Hollywood, the stereotypical version of this character is a male. But in spite of Mulvey’s dismissiveness of such a scenario, given the fluidity and constructed nature of gender, it is very much possible for this character to be a female imbued with stereotypically male characteristics. Whether a Hollywood protagonist can be female with stereotypically female characteristics is a question for another day.

Works Cited

Clover, Carol J. Men Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. London:    BFI, 1992. Print.

Creed, Barbara. “Alien and the Monstrous-Feminine,” Screen, Vol. 27, No. 1 (1986),

Mulvey, L. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18. Web.

Newton, Judith. “Feminism and Anxiety in Alien” in “Symposium on Alien,” Science  Fiction    Studies Vol. 7, No. 3 (198)

Shone, Tom. “Why Are Academics So Obsessed With Alien? And Will Prometheus Get the    Same Treatment?” Slate Magazine. The Slate Group, 06 June 2012. Web. 18 May 2016.

Gems of Gender Knowledge in Steven Universe

With the popularity of social media allowing news and opinions to be shared quickly among many people, creators are more conscious about their depictions and possible interpretations of their work. This includes the producers of the culture industry. As the issues of gender equality and expression have grown in popularity, modern cultural productions have reflected a change in ideology. Carol Clover, when writing about gender in horror films, related that “what filmmakers seem to know better than film critics is that gender is less a wall than a permeable membrane.” (Clover 46) The idea of gender as a spectrum has now dominated in popular culture and is exemplified by the cartoon show, Steven Universe. Most of the characters in Steven Universe are female, but they each express their gender identity in a unique way. Although there are few male characters, they, too, are shown expressing their identity in more than one way.

While animated cartoons are similar to film in that the scenes shown on screen are controlled by the producers, cartoon drawing artists have more control over the view of the audience. Sam Abel, in his article, “The Rabbit in Drag: Camp and Gender Construction in the American Animated Cartoon,” recognizes this difference and asserts that “the commercial animated cartoon presents a particularly valuable case study of gender construction in American society” because, as a film genre, it physically and temporally frames reality, but it is also drawn by an artist who designs “a wholly created world which, of necessity, simplifies reality, both visually and psychologically.” (Abel 184-185) Abel then outlines the gender constructions in early cartoon series. The historical norm was to show a “predominance of male characters and heavily stereotyped female characters.” (Abel 187) Early MGM Studios’ productions only offered three versions of female gender expression: the domestic woman, the sex symbol, and the comic old woman. Warner Brothers privileged male characters and focused on their experience in cartoons. Although Abel shows that Bugs Bunny is able to transgress gender, he acknowledges that this shows that “only male characters have the power of transgression, and in wielding that power they appropriate both male and female identities.” (Abel 191) Steven Universe differs from Abel’s reflections on common gender constructions in cartoons; the show features a predominance of female characters and defies stereotypes. Each female character represents a different expression of the female gender. Also, the female characters are able to transgress gender norms and expectations as well as the males.

Steven Universe displays innovative, modern depictions of gender. Gaye Tuchman reflected on the depictions of women in popular media productions and stated that “the idea that a literature reflects its society is transformed into the statement that the media should reflect society and the charge that contemporary media do not properly reflect the position of women” (Tuchman 532-533)  However Tuchman later discusses the underrepresentation of women and their often stereotypical portrayal as capturing and demonstrating the lack of power that women experience every day. The main three-part argument she presents is “1) few women hold positions of power in media organizations and so, 2) the content of the media distorts women’s status in the social world. The media do not present women who are viable role models, and therefore: 3) the media’s deleterious role models, when internalized, prevent and impede female accomplishments. They also encourage both women and men to define women in terms of men (as sex objects) or in the context of the family (as wives and mothers)” (Tuchman 531) Again, Steven Universe is able to counter many of these claims.

Steven Universe premiered on November 4, 2013 as the first series on Cartoon Network to be created by a woman, Rebecca Sugar. It presents viable female role models, and the female characters are not defined “in terms of men or in the context of the family.” It represents modern defiance of normative heterosexuality and strict gender roles. The Cartoon Network show, Steven Universe, features many characters who transgress traditional gender roles and exemplify various forms of gender expression.  With an abundance of female characters, the show offers many options for expressing the female gender identity. However, it does not offer the same range of options for expression of the male gender identity.

In the fictional world of Steven Universe, gems represent themselves in a temporary physical form and fight each other based on differing ideologies. The Crystal Gems: Pearl, Garnet, Amethyst, and Rose Quartz rebelled against the other gems who wanted to use Earth for massive gem production, which would cause the Earth to become uninhabitable and unable to sustain life. Rose Quartz fell in love with a human man and bore a son, Steven. Rose then gave up her physical form so that her gem could inhabit Steven. And so, he has never met her, but he can use her magical gem powers to aid the Crystal Gems in their missions to protect the Earth from dangerous gem creatures who attack and disrupt human life.

All of the gems assume a female physical form. Differences in gender expression among the gems exemplify multiple options for viewers. Pearl is a resourceful, classy lady who can be strict in her teaching style. She most represents the traditional “domestic woman.” Amethyst is carefree, fun-loving, confident, and outgoing. She most fits the role of an adolescent girl who argues with her mother (a role which Pearl best fits) and craves independence. Garnet has the most characteristics that are considered traditionally masculine. She appears in control of her emotions and is the most physically strong. Her dominance and leadership role mark her as the most masculine crystal gem. She fills the role of a traditional father figure in the group.

Although the crystal gems and Steven could be thought of as a traditional family unit, the Crystal Gems are not forced to conform to usual familial/societal roles.  In the episode, “Fusion Cuisine,” Steven must decide which gem to present as his mother to his friend’s parents. His friend, Connie, told her parents that Steven has a “nuclear family,” or a traditional two-parent household. In trying to choose one gem, Steven states the roles of each gem in relation to the traditional role of mother. He tells Garnet, “you keep us safe by scaring off the bad guys – Just like a mom would… But you’re not the best conversationalist.” Garnet’s role as a protector can be considered either motherly or fatherly. Then Steven says “Amethyst, you would be a super fun mom!” but Amethyst begins picking her nose and playing with her snot so he asks “can moms be gross?” Lastly, Steven looks at Pearl and says, “You’re always worried about me, you teach me lots of stuff, you’re approachable, and, you’re, like, totally not gross! … But you can’t dinner.” Although the gems are capable of eating, they do not need to because they receive all of their nourishment from their gem. Amethyst likes to eat anyway, but Pearl finds the idea of eating disgusting. Therefore, unable to choose one gem, Steven convinces the gems to fuse into a six-armed giant creature, named Alexandrite, who could go to dinner as his mom. Steven’s refusal to choose one gem allows all the gems to continue to share the role of caregiver without being forced to conform to traditional familial roles.

Steven’s own expression of his gender identity is one that has not traditionally been offered for males. Steven is the only gem who is male, and this is likely because he is half-human. Steven is constantly surrounded by female caregiving figures and acts feminine. His favorite show is “Crying Breakfast Friends!” which consists of various breakfast items who are constantly crying. Crying has traditionally been seen as a sign of weakness, especially for a man. In contrast, Steven cries freely and even excitedly watches a cartoon show in which there is constant crying. He also watches a hospital drama show, “Under the Knife” with Connie. Steven’s willingness to watch soap operas and cry freely is a quality that has been traditionally seen as feminine. Also, Steven is not a physically fit character, which is unlike the traditional valuing of males as strong protectors. Steven is also inevitably close to his mother which makes him favor the color pink, a traditionally feminine color, because it is the color associated with her.

Steven himself must learn to accept his appearance. In the episode, “Steven’s Birthday,” Steven’s age is revealed (he turns fourteen) and he tries to alter his appearance. When his dad shows a photo album of Steven’s past birthday, viewers see that he has looked the same since age 8. Gems live forever and do not age, however, as a half-human, it remains unclear whether Steven will age. Gems can temporarily stretch their physical forms, and Steven discovers that he can too. He tries to stretch his body as if he had instantly grown several inches for the entire day, despite Amethyst’s warning, because he wants to pretend that he can age with Connie. He also deepened his voice to make it seem like he was experiencing puberty. However, Connie tells him that she does not care if he cannot age with her and this helps him return to his normal appearance. Steven learns that he does not need to change himself in order to be accepted. He does not need to make himself age or appear more masculine.

As a modern cartoon, Steven Universe reflects the changing dominant ideologies regarding gender construction. The characters defy traditional gender roles and offer multiple expressions of each gender identity. In the gem-ruled world of Steven Universe, some of the most important gems (of knowledge) offered are those regarding gender.


Works Cited

Abel, Sam. “The Rabbit in Drag: Camp and Gender Construction in the American Animated Cartoon.” The Journal of Popular Culture 29.3 (1995): 183-202. Web. 18 May 2016.

Clover, Carol J. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” Men, Women, and Chain Saws. N.p.: n.p., 1992. 21-64. Print.

Sugar, Rebecca. Steven Universe. Cartoon Network. N.d. Television.

Tuchman, Gaye. “Women’s Depiction by the Mass Media.” Signs 4.3 (1979): 528-42. JSTOR. Web. 18 May 2016.

In the Eyes of the Beholder: Perspective in Casablanca

When Rick Blaine sees the love of his life, Ilsa Lund, at the door of Rick’s Café Américain in the 1942 classic film Casablanca, he is utterly dumbfounded. The beautiful woman he so loved, the woman who left him at a rail station in Paris years ago, has suddenly reappeared. The cinematic gaze of the camera follows Ilsa as she crosses the room on the arm of another man, just as Rick’s eyes do. It captures the onlookers gaping at her, marveling at just how dazzling she is. From the moment Ilsa enters the room, she is objectified: by the eye of the camera that with choice shots tracks her every movement, by every man in the saloon, and by every individual watching the movie.

The camera in effect turns every viewer into a restaurant customer seated at a table. And the eye behind that camera is a man. Not only is the cast of Casablanca almost exclusively male, but the creative minds behind the production are as well. In fact, the three screenwriters and director are all men, as are the cinematographer and film editor.[1] The plot and the historic timeline that it follows reflects stereotypically masculine concerns: war, duty to country, and freedom. Every decision-maker depicter, regardless of his political affiliation, is a man. All viewers, both male and female, are forced to see the world of Casablanca through the eyes of a man – the lens of a masculinized camera.

The gendered viewpoint that the film adopts is very much indicative of the time period in which it was produced. The manpower of Hollywood cinema, especially in the 1940s, cannot be overstated. The movie itself features three female characters in prominent roles (Ilsa, Yvonne, and Annina Brandel), and several other woman in ancillary roles.[2] The camera portrays these women literally in a different light than it does the men: they are more brightly lit, without shadows, and very often in soft focus. Both in her entrances into scenes and in her conversations with other characters, Ilsa maintains the attention of the camera; in several instances the lens remains fixated upon her even when she is not speaking.[3] When the female singer performs in the middle of the café, she is in the center of the camera’s shot.[4] She is illuminated, while the saloon audience is relegated to the shadowy periphery. The perspective of the film audience parallels that of the restaurant-goers: sitting in the dark, grouped around and staring at the singer. This double audience becomes a congregation of Peeping Toms who, from their seats hidden in the dark, watch a woman perform for their pleasure. The female character is implicitly objectified and sexualized; her function in the scene is to be looked at. Her thoughts and perspective are ignored.

This is the crux of Laura Mulvey’s argument as to why female characters are relegated to subordinate roles in film. She uses psychoanalysis to define three distinct “looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the profilmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion.”[5] She contends that Hollywood’s editing style, known as continuity editing, harms us as viewers. It controls our viewing with its coercive close-ups, forcing us to focus on whatever the camera, and its operator, so choose. And since the chosen perspective is that of a male, Mulvey suggests that most films celebrate masculinity over the feminine, and portray women only as men perceive them rather than as they truly are. According to her, the only choice left to a woman watching such movies is “to identify with figures relegated to inferior status and silenced.”[6] If Hollywood productions such as Casablanca are so hopelessly misogynistic, is there an alternative?

One possible answer lies in the conception of the ‘woman’s film.”[7] Molly Haskell argues in her volume From Reverence to Rape (1973) that “female actresses of the 1930s and 1940s” had some roles that “offered images of intelligence, forcefulness, and personal power, far surpassing roles of actresses in later films.”[8] After its peak in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Haskell believes that “woman’s film” became less prevalent because men felt threatened by women holding positions of power, either within or without film.[9] Ilsa, the female lead in Casablanca, does not present the image of intellectual potency that characterize the women of Haskell’s “woman’s film,” nor does she wield any sort of power. She is even incapable of making her own decisions. When Ilsa professes her love to Rick and confides in him that she cannot decide what is best for her, she tells him: “You have to think for both of us.”[10] It is the man who then makes the choice of duty over love. Yvonne is a hapless one-night-stand who Rick simply casts aside without any concern. The newlywed Annina Brandel is just as powerless. She imagines that sexual favors are the only tools by which to change her destiny. When she pleads Rick to help her and her husband, the camera gravitates to her face. Film viewers are then able to see exactly what Rick sees: a beautiful young woman. Is this the reason he takes pity on her, helping her husband win money on a game of roulette? One cannot be certain, but the film certainly offers this possibility. All of the supposedly prominent female characters are essentially irrelevant and subservient to the male-driven plot.

What Haskell proposes as a replacement for Casablanca and the like is a variety of film that places women “at the center of the universe.”[11] Instead of their typical supporting role, actresses should be the leads in movies that have more inherently feminine concerns than the male intrigues apparent in Casablanca. Mulvey seems to agree with such an idea. She believes that a new type of feminist filmmaking “can… only exist as a counterpoint” to Hollywood convention.[12] In that sense, her work is a battle cry that is meant to inspire women to seize control of the culture that they consume. Casablanca is in almost every sense the polar opposite of every desire Haskell and Mulvey have for a feminist film alternative. The movie is made by men, about men, and for men. It is symbolic of what it means to be male: to be in power. Haskell and Mulvey see no need to analyze Casablanca and its equivalents, as they are simply indicative of a culture that is inherently male in character.

Some literary critics disagree with this notion of a separate “male culture.” In the mind of Lucy Fischer, discussion of women’s art should not be severed from everything that is male, but rather structured as an “intertextual debate” or “dialogue” between the two cultures.[13] As Myra Jehlen notes, “women cannot write monologues; there must be two in the world for one women to exist, and one of them has to be a man.”[14] Fischer thinks a film produced by a man can still on some level defy conventional norms, those norms being stereotypically male cinematic plotlines and power structures. So although a film like Casablanca may not deviate in the least from typical Hollywood masculinized film, it is still important to discuss it.

But the discussion of feminist cinematic concerns, even in the context of popular culture and the Hollywood filmmaking within it, still encounters issues of male domination that are apparent in Casablanca. Even as gender stereotypes have faded in modern movies, its manly cool continues to transfix, and that helps perpetuates a sexist perspective that men drive the plot and that women are merely interesting interludes along the road of a manly plot. Contemporary films still employ close-ups and choice POV shots that objectify the actresses they portray. Although women may play more active roles in cinema today than they did in 1942, they are still subservient to their male counterparts. The pattern of male domination is still apparent, and men still hold the majority of production positions. Women remain a distinct minority as executives, directors and cinematographers in the movie business. Only when they achieve that level of control will the scripts and the eye of the camera frame a different image of women. The powerful women who have risen to the top tier of the pop film industry demonstrate how the lens refocuses when a woman wields the camera.

[1] “Casablanca,” IMDb, May 18, 2016,

[2] “Casablanca,” IMDb, May 18, 2016,

[3] Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz (1942; Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Entertainment, 1942), DVD.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” in Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks, ed. Douglas Kellner and Meenakshi Gigi Durham (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 403.

[6] Screening Genders, 18

[7] Molly Haskell, “The Woman’s Film,” in Feminist Film Theory: A Reader, ed. Sue Thornham (Washington Square, NY: New York University Press, 1999), 21.

[8] E. Ann Kaplan, “A History of Gender Theory in Cinema Studies,” in Screening Genders, ed. Krin Gabbard and William Luhr (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press), 17.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz (1942; Burbank, CA: Warner Bros. Entertainment, 1942), DVD.

[11] Molly Haskell, “The Woman’s Film,” in Feminist Film Theory: A Reader, 21.

[12] Lucy Fischer, Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women’s Cinema (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 11.

[13] Ibid, 12.

[14] Lucy Fischer, Shot/Countershot: Film Tradition and Women’s Cinema, 12.

Gender Identities and the Patriarchy in “The Devil Wears Prada”

Devil w

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is renowned for its strong female roles and an artificial look into the fashion industry. The movie follows Andrea (Andy) Sachs on her struggle to survive one year as the co-assistant (the other assistant is named Emily) for Miranda Priestly, the “dragon” editor-in-chief of the fashion magazine Runway. On the surface, the movie appears to demonstrate the power of the woman by casting two females as the main characters. However, as you delve deeper into the film’s exploration of gender roles, stereotypes, and even the editing itself, it is clear that this movie reinforces the common idealization of the woman: one that states that women must be attractive and depend on men for a societally acceptable life. It is crucial the ideologies are addressed because this seemingly progressive comedy actually promotes conservative morals.

The audience’s lack of industry knowledge allows this movie to culture our reaction to character roles and the work environment. On first impression, the movie depicts the fashion industry as being filled with women in successful positions. Nigel, the gay art director, is the only important man. The assistants are feminine, gossipy, obnoxious women who answer the phones and run errands for Miranda, the despotic editor-in-chief. During a scene with a designer, the film blatantly portrays Miranda as domineering the fashion industry. Miranda’s position of power strongly appears appealing to feminists.

The movie subconsciously prepares us for the roles of the two lead characters, Andy Sachs and Miranda Priestly, through the naming and casting processes. “Andy” is short for Andrea which means brave. This bravery is reflected in her job interview and her accomplishment at work. Anne Hathaway is cast as Andy. Her most prominent film before 2006 was The Princess Diaries, a movie that chronicles Anne’s transformation from a dorky, schoolish teen into an elegant princess. Andy echos this role. She begins the movie wearing lumpy poly-blend sweaters and rocking mane-like hair. However, her new job forces her to change her style and replace her dorky appearance with cleavage-revealing designer clothes, stilettos, makeup, and fancy hair in order to be successful.

Devil wears

Alternatively, “Miranda” means admirable, and the last name “Priestly” reminds the audience of the diligent work ethic of priests and the nature of religion. Miranda is an admirable boss who runs the religion that is fashion. The female assistants hang on her every word. Yet contradictorily, she is also the “devil” of the title. Her masculine autocracy is shown as negative from the beginning. Finally, Miranda is played by Meryl Streep who has a reputation for intimidating other actors because of her skill and strong personality. Streep also has a history of playing strong female roles in movies like Julie and Julia, A Cry In the Dark, Silkwood, etc. As a result, she is an icon for lesbians and feminists‒the perfect actress for this because she already exudes feminism.

Julia Spiker, Ph.D. explored the underlying ideologies in this movie in her essay “Gender and Power in the Devil Wears Prada”. She writes, “Positive role models—powerful women—are needed in the mass media” (18). Her essay argues that the movie allows the audience to decide which role model they will accept as their own: Andy or Miranda. Andy is the example of the patriarchal working woman while Miranda is the idol of the feminist (25). In 2004, Stacey K. Sowards and Valerie R. Renegar claimed that women are empowered by strong female role models and, more importantly, they take away messages about their own oppression by looking at their own lack of power (544). Using this idea, Spiker argues, “Movies like The Devil Wears Prada demonstrate to young women that there is more than one way to wield power as a female” (25). She claims Miranda’s position as the strong role model shows these young women that the pursual of a power position is valid (i.e. some can and should become feminists who run organizations like men).

We are led to believe that the prevailing path for women‒the patriarchy‒is valid and admirable, while the path to feminism is actively dissuaded. This film puts forward ideas that women can pursue a career, but not if it means sacrificing their friends or the men in their lives, and women can be strong, but not masculine.

The Devil Wears Prada reinforces the ideology that women should not pursue career goals if the career takes away time from crucial figures of the patriarchy: family, friends, and partners. These institutions disapprove of Andy’s newfound independence. Her dad gives her a check to pay for rent and then guilts her to find a “real” job in journalism. His criticism is leveraged by her financial dependence. Andy’s friends also do not approve of her job. They get angry at her when her job makes her less available. The movie also conveys that a career oriented woman can’t please her man. Andy’s fights with her boyfriend, Nate, become more intense as she becomes successful at work. Nate won’t talk to her when she misses his birthday to meet an important journalism figure. When Andy told Nigel her personal life was falling apart, he replied, “That’s what happens when you start doing well at work”. This sentiment is reflected by Miranda’s husband pushing for a divorce and Andy asking Nate to take a break before she goes to Paris for work. However, she meets up with him in the scene after she quits her job, and their relationship rekindles. Every figure in Andy’s social circle disapproves her career, which forces the audience to believe a non-patriarchal career isn’t the right path for women. Miranda doesn’t appear to have friends, and she is a repeat divorcee. Why would women ever aspire to a life of no friends, family relations, or spouse?” The movie leaves the audience with only one favorable option: follow the patriarchy not the feminist career plan.

The Devil Wears Prada encourages the oppression of femininity at the hands of masculinity. Carol Clover explains that gender identity is not restricted to a person’s biological sex (1987). Masculinity and femininity are not not rigidly attached to the male and female sex, but are fluid. The Devil Wears Prada clearly puts forth the idea that those in power are masculine, and subordinates are feminine. A gay man and feminine women work for a dictatorial, masculine Miranda. Everyone in the industry admires Miranda’s irreplaceably masculine skill at running the magazine. The audience is repeatedly exposed to a message that reiterates inferior, femanine positions at the magazine are highly liquid, and “a million girls” would kill to work there. Andy becomes more successful when she makes more masculine professional decisions. Rank at Runway seems to suggest masculine leadership has a higher value than feminine dedication to fashion.

Hypermasculinity saves feminine Andy’s job and secures her a new job. When Miranda asks of her an impossible task, our damsel-in-distress resorts to a male journalist named Christian to save her job. Afterwards, Christian repeatedly showers her with compliments while reminding her of the debt she owes him. In Paris, he forces her to kiss him until she finally consents, and has sex with him later in the film. At the end of the movie, Miranda’s letter of recommendation gives Andy the job of her dreams as a journalist at a fictional newspaper. Ultimately, Andy owes her ultimate career success to masculine figures.

This movie suggests that it is acceptable for masculine characters to succeed in the workplace at the expense of feminine characters. When her job is on the line, Miranda maneuvers the politics of the industry to give her replacement a job that was supposed to be Nigel’s promotion. He is visibly crushed but assumes the stereotypical feminine role and backs down. The masculine boss saves her career by taking her feminine subordinate’s dream job away. Miranda states that it was no different from Andy’s decision to take Emily’s spot on the Paris trip when Andy confronts her about this Machiavellian move. Emily prepared for Paris for months, but when Andy’s job was on the line she chose to take Emily’s dream trip away. This movie shows cold, masculine behavior leading to success, thus promoting the idea that the masculine will continue to oppress the feminine.

The shot angles and editing techniques in the film subconsciously force the audience to identify with the predatory male gaze. Laura Mulvey argues mainstream film audiences are unconsciously constrained to objectify female characters because women are grossly underrepresented in Hollywood production (6-18). Women composed 18% of all writers, editors, cinematographers, producers, and directors in 2012 (“Film Facts” 1). Men control movies from start to finish. The director and editor for “The Devil Wear’s Prada are both males, resulting in a number of revealing scenes. The opening scene shows women changing clothes, most notably Andy, in various states of undress. The camera fixates on breasts, stomachs, and pelvises. In the scene after Christian and Andy have sex, the camera lingers on Andy’s naked, vulnerable figure under the sheets. The use of victimizing shots in this film make Andy, and women in general, a sex symbol. Hyper-feminization reinforces patriarchal ideologies. The film forces the audience, regardless of gender, to objectify women which detracts the messages of professionalism and feminism.

The Devil Wears Prada reinforces patriarchal ideals and the domination of the feminine gender role. The film wants the audience to acknowledge that women have to be attractive to be successful.

Andy remains attractive after she quits instead of returning to her old look. The movie shows the audience that masculinity equates to business success, through the career advancements of Miranda and Andy. However, Andy’s decision to quit her job, after she realizes that she doesn’t want to make masculine decisions (like dominate the feminine), informs females in the audience that women can only succeed in business if they keep their femininity. This film emphasizes that women should value friendships over their careers, they should allow men to support them, and finally‒with Andy’s decision to work for a male boss at the newspaper‒that men are more reasonable and less devilish bosses. In the end, this film conveys that working women ought to give up feminism and bow their heads to the patriarchy.


Works Cited

Clover, Carol J.. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film”. Representations 20 (1987): 187–228.

“Film Facts.” Women Make Movies. 2014. Web. 18 May 2016.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16, no. 4 (1975): 6-18.

Sowards, Stacey K., and Valerie R. Renegar. “The Rhetorical Functions of Consciousness-Raising in Third Wave Feminism.” Communication Studies 55.4 (2004): 535-52.

Spiker, Julia A., Ph.D. “Gender and Power in the Devil Wears Prada.” International Journal of Business, Humanities and Technology 2.3 (2012): 16-25.


Wes Anderson’s Films on Camera Gaze

Wes Anderson’s Films on Camera Gaze

The issue of gender and patriarchal supremacy has long been a facet of popular culture. Music, television, literature and much more have predominantly been centered on men or reinforced traditional roles of male control and power. Does this bias, however, run so deep that it effects the vary means of producing culture? Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” argues that so ingrained is male dominance in our culture that it not only infiltrates the content of movies, but even how they are made. She says that both the way consumers watch movies and the way they are filmed perpetuates male control, showing “the way the unconscious of patriarchal society has structured film form” (Mulvey, 393). To examine her claim, it seemed best to look at a director who is both a widely acclaimed Hollywood success, and an independent and stylistically unique artist.

Wes Anderson’s position as a commercially successful director who creates very stylized movies lends him perfectly to this job. To test how widely pervasive this claim actually is (if her claim stretches beyond the blockbuster films that follow commercially successful formulas) one needs to examine films that are popular and widely viewed, but also are stylistically independent enough that they don’t represent the most common movie formulas. This allows for the possibility that Mulvey’s claim is relevant in the biggest movies but also encompasses more independent films. This, in turn, shows that Mulvey’s theory is a broader cultural tendency that affects all Hollywood cinema whether it’s a cookie-cutter blockbuster or a more stylistically individual film.

Wes Anderson uses a very particular and consistent set of elements in his movies. He has a core set of themes and every part of his movies from design to the cast to the style of dialogue and humor is recognizably unique. Most importantly, he employs a unique set of camera shots, which define his movies and are central to how the audience interprets the film. This brings us back to Mulvey’s argument. In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” she describes viewing movies by noting:

The extreme contrast between the darkness in the auditorium and the brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation… conditions of screening and narrative conventions give the spectator an illusion of looking in on a private world… the position of the spectators in the cinema is blatantly one of repression of their exhibitionism and projection of the repressed desire on to the performer (Mulvey, 396).

Mulvey is arguing that watching a movie is like peeking onto an unsuspecting world, with the spectator as a sort of peeping Tom and the camera image his or her gaze.

What the camera shows us, then, is supremely important. Mulvey argues a couple of things. The first is that “Traditionally, the woman displayed has functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium” (Mulvey 398). She is arguing that “women are simultaneously looked at and displayed” in our society, with “their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness” (Mulvey 397). Her point is that women are portrayed in society as something to be looked at, and this can also be found in film. This is not a particularly unusual claim, but leads into the second one: That the camera is shot from a predominantly male perspective. Her argument is that films contain “liberal use of subjective camera from the point-of-view of the male protagonist” and thus “the audience is absorbed into a voyeuristic situation within the screen scene” (Mulvey, 401). Essentially, the audience becomes conditioned to see the world from a man’s perspective, as it is the view shown via the camera. This is combined with traditional ‘continuity editing’, “the conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience… The camera’s look is disavowed in order to create a convincing world in which the spectator’s surrogate can perform with verisimilitude” (Mulvey, 403). The result is that viewers are first conditioned to see via a man’s perspective, gaze upon female’s who are designed to be looked at, and then convinced that this is what reality is through editing that removes the sense that a camera ever existed.

So are these elements apparent in Anderson’s films? The first thing one notices watching them is that nearly all his films have male main characters. Female characters are often relegated to supporting roles and act as love or sexual interests. Even when there are woman with prominent roles, they are in tandem with male leads such as in The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, and still experience images of objectification. Margot Tenenbaum is the love interest of multiple men, and is shown as a sexual object multiple times. She is shown both in a montage dedicated to showing her various sexual relationships and naked in a bathtub. Suzy Bishop, from Moonrise Kingdom, is one of the main characters and is the subject of a shot on the beach where she poses nearly naked, as well as one where she is felt up. Both these characters are given much more depth than just as objects to be looked at, but unlike their male leads, they still appear in shots where they are specifically shown as objects of beauty. This type of shot also appears in films without a female lead, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, where there is again a montage of the elderly female patrons as sexual partners. While their elderly age certainly rejects certain stereotypes of beauty, they are still portrayed as objects for attraction. Most importantly, male characters are not subject to the same portrayal as sexual objects in various scenes. Of the above three movies, only in The Royal Tenenbaums is there a male character portrayed in such a manner, when Eli Cash is shown with his shirt off while visiting Margot.

Beach Scene

In Anderson’s movies, there are more point-of-view shots from male perspectives than female ones. This, however, seems more due to the much larger number of men in his movies (and as mentioned before their tendency to be in leading roles). Anderson himself confirms this, saying in the future “I would love to write a good, big part where the lead character was a woman. I want to see if I could do that well” (Barrett, Wes Anderson Answers). When one examines scenes where males and females interact, prominent female characters get about the same amount of point-of-view shots as male characters. A famous example from The Royal Tenenbaums is the scene where Margot steps off a bus and sees her brother Richie. This is a classic example of the male gaze, with the camera immediately taking up Richie’s view looking at his sister. But importantly, the camera alternates, also showing Margot’s point-of-view. In Moonrise Kingdom Suzy invariably demands a lot of shots from her perspective, and whether it’s on the beach or in the forest or looking down a chimney, she gets just as many as Sam. Even in The Grand Budapest Hotel the female characters with significance have their share of point-of-view shots. Mr. Gustave trades shots with his elderly patron, while Agatha does the same with Zero. A female perspective is shown again and again across these films and presents a single conclusion: Wes Anderson’s movies do not disproportionately favor male point-of-view shots.

This leaves us in a strong position to reject most of Mulvey’s claim, at least in Wes Anderson’s films. It’s true that in his films, women are objectified and used in shots where they are to be looked at by the audience and the characters in the film. This is not the most significant part of Mulvey’s claim however, and in at least the three movies mentioned in this piece, Anderson’s work rejects the other facets. Men don’t get more point-of-view shots proportionally. They do get more, but that is due to their overrepresentation in the films. Anderson seems to see this as a product of what he’s good at, though it’s likely a product of a business that still produces preference towards men, not the actual means. Moreover, Anderson’s unique style is at odds with he typical continuity editing of Hollywood. His “devices also ensure that from the outset the films are not necessarily attempting to construct a cinematic world aimed at verisimilitude, but are signaled as works of fiction, which also helps to foster a degree of intellectual and emotional distance” (Thomas, 9). Anderson’s movies are actually created to be less than realistic, limiting the illusion that any subliminal sexism is a facet of everyday life. This suggests that while Mulvey’s hypothesis may be true of movies of her time, or even certain movies of today, it doesn’t necessarily prevail in the work of Anderson. This in turn suggests that it has not so infiltrated the film industry that every type of movie is affected. Perhaps Wes Anderson is the sole exception, and his unique position makes him unfit to represent movie directors everywhere. It seems more likely that he represents many filmmakers, including both ones who do big movies and others who maintain their indie streak.

This brings us to the final conclusion that Wes Anderson’s films provide evidence to reject Mulvey’s theory. His unique place in the world of film makes him a good case to study due to his position straddling both mainstream Hollywood and more independent filmmaking. His films show that while bias towards women still exists, it mostly stays within portrayal on screen and underrepresentation. It doesn’t reach to the means of creating films, whether it’s filming or editing. This is important as Teresa de Lauretis argues in her book Alice Doesn’t, “cinema works most effectively as an imaging machine, which by producing images also tends to produce woman as image. The stakes for women in the cinema, therefore, are very high and our intervention most important at the theoretical level” (De Lauretis, 37). How women are portrayed in pop culture is important to understand, as only then can society properly go about fixing gender discrimination.


Works Cited

  1. Barrett, Colleen. “Wes Anderson Answers: Will He Ever Have A Female Protagonist?”Refinery29. Refinery29, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 May 2016.
  2. Anderson, Wes, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin, Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, Alec Baldwin, Robert D. Yeoman, Dylan Tichenor, Mark Mothersbaugh, Karen Patch, and David Wasco. The Royal Tenenbaums. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2002.
  3. Anderson, Wes, Roman Coppola, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bob Balaban, Alexandre Desplat, Robert D. Yeoman, and Andrew Weisblum.Moonrise Kingdom. Focus Features, 2012.
  4. Anderson, Wes, Hugo Guinness, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson, Molly Cooper, Charlie Woebcken, Christoph Fisser, Henning Molfenter, Ralph Fiennes, F M. Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori, Larry Pine, Florian Lukas, Karl Markovics, Neal Huff, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Wallace Wolodarsky, Waris Ahluwalia, Robert D. Yeoman, Adam Stockhausen, Milena Canonero, Barney Pilling, Alexandre Desplat, and Stefan Zweig. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2014.
  5. Deborah J. Thomas (2012): Framing the ‘melancomic’: character, aesthetics and affect in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore , New Review of Film and Television Studies, 10:1, 97-117
  6. De Lauretis, Teresa. Alice Doesn’t: Feminism, Semitics, Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984, 37.


Marriage is Misery

In Misery, the 1990 movie based off Stephen King’s bestselling book, Kathy Bates stars as Annie Wilkes, the “number one fan” and kidnaper of captive romance novelist Paul Sheldon. Wilkes subjugates Sheldon to psychological and physical torture, while forcing him to write another book about Misery Chastain, the protagonist of Sheldon’s series. Bates’ performance is stunning and terrifying, and earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. Wilkes is somewhat of an oddity in horror, as she is a female villain. In a genre that is so dominated by male villains, it is worth considering what threat Annie Wilkes presents to the audience, and why her threat scares us so deeply.

Underlying this questioning is the assumption that horror is a genre that typically offers women heroic positions and men villainous roles. In horror movies, one lives a feminist fantasy: men are portrayed as violent, think, and single-minded, oppressing young, usually female, protagonists. The ideological importance of this argument is that horror movies portray male violence negatively, implying that it is an issue which needs to be overcome, and can be overcome, by women. Given that many viewers of horror are young and male, this argument implies that men recognize and choose to live out the repercussions of their own violence.

Misery reverses this fundamental dynamic of horror film. Instead of a male villain and female hero, Misery presents us with a male hero and female villain. Correspondingly, instead of a feminist movie, Misery is a misogynistic movie. Indicative of this is that the camera never switches to Wilkes’ perspective. Instead, we are bound to Sheldon and his negative view of Wilkes. The camera reinforces “audience’s identification with his victimization while distancing us from Annie herself.” (Magistrale 66) We are not only viewers of Sheldon’s punishment at the hands of Wilkes, we experience it as well.

The viewer shares Sheldon’s pain as Wilkes “hobbles” his feet

Furthermore, all the oppressive forces that repress Sheldon are female. Out of the five women discussed in the film, three are damaging to Paul. Wilkes tortures him physically, but Sheldon’s editor, Marcia Sindell, and Misery Chastain prevent Sheldon from becoming a “real writer” by limiting his creative talent. Even the Sheriff’s wife, one of three women in speaking roles that are more than one line, is depicted as nagging and obstructing the Sheriff’s search for Sheldon. Finalizing the movie’s crusade against women is the climax of the film in which Sheldon performs a symbolic rape of Wilkes by shoving the burnt remains of Misery’s Return down Wilkes’ throat (Lant 177).

Misery’s misogynistic leanings should not be misinterpreted as disparaging women’s abilities to be capable people. While the movie believes that women are bad, it certainly doesn’t believe that they aren’t competent. Annie Wilkes is incredibly adept and intelligent, albeit in a twisted and insane manner. Wilkes is revealed to have a long criminal past, showing her to be a serial killer who has killed her husband and 11 children, escaping all charges. Sheldon spends much of his time in the movie attempting to outsmart Wilkes, often to no avail. Twice Sheldon escapes from his room, only to have Wilkes notice because Sheldon misplaced a porcelain penguin, which “always faces south.” Placed in the historical context of King’s writing, Wilkes “is a prototype— at least in terms of her strength, intelligence, and angry resolve— for King’s feminist protagonists who follow her in a series of heroine-centered books published during the 1990s.” (Magistrale 66). This context confirms that Wilkes’ power is not an accident, although she is marred by her mental disorders and this books role as a transition for King.

Not only is Wilkes intelligent, she is emasculating. She dominates everything relating to sex, social affairs, and economic activity. Sheldon is confined to Wilkes’ bed, and bedroom, for the near entirety of the movie. Multiple times we see symbolic forms of rape carried out by Wilkes onto Sheldon, such as when she forces painkillers down his throat or injects him with a sedative to keep him quiet. Wilkes is entirely in control of with whom Sheldon can communicate. This is especially apparent in the beginning of the movie when Sheldon begs to call his daughter. Wilkes, after initially claiming she did, screams at Sheldon and refuses him access to the outside world. Wilkes is also the liaison to resources for Sheldon. She decides what he can possess, and his economic life is entirely at her mercy. She forces him to write by threatening violence or starvation if he doesn’t. Wilkes recognizes Sheldon’s dependence, informing him, “And you better hope nothing happens to me because if I die, you die.” Wilkes’ dominance of these spheres confirms the seriousness with which the movie interprets the feminine threat.

Wilkes is not violent in the same way that men tend to be violent in horror films. The 2005 movie Hostel, another movie premised on kidnapping and imprisonment, provides a good contrast to Misery. In Hostel, an evil group kidnaps young travelers in Europe and allows “clients” to come and torture, have sex with, or kill the kidnapped people. One client, dubbed “The American Client,” is nearly identical to the types of villains found in most horror movies. Leather clad, tall, profane, and powerfully built, the American embodies the twisted male aggression that horror films dislike and attempt to defeat. He is the epitome of the scum that controls violence, sex, business, and money. Wilkes may control those elements, but she hardly embodies them. Rather than acting as a sex crazed maniac, Wilkes poses as a near puritanical housewife and former nurse. Her associations are with healing and the hearth rather than pain and business. She never curses, and emphasizes doing God’s work. Annie Wilkes is incredible for this reason: despite her maniacal tendencies she manages to distance herself from masculine violence. Instead, she portrays what violence would look like if domestic women controlled the world.

The adoption of power and violence by the domestic woman seems to be the movie’s main fear. However, there are a few issues with that argument that need clarification. One could argue that the premise of power passing to the home sphere isn’t realistic. Looking at modern women’s equality movements, women aren’t fighting for more control of the home, they want equality in the workplace, equal pay, and access to birth control. The current women’s rights platforms don’t want to maintain the status quo. But Misery isn’t concerned with those modern claims. Misery explores a traditional woman in her element rather than a modern woman in a man’s element. The movie is concerned that women are gaining power in areas where they already have it.

The movie seems to be specifically pointing towards marriage. This association can be contested, primarily on the basis that that marriage is typically seen as strangling towards women rather than men. However, the emphasis on control of Sheldon’s creativity throughout the film shows that Misery is concerned with marriage’s effects on men. Sheldon wants to be in control of his literary creations, but the in the film women keep his genius and happiness at bay. His editor wants to make money off him, Misery makes him feel like a fake writer, and Wilkes forces him to write against his will. Sheldon feels shackled to the women in his life and he wants, fittingly, a divorce from them. Wilkes is the opposite; she views marriage as sacred, claiming, “People just don’t respect the institution of marriage anymore. They have no sense of real commitment.” At the end of the movie, Wilkes decides that she and Sheldon will take their lives, reminiscent of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. The symbolic rape of Wilkes avoids Sheldon’s death, which would be an end to his creativity that was held at gunpoint the whole movie. Instead, Sheldon kills Wilkes with his typewriter, one of the tools of his enslavement, and writes a book about a man, transcending the femininity in his life. These themes are reinforced by the title of Sheldon’s new book, which is “The Higher Education of J. Phillip Stone.” By shedding the woman’s influence, Sheldon can self-actualize.

There is one more possible message to glean from this movie. Sheldon overcomes the burdens of marriage despite Wilkes’ attempts to subdue him through violence. The movie, with its large male audience, clearly disapproves of marriage for men. But, in some small way, it also encourages women to explore other spheres than the home. Clearly this movie believes women cannot be violent and powerful while bonded to men. Perhaps they should try for the workplace after all.


Works Referenced

Clover, Carol. Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Lant, Kathleen Margaret., and Theresa Thompson. Imagining the Worst: Stephen King and the Representation of Women. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998. Print.

Magistrale, Tony. Hollywood’s Stephen King. Gordonsville, VA, USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 18 May 2016

Misery. Dir. Rob Reiner. Prod. Rob Reiner. By William Goldman. Perf. James Caan and Kathy Bates. Columbia Pictures, 1990

MovieClips. “Hostel (7/11) Movie CLIP – The American Client (2005) HD.” Web. 25 May 2012.

Pursuing Beauty: La Vie en Rose and a Definition of Beauty


In almost any action we take or place we go we are continuously making judgements of what is beautiful. We consider certain sounds smooth and melodic while others are brash and abrasive. Some visuals we find breathtaking while others are dull and lack character. We apply these judgements to people, architecture, music, and many other elements of our social settings that shape our culture. Often, such assessments of aesthetic quality appear to be made intuitively. But what guides this intuition? While complex biological factors may drive part of it, culture also seems responsible for at least some of our intuitive processes. Standards of beauty circulate within a culture, gaining acceptance. Those bred in the culture adopt these standards almost without thought or conscious choice. In identifying beauty, individuals appear to draw upon the ideas their culture has imparted upon them rather than reasoning their way toward their own definition.

Culture’s heavy influence on our perception of beauty raises the question of whether or not our distinction of certain aesthetics as beautiful is artificial. This question has provoked challenges to beauty as a valuable descriptor. An entire culture, namely Punk culture, has arisen around the rejection of the notion that certain aesthetics are superior to others. While the Punks have drawn attention to an interesting aspect of the way our culture manifests itself in our judgements, beauty remains a valuable concept. Specifically, if the underlying components of our notion of beauty have their basis outside of cultural standards, then the application of beauty to select aesthetics involves objective judgements. If not, then it is most logical to pursue the process the Punks have already begun in attempting to dismantle deep-seated cultural standards of beauty. It is difficult, however, to formulate a definition for beauty speaking in merely abstract terms. Formulating an objective definition of beauty is most easily accomplished in a particular context. To that end, we will examine manifestations of beauty in La Vie en Rose, a renowned song by French singer Edith Piaf.

La Vie en Rose is emblematic of many classic notions of beauty. As such, it serves as an excellent example in which to search for fundamental characteristics of beautiful aesthetics. Early in the song a range of soft, light, and harmonious sounds come together to create a setting for the music. In particular, there is a mixture of strings, notably a harp, followed by the entrance of a saxophone. This melodious opening, with its French rhythms, evokes notions of an old, esteemed French society. Piaf’s voice enters after 12 seconds; clean, clear, and consistent. Her pitch accentuates the classic French character of the song. Additionally, by singing in French, she adds a mystical, romantic nature to the piece. Naturally, these qualities of the song generate a seemingly beautiful aesthetic. Punk culture, however, takes issue with this intuitive assessment of a song such as La Vie en Rose as beautiful.


To believers in Punk ideals, a song such as La Vie en Rose is no more aesthetically pleasing than the vast body of more typical sounds. But how could this be? How could such an intuitively beautiful sound as Piaf’s singing not be logically superior to the sound of a pot hitting a pan? While not immediately obvious, the Punk argument provides a reasonable criticism. In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus describes the Punk Rock movement, particularly the development of the Sex Pistols, arguably the premier Punk band. In deconstructing the movement, Marcus sheds considerable light on Punk ideals. For example, one central goal of the Sex Pistols, and avant-garde individuals more broadly, was to generate cultural artifacts that were so repugnant that no one wished to appropriate them. In their only American tour, the band played almost exclusively locations in the south of the United States, a region where they expected their music to be rejected and misunderstood. From these actions, their purpose was clear. They wanted to cause believers in traditional beauty to recoil. Punks like the Sex Pistols were attempting to defy what they saw as society’s conventional ignorance of aesthetics. Part of where Punk identifiers, including members of the Sex Pistols, drew their views from was the evidence of differences in perceptions of beauty across different cultures and time periods.

This raises the question of what Punk defiance would look like in the context of La Vie en Rose. The smooth protracted hum that we associate with string instruments would be discounted as artificial. The crispness and clarity of the saxophone would be decried as undeservingly inflated in quality. Piaf’s voice would be met with skepticism. Why is her smooth, extended singing considered superior to the abrupt sound of Johnny Rotten’s voice? Rotten’s quivering manner of song which often walks a line between speech and shouting, and at times hardly qualifies as singing in any conventional sense, epitomizes Punk notions. It simplifies singing to a bare form of speech that almost any individual can create but that few wish to. It is difficult to distinguish quality in any usual manner between the shouting of one individual and another. In essence, Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols have distilled song down to a level where all can participate as equals, devoid of the divisive and stratifying qualities of traditionally “superior” sound. In doing so, Punks place the burden of proving the superiority of a singer like Piaf to performers like Rotten on those who serve as advocates of her talent, begging them to answer the question of what makes her superior. Punk identifiers would level similar criticisms of the glorious air of classic French culture that La Vie en Rose delivers as they would about Piaf’s voice. The elevation of classic French culture is, in their view, artificial. Punks argue that it is incumbent upon advocates of this elevation to demonstrate the qualities that mark it as superior. Dylan Clark makes clearer the overall Punk perspective by describing their view with respect to cuisine. Clark states “Punks, in turn, preferentially seek food that is more “raw”; i.e., closer to its wild, organic, uncultured state; and punks even enjoy food that has, from an American perspective, become rotten – disposed of or stolen. For punks, mainstream food is epitomized by corporate-capitalist “junk food”.” (Clark) Punks reject mainstream notions of beauty, and much else, implicitly arguing that they represent nothing more than arbitrary cultural overlays, introducing artificial constraints. To them, La Vie en Rose is on par in quality with the bitter, impassioned sounds of the Sex Pistols.

PARIS - DECEMBER 05: Lighting the Eiffel Tower on December 05, 2012 in Paris. Established in 1985, the new system allowed the tower to glow golden glow. The Eiffel tower is the most visited monument of France.

Having examined the Punk argument on beauty and having seen as an example how it would manifest itself in a Punk perception of La Vie en Rose, we can begin our search for a definition of beauty that illustrates the value in distinguishing beautiful aesthetics. To start with, the song title La Vie en Rose means “life in pink.” Pink is associated with that which is delicate and vulnerable, such as roses. The seemingly fragile hue fascinates us in the same way that, far back in history early humans were fascinated, with no cultural precedent, with other natural phenomena such as diamonds and eclipses. Human associations with pink and roses run deep. Historically, roses mean spring, meaning warmer weather, more food, the coming of a season of easier living. While it may seem simple to erase such associations from our minds, our appreciation for what Spring implies remains tightly tied to other biologically based appreciations. In essence, our association of warming seasons with the flowers that the weather heralds, while seemingly limited, is actually quite strong. Both signal the approach of easier seasons, an objective reality. The point to be made with regard to why we enjoy the sounds of the strings and the saxophone is even simpler. In La Vie en Rose, these instruments all produce sounds that are smooth and melodious rather than cluttered. Our enjoyment of the harmonies they produce demonstrate our general preference for order and its associated stability rather than chaos and uncertainty. This is in sharp contrast to Johnny Rotten’s biting, unpredictable voice and clashing chords. The comparisons do not end there. Much like the melodies that surround it, the French language that Piaf sings in is smooth and evokes the same indescribable, joyous feelings that accompany romance. The same reasoning applies to the sense of classic, esteemed Parisian culture that the song exudes. Paris is filled with endless avenues and alleys of ornately crafted buildings. Be it carefully created and colored four-story apartments, majestic museums built with triumphant pillars and stunning arches and filled with history’s finest art, the Eiffel tower itself, or the Champs Elysee and the convergence of the city’s streets. The city is the epitome of order, continuity, and meticulous craftsmanship.

Looking at the associations that La Vie en Rose generates in listeners in this way, it becomes clear that the qualities we appreciate in such songs are functions of more than random, culturally reinforced standards of beauty. Such “beautiful” songs draw upon ideas fundamental to most humans about what is appealing and what characterizes beauty. These characteristics arise from objective life-affirming artifacts. We prefer ordered entities to stochastic ones, melodies to clutter, and continuity to erratic occurrence. This leads us, at last, to a more concrete definition of what it means to be beautiful. To be beautiful is to have order, structure, harmony, or a similar such quality that provokes positive associations in observers which in turn evoke an appreciation for the entity at hand. This definition can be applied to the vast majority of aesthetics, but some will still escape the definition and can be explained by strange cultural standards that have arisen at some point and been cemented over time. The concept that beauty varies across cultures due to variations in cultural standards is, however, often exaggerated. For instance, in a study by a group of Professors from the University of Louisville and Chung-Yuan University, their research led them to conclude that “The consistency of physical attractiveness ratings across cultural groups was examined. In Study 1, recently arrived native Asian and Hispanic students and White Americans rated the attractiveness of Asian, Hispanic, Black, and White photographed women. The mean correlation between groups in attractiveness ratings was r = .93.” (Cunningham et al.) A variety of other measures of attractiveness across cultures taken in the same study led them to similarly high correlation values. This provides further support of the idea that concepts of beauty are frequently based on deeply biological associations and preferences.

With a definition of beauty that is based on the objective concepts of order and continuity, it becomes easy to realize how La Vie en Rose is a musical masterpiece. Most often, the features upon which our judgements of beauty are based are positive biological associations, fundamental preferences that are common to most humans. While the Punks make a compelling argument in acknowledging how perceptions of beauty seem to be intuitive assessments based on cultural standards, the existence of a definition that can capture what is beautiful in terms separate from cultural standards nullifies their argument. In identifying that there is something fundamentally human about the way we evaluate beauty, we have also made the case that beautiful aesthetics are worth pursuing. People appreciate them by sheer virtue of the way human perception is structured. And pursuing that which is basic to humanity is simply rational.


Clark, Dylan. “The Raw and the Rotten: Punk Cuisine.” Ethnology 43.1 (2004): 19-31. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 16 May 2016.

Cunningham, Michael R., Alan R. Roberts, Anita P. Barbee, Perri B. Druen, and Cheng-Huan Wu. “”Their Ideas of Beauty Are, on the Whole, the Same as Ours”: Consistency and Variability in the Cross-cultural Perception of Female Physical Attractiveness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68.2 (1995): 261-79. PsycARTICLES [EBSCO]. Web. 16 May 2016.

Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989. Print.

Image Sources:




Reclaiming Male Dominance Through Country Music



Country music of the 21st century has been nicknamed ‘bro country’ due to the lack of female country singers in Nashville. According to Billboard, in 2014 women sang only eight percent of charted country singles. Country music is rich in Southern tradition where white men have stereotypically reined king along with the Bible. Southern men are losing their dominance over women due to the increasingly progressive agenda the 21st century regarding women’s equality. Through their catchy, misogynist lyrics bro country provides a solution to this progressive agenda by giving its male listeners advice on how to reassert their dominance over women: objectify and sexualize them. The level of sexualization of women has increased in recent past and that the “objectification and sexualization of women is a result of highly sexualized media” (Brandt). By turning women into sexual objects, country songs attempt to reassert their waning male dominance over women. By praising females who ‘dresses up’ for them, bro country artists turn a women’s body into a sexual object whose sole purpose is pleasure. Through their misogynist lyrics, men are fighting back at the progress made by women by showing their listeners how women should be treated as and valued in society. Bro country songs provide three ways a man can objectify women and exploit them by turning her into a sexual being that succumbs to her sexuality.

Although there is an infinite amount of songs I could have analyzed I randomly chose three of the best selling Country songs of the decade. All of these songs coincidently happen to be sung by male, white, middle-aged artists from Georgia (although one member of Florida Georgia Line is from Florida).

  1. Cruise by Florida Georgia Line is the best selling digital country song of all time according to Nielsen Soundscan. It has sold a record 6.33 million copies and spent 64 weeks on the Billboard Top 50 Country chart with 24 weeks at #1 and 10 weeks at #2 from 2012-2013.
  2. Die a Happy Man by Thomas Rhett is RIAA certified platinum and spent 30 weeks on the Billboard top 50 Country chart, 17 of which were at #1 from 2015-2016.
  3. That’s My Kind Of Night by Luke Bryan spent is RIAA certified double platinum and spent 26 weeks on the billboard top 50 Country chart, 12 of which were at #1 in 2013.

Mechanism #1: Name Calling-

All three of these songs fail to call the women in them by their actual names, but instead use demeaning adjectives to describe them such as “pretty girl” and “baby”. Although ‘baby’ a term of endearment used between couples, this nickname takes on a new meaning when used at the bar to pick up a girl. Calling a stranger ‘baby’ (“I walked up and said, Baby you a song”) immediately degrades their being because you are implying that by nature they are inferior to you. This name degrades their capabilities because they are likened to someone who is unable to take care of herself. Calling someone baby implies possession and dominance over her. It is also less personal than calling someone by their actual name, or better yet asking for their name.

In addition to being called a baby, females are also called “girl” instead of you. Naturally, “girl” implies a sense of inferiority such as in the phrase ‘you throw like a girl’. If the informal “you” is used in a country song, it is in the possessive form ‘your’. ‘Your’ is then used to refer to a specific body part or feature as in the lyrics “your little hot self” “your eyes” “your hand” and “your lips” and “your t-shirt”. All of these phrases separate a feature of a women from the whole. By compartmentalizing women, they are not seen as whole beings but are rather seen as a compilation of features. Singling out a specific part of a women objectifies her and holds her body to the sum of its physical parts. By referring to a women by her specific parts, country lyrics objectify women so that they do not have to be seen as equals to men. By referring to girls by their body parts instead of the whole (“long tanned legs”), men associate value to certain parts of women.

Mechanism #2: Bodies-

sexy_cowgirl_0_1389191692         Songs and their lyrics are able to convey emotions in people because they paint vivid pictures and descriptions of their subjects. The Star Spangled Banner vividly describes the American Flag to associate notions of resilience, strength and determination with the United States. Bro Country songs paint vivid pictures of women’s bodies to associate notions of sexual desire and lust with women. Popular culture “conveys contradictory messages to women about their sexuality, first teaching them that social validation comes from sexuality and then holding them in contempt for behaving sexually” (Glantz). Country songs are no different. First, country songs socially validate females through the exposure of their bodies. When “She’s poppin’ right out of the South Georgia water” Florida Georgia Line is praising a girl who has a malfunction. The girl’s mishap is twisted to be a good thing, and that it is good to expose yourself. These songs tell women what they should wear on their bodies to please men “tan skirt and boots” “red dresses” “black dresses” and “bikini tops”. By telling a girl to wear a dress or a skirt is telling her that she either needs to wear something that can easily be accessed, or that she should wear something that specified for women. Women fought hard to be able to wear pants and shirts instead of dresses, skirts and corsets. Country songs tell women that they need to cover themselves like they used to. Country contradict themselves by telling women that they need to wear dresses to cover themselves while also telling them to wear bikini tops and show off their “long tanned legs”. Country songs socially validate and praise women by showing off their bodies, rather than appreciating them regardless of what they wear and their body shape.

Mechanism #3: Trucks-


Country songs about trucks sexualize women and emphasize male masculinity. “The pop culture storyline works to reinforce systems of gender inequality by promoting an association between masculinity and dominance and power and control through the universal assumption of a male viewer” (Glantz). Trucks are seen as a symbol of masculinity in society. Country artists emphasize their trucks (and thus their masculinity) by describing their trucks as “big” and “jacked up”. The truck acts as a metaphor to demonstrate how easily trucks seduce women. Trucks assert male dominance through their ability to fulfill the needs of women “I got that real good feel good stuff, up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck”. Since the truck is big and jacked up it has “feel good stuff”.

For those of you who don’t know, KC lights are these two circular light fixtures that are attached onto the grill of a car (or truck) used to imply boobs. In one lyric, “I turned on those KC lights and drove all night”, the lights act as a metaphor. The guy is turning his KC lights on thus turning her on. By having the ability to fulfill the needs of women, men are showing how they can dominate over women. If women are seen as sexual objects, having the ability to control her sexually shows his power over her. In order to assert your dominance over women, you need to seduce them. Some lyrics choose to emphasize male arousal such as “brand new Chevy with a lift kit”. A lift kit is when a truck is raised above its usual height to ‘jack it up’ and is often done in a body shop. The lift kit acts as a metaphor to show how men control both themselves and women sexually. It is the male that bought the “lift kit” for his Chevy. In the lyrics he is in control of both his body, and hers.

In country songs Trucks are depicted as means necessary in which hooking up can happen. From “blowin’ stop signs” “rolling the windows down and cruising” putting “her legs up on my dashboard just the way I like it” “getting it stuck” and “taking it way out”. Since trucks are a symbol of masculinity, country lyrics imply that women are dependent on men to “get our love on”. In one song, driving around in a truck makes it so the guy doesn’t have to take the girl out on a proper date, “all them other boys want to wine you up and take you downtown” but instead were going to “sit down on my diamond plate tailgate”. Country music makes it seem like women are sexual beings desperate to have sex and that only the man can fulfill her needs. By having sex with a women, you are thus asserting your dominance over her because you are in control of her.

If women are being treated poorly in country songs, than why are 52% of country music listener’s women (according to Billboard)? Country music complements women’s bodies and intensely flatters them. Women do not have a problem with being complimented by men. In fact, many women enjoy being complimented by men, which is why country music is appealing to them. Who doesn’t want to listen to a feel-good song full of complements? The problem with country songs is that only women’s bodies are being complimented. These back handed complements exploit women and tell them how they should dress and look in order to be praised by men. By only complimenting their bodies, country music exploits women by providing them with a false sense of recognition. In actuality, solely praising certain physical features implies a standard for how a women’s body should look and be dressed. Country music sets a male dictated standard for how women should be valued in society. “Girls who are exposed to objectified images of women score lower on the Body Esteem Scale than boys do” (Brandt). Not only does country music devalues women, it lowers their self-esteem. Women should not have to dress to impress men, nor dress to receive approval from men. Women should be complimented on more than just their bodies. Country songs make it acceptable for men to dictate how women should look and provide a guilt free socially acceptable way to judge her.

A “Problem Like Maria”? Maybe Just the Opposite

Cultural theorists have taken interest in an approach to an understanding of gender that deemphasizes evolutionary theory. Rather than tracing gender and sexuality to biological features, a more recent approach places culture at the crux of what dictates the social roles we adopt as gender. What counts as man and woman is mutable because it is a social construct. The culture around us informs our perception and internalization of gender identity. Shouldn’t we try to understand the culture that constructs gender – such a central component for most people’s identity?

Gender is not stable in The Sound of Music. Gender ambiguity is conveyed through the gender scripts of characters, camera shots and editing style, and audience identification with various characters. The characters are recognizable on a gender spectrum, and not fixed in traditional gender roles. The main character – Maria – deviates from a traditional gender script in her independent and stubborn behavior, but still displays a warm, maternal instinct. She cannot be “tamed” by the Church – nuns at her convent commiserate about how to “solve a problem like Maria” – her unpredictable free spirit does not belong in the abbey.

Camera shots and editing style further blur gender lines. Laura Mulvey argues that controlled camera shots force audiences to view the world through an exclusively male perspective. However, in The Sound of Music, camera shots and editing do not rigidly occupy a man’s perspective. Stacy Wolf, in her book A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical, posits that the camera work “does not eschew the [male] gaze but rather opens it to variously gendered gazes and then turns it around” (Wolf, 229). Camera shots first force all characters and audience members to scrutinize Maria, but eventually switch this editing style. By the end of the movie, characters and audience members are not directing their gaze upon Maria, but sympathize, admire, and identify with her.

Since the camera jumps around to different perspectives; so in turn does audience identification with characters. An interviewee for Wolf’s book explains her own flexible cross-identification: “In some ways I identified with [Maria] but she was too femme for me, and in some ways I wanted to be the Captain and sweep her off her feet. [Maria] was totally freaked out by her feelings and didn’t know it. There [is] part of me that [is] freaked out by any sexual feelings at all too” (Wolf, 216). Gender representations in The Sound of Music are flexible and ambiguous – but this ambiguity takes on different forms. What is determinant about the ambiguity? Examining our attitudes towards the various types of ambiguous gender representations reveals our deeper anxieties about gender.

The Captain’s gendered transformation is one of the most compelling and heart warming of the movie. Our first introduction to the Captain conveys him as too rigidly male: he’s cold, strict, powerful, and emotionally incompetent. He carries his position as a Captain – a traditionally masculine role – over to his personal life and treats his children as if they were officers in his rank. Watching the Captain summon his children using a whistle is distinctly uncomfortable – for the other characters – Maria and the housekeeper – as well as the audience members because we want him to be more emotionally warm and receptive. Our discomfort with his overt masculinity makes his transformation so easy to root for. Watching the Captain open himself up to romantic and familial love – and start singing again – is one of the joys of the movie.

However, his character development is layered and complex: there was a failed and a successful attempt to transform him. The Baroness – his first romantic interest – fails to touch his heart, while Maria succeeds. Audience members might not pay much attention to the Baroness – Elsa – because the characters and audience are so obviously cheering for Maria and the Captain’s love story. But why are our attitudes towards the two women so different?

The two female characters both lack traditional femininity, but in different ways and to different extents. Elsa is described by Wolf as the “quintessential vampire lesbian” – she is literally the palest character, and her voice and air are cold and raspy. Another distinctly uncomfortable scene comes again from an inability to interact with children: Elsa’s inherent and obvious discomfort with her step-children-to-be cannot help but make you cringe. Her idea of parenting is sending the seven children off to boarding school so she does not have to deal with them. In contrast, Maria’s diminished femininity is represented through her short hair cut, and her spunky – maybe even “wild” – impulses to run around outside. The first scenes of the movie demonstrate all the ways Maria is not “how she should be.” The convent – a symbol of female purity – cannot tame Maria’s free spirit. However, Maria’s maternal warmth is evident; watching her relationship with the Von Trapp children develop make for the most jovial and pleasing scenes. Maria understands exactly what the children need, and they learn to love her as much as she learns to love them. Although both women deviate from traditional femininity, the characters in the movie and the audience members fondly receive the female character that does not deviate from maternal characteristics, thus revealing our dismissal of a woman who rejects motherhood.

The other main distinction between the two women is their class and status. Elsa is marked as wealthy and sophisticated – yet again explained by her “vampire” aristocratic qualities. Her title – the Baroness – is a hereditary title of honor; she is comfortable on the arm of the Captain as she confidently navigates large social gatherings with important Austrian figures. While the Baroness is seen smoking – a sign of sophistication at the time – in her elegantly styled clothing, Maria is seen in her humble clothes made out of drapes gallivanting around outside. She is in her element climbing trees and singing in the streets; she has no prominent status or title and could not care less. Elsa has wealth and status independent of the Captain, while Maria has neither. By linking money and status to motherhood, the movie gets us to dislike the more extreme feminine deviation that Elsa embodies. The movie literally excludes the Baroness from the joy of the movie by never having her sing.

Anne McLeer explains why we reject the Baroness’ wealth and status: Maria is not a threat to the male breadwinner as the Baroness is, which reveals our deeper anxiety (McLeer, 87). We celebrate Maria because her short haircut and adventurous personality do not actually disturb the social order in the way the Baroness’ money and status would. We cheer for the love interest that we know can eventually conform to the gender social hierarchy. And what relies on the gender hierarchy remaining in tact? Man’s power and control. Maria’s maternal instinct and humble status allows the Captain to remain in the public sphere while there is clearly no place for a non-maternal, wealthy woman.

Maria stirs up some trouble, but ultimately stabilizes the social order. She finds what she was looking for – a husband and motherhood – and settles down. She sings a duet with her new step-daughter Liesal about being a woman and falling in love, singing “low and behold you’re someone’s wife, and you belong to him.” The “problem” that Maria was once perceived as is resolved, and the nuclear family is restored because she now belongs to her husband. Therefore, the emotional transformation of the Captain – into a more loving and compassionate father and husband – does not come at the expense of him losing power or control. This inadvertently appeases the anxiety of audiences – a man can become more emotional without risking his power and control, as long as there are women to be mothers and keep the nuclear family in tact.

One might point out that the gender ambiguity in the movie is insignificant (and not importantly existent) if the gender hierarchy survives. How unstable can gender be if the hierarchy remains stable? And furthermore, the character most recognizably on a gender spectrum – the Baroness – is cast off in the end anyways; gender is stable for the central characters, and the unstable gender is literally removed. The ending’s reinforcement of traditional gender roles does not refute the movie’s gender confusion – they do not come at the expense of one another – rather, they work together to make the movie so popular. The gender hierarchy had to be temporarily in danger and unstable in order to be restored – the heartwarming satisfaction we feel at the end – as well as the Oscar for Best Picture – is contingent on the resolution of the gender confusion. The gender deviation – albeit subtle at times – makes us feel okay with the fact that we are accepting and celebrating the submission of a woman to the patriarchy. The ending is that much more satisfying because our anxiety about a dismantled gender hierarchy was appeased.

Works Cited:

Wolf, Stacy Ellen. A Problem like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan, 2002. Print.

Mcleer, Anne. “Practical Perfection? The Nanny Negotiates Gender, Class, and Family Contradictions in 1960s Popular Culture.” NWSA Journal14.2 (2002): 80-101. JSTOR. Web. 18 May 2016.

The Male Gaze in GTA V

Video games are part of a constantly evolving industry. Everything involved, from the graphics to the game design, is expected to be always improving. A modern game is nothing like a game that was made thirty years ago, except for in one regard, its portrayal of women. Since the early days of video games, female characters have been viewed in two ways, as prizes to be won or as unrealistically sexualized characters that provide gamers with visual pleasure. Much like in Mulvey’s arguments regarding the male gaze in Hollywood cinema, this creates a dynamic where men are the active characters exploring these video game worlds and women are simply passive objectives and attractions to motivate and entertain the consumer. Due to this, the player is forced to look at this world through the eyes of a heterosexual male. Even when the protagonist of the game is female, it is simply to give the player a butt to stare at as bad guys are fought. Grand Theft Auto V is no exception. In fact, it may be one of the clearest examples of the male gaze in video games.

Grand Theft Auto is a series that is praised for its innovative open world gameplay. In these games, players take control of a criminal in a city where they can engage in missions, play multiplayer events, or just simply roam around wreaking mayhem. GTA V was very well received when it was released in 2013. It won 7 awards, including Game of the Year in the VGX awards, an annual award ceremony hosted by Spike TV.


In the game, you play as three characters, Michael, Trevor, and Franklin, as they perform crimes and heists in the fictional city of Los Santos. This city has a large amount of NPC’s, non-playable characters that roam around performing many of the same jobs that a normal city would require. There are policemen, firefighters, paramedics, store cashiers, construction workers, etc. There are also pedestrians that walk around the city streets. The developers of GTA V paid very close attention to detail when building Los Santos, meticulously modeling it after Los Angeles. Many sections of the city have the exact same streets and buildings as LA. It’s very similar to its real world counterpart, except for in one regard.

Even though the population of Los Angeles is 51% women (U.S. Census Bureau), Los Santos comes nowhere near that. None of the characters that you can play as in the main story are female. The only women that appear in the main plot are the relatives and acquaintances of our protagonists. They are typically shown as annoying, adulterous, and self-destructive. The first time we meet Franklin’s aunt she’s yelling at him for being a freeloader. The first time we meet Michael’s daughter, she’s been tricked into starring in a porno. The first time we meet Trevor’s neighbor, she’s cheating on her boyfriend by giving oral sex to Trevor in exchange for heroin. These women are shown as awful people, but worst of all is that they play no major part in the main story. The named female characters are mentioned briefly but soon forgotten as our anti-heroes go on adventures in Los Santos. Furthermore, there is a severe lack of women in the jobs that the NPC’s perform. There are no female police officers, no female firefighters, no female paramedics, and no female construction workers. In fact, the only working women in Los Santos are strippers and prostitutes. In a game where the male criminals are at constant odds with the male police force in a male dominated city, women play no consequential roles.

Though it may be easy to look at a video game the same way that you look at a film, it’s important to look at the actual “game” part of the video game. GTA V is, at its heart, a game where you shoot and drive away from enemies. Most missions either consist of killing some number of enemies or trying to escape the cops. Recall that there are no female cops. There are also no female gang members, body guards, FBI, or really any female enemies. In the game part of GTA V, all the obstacles are male. Not only are the female characters inconsequential to the plot of GTA V, they also never get in the way of the player during the game portion. The only time that female characters play into the missions is when they need to be saved by our protagonists. One example of this is our first interaction with Michael’s daughter. We need to rescue her, against her will, from her porn shoot and bring her back home. In these instances, the female characters act more like objects that the male characters assert their ownership over. This is a common trend in video games, women are often treated as objectives.  In GTA, women never play active roles, they never stand in the way of the player and their goal. Women are only ever passive, either as an unimportant side character or as the objective the player is trying to capture.

The few women who do inhabit the streets of Los Santos are highly sexualized. As mentioned earlier, the first time we met Michael’s daughter, she’s about to star in a porno. This isn’t a unique first introduction.  The first time we meet Michael’s wife, he catches her cheating on him with their pool boy. While Michael’s yelling at her, she’s yelling back in a towel that just barely covers her breasts.

GTA Women

The women in GTA V are introduced as sexual beings and are never shown to be anything more than that. Recall that the only working women we see in Los Santos are prostitutes and strippers. In the GTA universe, women cannot exist in a nonsexual manner.

It’s sadly no shock that the few female characters in GTA V are sexualized. In the video game industry, this is an unfortunate norm. An analysis of video game covers showed while only 5.8% of male characters were portrayed in a sexualized manner, 42.3% of the female characters were. Furthermore, 49% of the female characters shown had unnaturally large breasts (Burgess). These video games force the player to look at the world as a heterosexual male, where women are only ever sexual objects.

It’s no secret that the Grand Theft Auto series is heavily influenced by Hollywood crime movies. GTA V itself was heavily inspired by the 1995 movie Heat, which is about a group of bank robbers. Certain missions are obvious homages to this movies, including a mission nearly identical to the opening sequence of Heat where players must steal from an armored truck (Petit). This might lead some to brush off GTA’s portrayal of women as just them staying true to their source material, attributing the sexism to Hollywood and not to the game developers. However, this is far from the truth. In the movie, the female characters play a significant role in the plot. The bank robbers constantly grapple with the fear of losing their loved ones. They tell themselves that they are willing to drop everyone and everything at a moment’s notice in order to evade the cops, but their relationships are depicted as important in their lives. Even though their relationships put their careers as criminals in jeopardy, they struggle to maintain them, even when doing so can lead them into a trap. The women in this movie are important to the plot, unlike the women in GTA V. The developers of the game made the choice themselves to depict women in the way they did.

Some might argue that GTA V is a special case in regards to its lack of playable female characters and otherwise sparse cast of female NPCs. There are some very popular video games that star female characters including Tomb Raider and Life is Strange. This may be true but games with female protagonists are still the minority in a sea of male video game stars. An analysis of video game reviews showed that women were severely underrepresented in video games as active and playable characters (Ivory). That being said, I agree that GTA V is an extreme example with almost no female characters. But even in games with female protagonists, the male gaze is present. I was able to do my own research to show this using Steam.

Steam is the most popular online store for computer games. You are able to search through its library of games by filtering tags, short phrases that are attached to each game. There are 1,238 games that are marked as first-person or third-person. These tags refer to the perspective the player uses to look at the main character. In a first-person game, you look through the eyes of the character whereas in a third-person game you look over the shoulder of the character. These account for a good portion of the games where you identify as one character. Of these 1,238 games, 59% of them are first-person and 41% are third-person. This is no shock, first-person games allow you to more easily assume the role as the protagonist. 141 of these 1,238 games are also tagged as having a female protagonist. Of these, 62% were 3rd person and 38% were 1st person (Steam Online Store). This is the complete opposite trend than we saw earlier. When there is a male protagonist, we see through their eyes. They act as a blank slate that the player can project themselves into. When there is a female protagonist however, they’re more likely to be seen. This is the male gaze. If we are playing as a female, we’re not supposed to identify as them, we’re supposed to stare at their butt as we make them act out our fantasies.

Another argument one might make is that these video games have no female audience and thus are only catering towards their consumers. It’s true that in our culture, there is a strong stereotype of the typical gamer being a teenage male. This, however, is far from the truth. Though at one point teenage boys may have been the bulk of the gamer population, the Entertainment Software Association reports that women aged 18 or older represent 31% of the total American gaming population while teenage boys, age 18 or younger, only represent 17% (ESO). This shows that female gamers are a significant portion of the consumers of these video games, and yet the industry still only offers a male perspective.

Modern video games still stick to the age old gaming tradition of portraying women as either sexualized objects or as prizes to be won. GTA V may be an extreme example, but the fact that it is so widely praised only shows how accepted this practice is in the video game world. This is a very ugly side to an otherwise progressive medium. Video games are able to offer us experiences that would be impossible to experience in other mediums. In fact, they are just now being recognized as a legitimate form of art. I can only hope that video games will continue to evolve in a direction that will lead them away from the ugly aspects of their past.



  1. Burgess, Melinda C. R., Steven Paul Stermer, and Stephen R. Burgess. “Sex, Lies, and Video Games: The Portrayal of Male and Female Characters on Video Game Covers.” Sex Roles 57.5-6 (2007): 419-33. Web.
  2. Ivory, James D. “Still a Man’s Game: Gender Representation in Online Reviews of Video Games.” Mass Communication and Society 9.1 (2006): 103-14. Web.
  3. Census 2000. Census of Population and Housing. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002. Print.
  4. Petit, Carolyn. “Taking Scores: Heat and Grand Theft Auto V.” GameSpot. 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 May 2016.
  5. Steam Online Store, 18 May 2016
  6. “More than Half of American Households Play Video Games Regularly” The Entertainment Software Association. 28 Apr. 2016. Web. 18 May 2016.