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The Female Gaze

We frequently come upon discussions of the male gaze, but is there a female
gaze?  If so, what does the term mean?  These questions gave rise to the
following WMST-L discussion in March 2008.  For additional WMST-L files
available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 13:58:11 -0500
From: "Bardwelljones, Celia N." <CBardwelljones AT TOWSON.EDU>
Subject: The Female Gaze?
As I am teaching about the male gaze, one student asked me if there
was a female gaze.  I am not aware of any.  However, it seems to me
that the female gaze (looking at men in an objective way) is another
instance of the male gaze, given that male bodies are depicted as
strong and powerful rather than a subordinated object.  is this right?
Sources would help.  Thanks.
Celia T. Bardwell-Jones
Department of Philosophy and Women's Studies
E-mail: cbardwelljones  AT  towson.edu
Office: LI 101B
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2008 03:21:57 +0800
From: Elizabeth Ross <sabina2671 AT GRAFFITI.NET>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
I don't have specific examples currently, but a long time ago I wrote
some web content on female dominance. You might find some information
by searching through resources on BDSM/FemDom culture.

sabina2671  AT  graffiti.net
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 14:47:01 -0500
From: Joy Evans <jevans AT SAINTMARYS.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
There is a colonial gaze, which women were very much practitioners of...

Ghose, Indira. "Women Travellers in Colonial India: The Power of the Female
Gaze/./" Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Pratt, Mary Louise, "Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation/./"
London; New York: Routledge, 1992.
Joy Evans
Assistant Director of Scholarship and Research
Center for Women's InterCutural Leadership
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556
jevans  AT  saintmarys.edu
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 14:47:49 -0500
From: Sarah Reynolds <sreynolds AT WMM.COM>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?

Though I don't know the answer to your question per say, perhaps looking
to films and film theory might be a good place to start given Laura
Mulvey's legacy. 

To this end, I would recommend Tracey Moffatt's short doc HEAVEN--a
title that we carry here at Women Make Movies--and an interesting
example of a reversal of the gaze in which the director turns her
voyeuristic lens on male surfers as they change in and out of their wet

For more info:

A dramatic work that comes to mind (although not available through WMM)
is Bette Gordon's VARIETY in which the female protagonist works at the
box office of a porn theatre and turns a male customer into an object of
her voyeurism.

Hope this helps!


Sarah Reynolds
Educational Sales & Marketing Coordinator
sr  AT  wmm.com | www.wmm.com
Established in 1972 to address the under-representation and
misrepresentation of women in the media, Women Make Movies is a
non-profit media arts organization and the world's leading distributor
of independent films by and about women.
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 11:52:10 -0800
From: Lori Patterson <lpatters AT PDX.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
Here is an article from Salon dot com




Lori Patterson
ICCH Coordinator
Instructional Computing Center
PACE Program
Graduate School of Education
Portland State University
Portland, OR
lpatters  AT  pdx.edu
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 14:02:21 -0600
From: "Johnson, Robin S" <robin-johnson AT UIOWA.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
Here are a few that I have found helpful:

Both Laura Mulvey (Visual Pleasure and narrative cinema) and John
Berger (Ways of seeing) describe the female gaze as watching the self
being watched. These are good starting points (from the 1970s) but
have been critiqued.

I have found Susan Bordo's book The Male Body (1999) to be an
excellent resource on this topic. Although she notes the continuing
presence of the strong/powerful male body in Western/U.S. cultural
representation (the hegemonic ideal), other types have raised in
significance (the waif male body/submissive gaze of some Calvin Klein

Rosalind Gill's new book "Gender and the Media" (2007) also addresses
the rise of objectified male representation as one characteristic of
post-feminist media culture in the UK.

Robin Johnson
Reviews editor
journal of communication inquiry
University of Iowa
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 15:06:44 -0500
From: Laurie Finke <finkel AT KENYON.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
I would recommend consulting E. Ann Kaplan's anthology Feminism and Film
which contains most of the relevant literature from the 1980s on the gaze
and gaze theory. There were several attempts to theorists in the 80s to
supplement Mulvey's notion of the male gaze on the female body with a female
gaze on the male body--Gaylin Studlar, Steve Hanson, Kaplan, and Mary Ann
Doane all spring to mind in that collection, but almost noone writes about
gender and film without referencing this body of work.  Norman Bryson has
played around with the notion of a male gaze on the male body, which is
something I have been trying to follow up on in some of my research on film.

Hope this helps.

Laurie Finke
Kenyon College
finkel  AT  kenyon.edu
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 14:18:46 -0600
From: Women's Studies Department <ws AT D.UMN.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
For some good feminist theory: Marilyn Frye's essay "In and Out of Harm's
Way: Arrogance and Love" in her anthology The Politics of Reality: Essays in
Feminist Theory. Maybe it's too densely theoretical for an intro class? I
don't think so. But at least it sets up a context you can use to frame
future discussions.

Best of luck.

Laura Stolle Schmidt
Executive Office and Administrative Specialist
Women's Studies Department
University of Minnesota Duluth
ws  AT  d.umn.edu
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 15:35:49 -0500
From: Kasi Jackson <Kasi.Jackson AT MAIL.WVU.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
>>> Lori Patterson <lpatters@PDX.EDU> 03/03/08 2:52 PM >>>
Here is an article from Salon dot com:

I have used this particular salon article with the film REAL WOMEN
HAVE CURVES in a 250 student freshman level general education course
on Women and Movies. I usually compare it with one of the Bond films
(usually GOLDFINGER or FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE), which provide an
example of the male gaze. These films provide really clear examples,
it's easy for students to see the differents, and the students respond


Dr. Kasi Jackson
Assistant Professor
West Virginia University
Center for Women's Studies
210 Eiesland Hall
PO Box 6450
Morgantown, WV 26506-6450
Kasi.Jackson  AT  mail.wvu.edu
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 12:51:51 -0800
From: Sarah L. Rasmusson <sarahrasmusson AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
HI Celia: 

A number of third wave anthologies have already take
up the question/possibility/contradictions with a
female gaze. 

Here's a number of sources:

Mary Celeste Kearney, Ch5, "Developing the Girls'
Gaze: Female Youth and Film Production," in _Girls
Make Media_. 

Lisa Hopkins, Ch.7, "Privileging the Female Gaze," in
_Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood_

Lorraine Gamman (editor) _The Female Gaze: WOmen as
Viewers of Popular Culture_

Also, as you might already know: Mulvey wrote her
iconic essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" as
a final in an exam room as a grad student in '75 (with
no formal cited sources until it was published).
Learning this (in a stifling PHD seminar on Cinema
Studies) I promplty wrote an "Open letter to Laura
Mulvey" for my own exam. (I argued the possibility of
a post-feminist female gaze and thanked her for paving
the way as a young woman scholar a generation ahead of
me.) Well, I think it's important to think about the
female gaze as fundamentally tied up with
pedagogy/education politics in addition to film

All the best, Sarah

Sarah L. Rasmusson
Women's & Gender Studies Program
The College of New Jersey 
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 16:08:38 -0500
From: Jen Gieseking <jgieseking AT GMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
It's also worth taking apart the heteronormativity in the assumption of only
a female-male gaze.  There is much discussion of a female-female gaze and a
great place to start is Sally Munt's "The Lesbian Flaneur" in *Mapping
Desire* (1995).


Jen Gieseking
Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental Psychology
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
jgieseking  AT  gmail.com
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 13:08:18 -0800
From: Marilyn Edelstein <MEdelstein AT SCU.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
 There are a number of issues involved in analyzing the "female gaze"
 including 1) whether the "male gaze" posited by Mulvey was a
 heterosexual gaze and a white gaze, and whether most uses of the idea
 of "the male gaze (or the female gaze) are heteronormative and take
 whiteness as normative, 2) whether when (heterosexual) women look at
 other women (whose sexual identity may or may not be known or
 inferred), they are still looking at other women through the lens of
 the dominant "male gaze," 3) whether when straight men look at other
 men (whose sexual identity may or may not be known or inferred), they
 are looking through the "male gaze" and/or through a "gay male gaze,"
 which seems to be increasingly common in some mainstream advertising
 (e.g., the super-thin male model), 4) various permutations of the
 above questions, and 5) as the original post-er suggested, whether
 the gaze of a subordinated group (like women) can ever simply be the
 obverse of the gaze of a dominant group--!  so, e.g., is a
 "heterosexual female gaze at a man (whose sexual identity may or may
 not be known or inferred) in any way parallel to "the male gaze" in a
 patriarchal culture? Are all gazes shaped by desire and/or power
 relations? Marilyn

Marilyn Edelstein
Associate Professor of English
Santa Clara University
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara CA 95053
medelstein  AT  scu.edu
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 16:36:59 -0500
From: "McLaughlin, Larin" <larin.mclaughlin AT SUNYPRESS.EDU>
Subject: The Female Gaze?
We've just released a book engaging the female gaze: "Feminine Look:
Sexuation, Spectatorship, Subversion," by Jennifer Friedlander.  Details
can be found here:  http://www.sunypress.org/details.asp?id=61546

All best,

Larin McLaughlin
Acquisitions Editor
SUNY Press
194 Washington Ave. Suite 305
Albany, NY  12210-2365 
larin.mclaughlin  AT  sunypress.edu
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 13:55:36 -0800
From: Kristina McMullen <krk AT U.WASHINGTON.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
You should consider looking at Disability Studies, as scholars have written
about "the (male) gaze" and "the (able-bodied) stare."  Discussing "the
stare" highlights some of the complicated visual and cultural politics of
femininity, masculinity, and ability norms.

Disability studies scholars have also written about the issues that
accompany the feminizing aspects of disability, when thinking about
masculinity as being tightly wound around strength, intelligence, and
rationality--in some sense, "the pinnacle of able-bodiedness."

There are multiple disability studies scholars who write about "the stare."
I highly recommend works by feminist disability studies scholar, Rosemarie

One of her pieces:

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 2002.  "The Politics of Staring: Visual
Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography."  In S.L. Snyder, B.J.
Brueggemann, and R. Garland-Thomson, eds., __Disability Studies: Enabling
the Humanities__.  New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

Best Regards,

Kristina R. Knoll, Ph.D. Candidate
Dissertation:  "Locating Feminist Disability Studies"

Women Studies Department
University of Washington, Seattle
B110C Padelford
Box 354345
Seattle, WA 98195-4345
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 2008 19:21:58 -0600
From: Michael Murphy <mjmurphy AT WUSTL.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
Wow! You're all quick with the keyboard even though it's midterm! A few

-don't miss Kaja Silverman, "Fragments of a Fashionable Discourse," in
Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferriss, eds., On Fashion (New Brunswick, NJ:
Rutgers University Press, 1994), pp. 183-96. Wouldn't seem to be about the
gaze but it is.

-I've always felt Amelia Jones' work to be great.  See her recent book on
video art but also her Routledge anthology The Feminism and Visual Culture
Reader (now being reconfigured for a second edition, I believe), which has
a great selection of readings including some on the gaze. Nicholas Mirzoeff's
work also has sections on gaze theory.

-On queer looking, I've always liked this essay: Evans, Caroline and
Lorraine Gamman.  ~SThe Gaze Revisited, or Reviewing Queer Viewing,~T in A
Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture, Paul Burston and Colin
Richardson, eds., 13-56. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

Michael J. Murphy, PhD, Lecturer
Women and Gender Studies Program
Campus Box 1078/225G Busch Hall
Washington University in St. Louis
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
mjmurphy  AT  wustl.edu
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2008 05:52:32 -0800
From: Medha Nanivadekar <medhawmst AT YAHOO.COM>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
There is Eva-Maria Jacobsson's article 'A Female Gaze?' at
  Medha Nanivadekar
  Medha Nanivadekar Ph.D.
  Center for Women's Studies
  Shivaji University
  medhananivadekar  AT  yahoo.com
Date: Tue, 4 Mar 2008 07:51:44 -0600
From: Mary Celeste Kearney <mkearney AT MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
Though I'm not convinced that reversing the gaze within a heteronormative
framework (i.e., objectifying men) contributes to the deconstruction of the
sex/gender system, an interesting music video to consider is that for Salt
'n' Pepa's song "Shoop":  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKaVBVikysw.

I definitely recommend looking at the various texts on lesbian/queer
spectatorship other folks have mentioned.



Mary Celeste Kearney
Associate Professor
Department of Radio-Television-Film
The University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station A0800
Austin, TX  78712-0108
mkearney  AT  mail.utexas.edu
Date: Sat, 15 Mar 2008 14:51:40 -0400
From: keileraas AT WESLEYAN.EDU
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze
As others have mentioned, the female gaze is precisely what Mulvey
theorized as "impossible" within narrative cinema in her original essay.
Mary Ann Doane has considered the (im)possibilities of female
spectatorship, as well. More recent scholarship has considered the
possibility of constructing women's gazes or looks, and the complex
contexts in which negotiations with images take place; for example, see
beel hooks "The Oppositional Gaze" and Judith Halberstam's essay re
transgender gazes/ looks. Kaja Silverman's work has also addressed various
aspects of the female gaze, and a recent (last 3 years or so?) issue of
Signs had to do with efforts to re-think feminist film theory. Other
scholars in media studies have contributed to more nuanced understandings
of consumption--efforts to challenge the idea of the consumption of
images, for example, as an entirely passive activity. Unfortunately, at
the moment I cannot remember names from this latter group!
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 00:40:41 -0400
From: Barrie Karp <barriekarp AT earthlink.net>
Subject: Re: The Female Gaze?
For a female gaze I would look at all the films of Catherine Breillat.
Barrie Karp

Faculty Member, Lang College, since 1988
Faculty Member, New School, since 1982
Faculty Member, various NYC colleges & universities, since 1970
artist, independent scholar, educator

Barrie Karp, Ph.D.
barriekarp  AT  earthlink.net (preferred)
karpb  AT  newschool.edu
www.barriekarp.com (paintings -- updated 10/292007)
9 recent art works at my Saatchi Your Page site:
Click on each image to enlarge.  New images posted regularly.

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