Paris: The concept of male gaze was developed in 1975 by the British researcher Laura Mulvey in an article published by the review of film theory Screen, in the context of the movement contesting academic knowledge led by the Marxist researchers of the Center for Contemporary Birmingham Cultural Studies since the 1960s.
Laura Mulvey articulated the contributions of Marxism and psychoanalysis to analyse the dominant Hollywood cinema as an ideological construction where the male gaze behind the camera would be relayed by the gaze of male characters in fiction, themselves vectors of identification for the gaze of male viewers in cinema hall.
The films in question offer stories in which a male subject exercises his gaze and his power over one or more passive female characters. These are reduced to the state of fragmented, eroticised and fetishised bodies.
Voyeurism, sadism, fetishism and scopophilia characterise for Laura Mulvey this cinema of which she analysed two variants in the films of Hitchcock and in the films of Sternberg.
This article and the many comments it has generated in English-speaking activist and academic circles mark the beginning of feminist studies on cinema.
These studies have known a considerable development since then across the Channel and across the Atlantic, while the French cinephile and academic circles offered fierce resistance to it which is explained among other things by the cult of the (male) "author" such as 'it has been instituted since the New Waveand still reigns at the University as well as in cultural institutions (French Cinematheque, Cannes Film Festival, etc.).
The criticisms levelled at the concept of male gaze (including by Mulvey herself) had several facets. On the one hand, the concept ignored real female viewers and their capacities for negotiation and poaching (in Certeau 's sense ) which consists of appropriating films by interpreting them from a different perspective than the dominant one. On the other hand, the concept lacked historicity , as if male dominance was a timeless given.
Moreover, he was unaware of the case of women's films , these feminine and/or maternal melodramas which explored the suffering of women under patriarchy, or soap operas , these television serials which were aimed primarily at a female audience. Subsequently, more in-depth analyses of the films of Hitchcock or Sternberg have brought to light the contradictions and flaws of the male gaze . Finally, more recently, the notion of intersectionality has shown the need to articulate questions of gender and sexuality with questions of class and race.
Long kept confidential in France, these debates around male gaze have become public thanks to the #MeToo movement which has highlighted the reality of male, white and heterosexual domination in the cinema world and in film and audiovisual representations.
This militant movement for gender equality in the professional world is accompanied by a proliferation of reflection through online journals (Gender in series), books (The female gaze) sites (Gender and the screen, Sorociné) and videos (cinema and politics.
The notion of male gaze refers in these texts to several levels of analysis: the narrative level, the aesthetic level and the question of casting. Based on three questions (Does the work include at least two named female characters? Who are talking together? About a subject unrelated to men?), the Bechdel test became popular to highlight the unequal treatment of male and female characters in the stories told.
The male gaze also goes through formal conventions (framing, lighting, cutting) that fetishise and eroticise female bodies. Finally, films directed by men most often offer a male cast of great diversity while reserving a congruent and discriminatory portion for actresses in terms of physical appearance and age. (The Conversation)