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The Female Gaze Analysis #2

December 8th, 2011 · 4 Comments · FOR MEDST 144

The Female Gaze ( the mirror scene)

As Daniel Chandler’s notes on “The Male Gaze” proposed by Laura Mulvey, “Traditional films present men as active, controlling subjects and treat women as passive objects of desire for men in both the story and in the audience, and do not allow women to be desiring sexual subjects in their own right.” Images of women in the classic Hollywood cinema look like the latest collections which were displayed in the incredible windows of Barneys New York, to be watched and criticized. This time, women, who are normally regarded as frequent shoppers, are replaced by men to enjoy window-shopping. However, all of these thoughts seem to be challenged by Preston Sturges’s “The Lady Eve”. In the whole movie, we’ve seen that unsophisticated Charles (Henry Fonda) is played by smart con-artist Jean (Barbara Stanwyck), which shows us that female are not only meant to be looked at. But, it looks like we all get fooled by the director. The Mirror scene in the movie (1:44 min) shows us that the movie not only has been told by a strong female perspective but it also depicts the movie in the male gaze.

1. What’s the characters looking?

To begin with, the whole story lets me conclude that the director wants to convey an idea that women act and men appear. Contrary to Mulvey’s theory, the main female and male characters change their positions in this movie. The former becomes dominant; the latter turns into passive. For instance, when Charles first climbs the rope ladder in order to get aboard, we can see that Jean is located far above him, looking down at him in a high angle. Throughout the history, authorities always sit higher the others. This common fact already becomes evident when Jean and Charles first meet each other. She is the bearer in this whole story. Then, a fantastic action appears.  Jean pretends to accidentally drop the apple she is eating. This small move already makes him dizzy, which is another absolutely great hint. Charlie is the image on the screen; Jean is the viewer who eats popcorn. The topic in this paragraph will be further demonstrated by the scene after the one above.

The following mirror scene is the typical one which shows the existence of the female gaze in this movie. It is more obvious for us to place Jean as a watcher and Charles as the observed. Firstly, there is a real screen, the mirror held by Jean, physically between her and them. Note that the mirror is held by Jean. What she sees through the mirror is controlled by her. Inside the screen, Sturges uses deep focus to shoot what she sees in order to show that all the elements here are important to this plot. Charles sits in the center of the image, reading; all the female supporting guests sit around him. What a special occasion for socializing! Except through forming the setting, filmmakers also use a waltz-like non-diegetic music to heightened the atmosphere, for waltz is a kind of folk dance which represents socialization. Meanwhile, it’s universally acknowledged that ladies from that period try to capture men’s attention, especially those rich handsome singles that just enter their lives. All the elements above prepare conditions for the final and the most interesting part. Jean broadcasts the whole process as a host in a professional tone. She sometimes sneers at Charles; sometimes criticizes those ladies; sometimes she posts her own opinion…Sturges establishes her as an active observer. Through the perfect use of mirror, music and narrative style can we conclude that this movie is shot in a woman’s perspective. However, we still miss something important.

(Click here to find out the similarity of the background music and waltz ( from 4:11))

2. How the camera frames the different characters?

The way how camera frames Jean shows us that Mulvey’s theory makes sense here either. The first thing appears to us is our observer, Jean, not Charles.  In addition, talking a look of the position of Jean and her tiny mirror, we can see that she occupies much more proportion of the image than her tools. It signifies that she herself is the key factor here, compared with what she sees. In this way, camera framing let viewers pay attention to Jean’s performance. What’s more, in the process of broadcasting, she has shown up many times. We can see how she expresses her internal feeling by the explanation in her eyes. Let’s take a male gaze as an opposite example, in “Rear Window”, when Jeffries (James Stewart) lifts his SLR camera to watch his neighbors, his camera has more areas in the image than him. In addition, Hitchcock even use long shot to show what he sees. He just appears twice, the beginning and the end. It is a sign that points out that his views are important. Viewers should follow the contents reflected by the lens of his camera closely. Under this situation, Jean is regarded as “Figures as spectacle within this fantasy”. Women performances here will be discussed.

Those spider ladies sit around Charles are more obvious to be called “to-be-look-at-ness”. In the mirror, Charles just sits there. However, there are a large number of women walking pass him who want to draw his attention. They are not only observed by Charles but also watched by Jean and viewers. Sturges uses long shot to shoot those ladies, just like the way Hitchcock shoots Jeff’s neighbors. Although what Jean follows is Charles, for viewers, these spider ladies are “Erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium”. “The Male Gaze” theory totally works here.

3. How the spectator looks this character?

In ” A Short History of Film” , Dixon and Foster mention in “Women’s Picture in the 1930’s and 1940’s”, “A popular theme in the genre was the changing role of women, involving the proprieties of sexuality, women in the work place, and the choice between love, career, and home.” Women’s images have been more and more popular from that time. From male viewers, like Simone de Beauvoir mentions, “For him she is sex—absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute—she is the Other.”  Women characters become popular because they symbolized femininity. However, in that period, the number of women audiences has increased. People have different ideas on the proportion of ideal audiences. These women audiences have jobs, families, and education. They want get inspired by women  idols is the reason why movies about women becomes more and more popular since 1930’.

There are two types of woman in this scene. One wants to control a man and find love belonging to her; the other intends to please a man. Therefore, from my point of view, in the mirror scene, a woman act; women appear. What Jean shows us is that she is an active observer, she perceive Charles through watching those women. She is the controller of the look. Men still can been the erotic objects for women also. However, what the other ladies show gives me a feeling that they are the women being analyzed in Mulvey’s theory. Charles becomes a hero from this side. He is the reason why these women can’t firmly sit down. They are forced to walk pass him to let him observe. Here, women are regarded as erotic objects.

“The Lady Eve” is so special that shows the females gaze and the make faze simultaneously. Although Mulvey’s theory is suitable for almost all the Hollywood traditional films, “The Lady Eve” proves that female perspective is a strong power as well as male standpoint. Jean’s performance makes me believe that women can be the heroines who make plots happen; the others firmly convince me that, frankly, women’s pictures are actually designed to flatter those ideal audiences, which are male.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Amy Herzog

    Yini, Yini, Yini, I am so impressed by this!!!!!!!! Yes, there are some language/grammar issues to iron out. But you put together one of the most sophisticated and nuanced readings of this scene I’ve read! You, first of all, actually based your use of the theory of the male gaze on Mulvey’s argument and some secondary literature. You also drew on other readings, in a meaningful way. You analyzed the surface-level of the scene (Stanwyck as in control of the gaze), but then pushed even further to look at the hidden ways in which more limiting, objectifying, conservative perspectives still prevail. The visual comparison between Rear Window and Lady Eve is inspired. A very nice high point to end the semester!!

  • carolynlumley

    Good analysis! I like that you chose the female gaze (like Konrad haha) but you took a different approach to it. You wrote it personally and you used a lot of details, which made a good combination. I know that English isn’t your first language but I really understand what you’re trying to say and I totally agree with you, and I love that you made the females “powerful”. I hate when women are seen as “weak” so thank you for writing this hah.

  • jemal

    Well after reading your post again, your conclusion fit really well with what you were saying, i mean the only thing i was confused about was the conclusion and you nailed it, Great job

  • jemal

    I think the use of pictures really help illustrate your point. I think, from what ive seen, in the group you are the only or maybe the first person to use pictures. great stuff

    Also the way you used the textbook for this class, as well as the arguement by by Laura Mulvey is a great way to start it off.

    Im a little confused by your conclusion, because while your ending on analysis, it is almost as if your ready to start another.

    But overall this is agreat analysis. Great job writing this and i could not agree more with what you said.

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