This video essay by Maia C does a great job of summarizing the various issues surrounding how “the female gaze” is defined. Her key question is: Does the female gaze exist? And the answer is… we don’t know.
Maia starts by defining the male gaze (with some reference to Laura Mulvey) and establishes it as the “baseline” of much modern cinema. That is, most films have a male perspective and sexualize women as objects. She then questions whether the female gaze is simply the opposite or if it’s more complicated than than.
Questions asked in this video include: Is the female gaze empathetic rather than objectifying? Is it simply a matter of objectifying men instead of women? Can women sexualize men in the same way given the patriarchy shapes how we all see, think and feel? How can a concept like “the female gaze” represent all women? Is the “feminine gaze” different to the “female gaze” and is it just a social media construct?
At one point the essay suggests that the female gaze isn’t even possible because patriarchy gets in the way. It includes the quote “Even pretending that you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy.” This is a rather challenging position, I gotta say.
Maia’s video includes snippets from a whole bunch of films and media that could be seen to embody the female gaze – Fleabag, Portrait of a Woman On Fire, Booksmart, The Edge of Seventeen, The Miseducation of Cameron Post and a bunch of others.
This is a well made video that’s worth watching if you want to get a handle on some of the concepts behind the female gaze.
Maia C has a whole bunch of videos discussing films from a feminist perspective on her channel.