20 April 2010

Amy Pond and the Male Gaze

There seems to be some misunderstanding about the male gaze and why Amy Pond's objectification is a problem. This comment showed up in my follow-up Amy Pond post anonymously:
I understand where you are coming from. However, I did notice that you didn't seem to have a problem with Amy Pond staring lustily at the Doctor while he undressed to put on his new clothes in "The Eleventh Hour". To be fair, in this day and age, women are not the only ones who are being objectified. It is quite prevalent in the opposite direction as well.
As Adrienne pointed out in a response to Tex's mansplanation about how objectification isn't that bad on my original Amy Pond post, male objectification IS becoming a problem. Increased rates of male anorexia, anxiety disorders, rape of men, etc. are all signs that this is increasingly affecting men negatively the way that objectification of women has negatively affected women for...well, for forever. And that is not a good thing. I am unequivocally against male objectification. But it is not as ubiquitous as female objectification, which is why I didn't mention it in my interview. In the scene you mentioned, we significantly don't see the Doctor's body. Because the camera is operating as the MALE GAZE. Instead, we see Amy, because that's who we're supposed to find attractive, and her obviously healthy libido in this scene is supposed to be desirable to the audience (because male heterosexual desire is figured in most film and television as a universal), as well as humorous. The shot isn't set up to objectify the Doctor's body (although it opens space for that), but to show us Amy's reaction, to articulate HER desires in the context of the audience's desire for her. Which isn't to say that the scene isn't entirely unproblematic in relation to the Doctor, but it's not the same as Amy Pond running around in a tight ass miniskirt (that she has to pull down like 10 times during the episode!) for an hour, and it doesn't mimic the way that the camera focuses on Amy's legs for good chunks of episode. They are not equal, though your point is well taken.

If you're interested in what exactly objectification is or why it's a problem, there's a good post about fantasies and female objectification over at Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog. And Dinosaur Comics has an entertaining and informative introduction to the male gaze:

UPDATE: In the interest of stealing Adrienne's patient 101-ing, from her comment to mansplaining Tex in this comment thread:
"'male gaze' is not objectification"

You do realize that male gaze isn't just a term that means the gaze that a male has, right? Male gaze is a very specific and theoretical concept popularized by Laura Mulvey in her article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and while objectification and male gaze can't be used interchangably... the male gaze is a fetishistic and voyeuristic thing. Very negative. Was then. Is now. While the debate after this article has primarily been about how much the male gaze dominates visual culture and how things can get more complicated than just the male gaze... theorists working with gender studies don't really disagree that the male gaze as defined is bad. Bad. And really really part and parcel of a lot of gender problems. Very linked to objectification.


morecoffee said...

*smacks hand to forehead* How is that not obvious? I get that if you've been oblivious to the male gaze for your entire life it may be hard to identify it the first few times, but come on, that scene was an easy one. Here's a test for anyone still having trouble with this idea: instead of pretending you are watching the scene directly, pretend you are seeing it through a woman's eyes. Is it clear that this woman must be a lesbian with some appropriation issues? Then yeah, it's a male gaze.