In the book “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” there is a famous idea about how women are portrayed in film that is still being debated today.   The idea is that women are only in films for their “looked-at-ness” meaning that in film a woman’s role is just to be admired by the male lead and the audience.  This is what leads to the idea of the male gaze in cinema because as the male lead admires the woman in the film he is given a certain look by the cameras.  The director uses this look to make the audience experience how he is seeing the woman, making the audience see her through the male gaze as well.  Although the male gaze is more commonly used in film there still is another gaze.  This gaze is from the woman’s point of view as opposed to the man’s and it is called the “female gaze”.

The best example of the female gaze that I can think of happens in the Lady Eve with Barbara Stanwyck as Jean Harrington/Eve. This movie already tries to put more emphasis on the strength of women since Jean is obviously the stronger person in the relationship and also the one with the most control.  There is a scene where Jean is looking through her mirror at her would-be victim Charles narrating the attempts (and failures) of women trying to get his attention so he can “romance” them.  While doing this we get a glimpse of what she thinks Charles’ personality is like and we see that she thinks he is a little stuck up, but that is far from the truth and not the reason he won’t speak to these women.  What is blatantly obvious about this scene is that we are seeing Charles through Jean’s point of view.  The whole scene she is narrating while looking at her mirror it is like we are hearing what she thinks while she sees this man and never what Charles thinks.

Finally Charles gets up and is ready to leave and she continues narrating why she thinks he’s leaving as just as she passes by him she sticks out her leg and trips him and then she places all the blame on him.  This whole time the camera has been all about Jean; in the male gaze the camera first shows the character gazing looking at something, followed by it shifting to the point of view of the person gazing.   When the camera is set on her looking the background is blurred so that we only see her making her the subject another part of the gaze.   In the shot that shows what she’s looking at it is clear that she is looking into a mirror and we have a clear view of the reflection, everything is in full focus.

Jean shares all the characteristics of the male gaze in her “female gaze” although Charles is the male the story doesn’t seem to keep him as the main protagonist; at times it switches him out for Jean.  This has led me to the conclusion that the “female gaze” is nearly the same as the male gaze with one difference. The “female gaze” doesn’t make the man an object to be admired by the women in the audience it is more of an observation of his character.  The “female gaze” makes the audience look deeper into the inside of the man rather than the outside.  I also believe that the female gaze is not seen much because the character has to be a strong-willed or able to  take control of their situation. Since many films plot’s stories do not include a woman with these requirements we often do not get to
see the “female gaze”.

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One Response to “Film Analysis #2: The Lady Eve”

  1.   Amy Herzog Says:

    Thanks for taking on this scene. I would have liked a bit more structure in terms of your visual analysis (looking at specific shots in sequence). But you make a critical point here I haven’t seen in other analyses of this sequence– the end result is NOT equivalent to the male gaze as WE, the audience, don’t desire Pike, but we do learn about his character. That is a major distinction between the kind of identification Mulvey talks about. Nicely observed!

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