Gender Roles: Sexual Objectification of Women

Gender Roles in Film:Sexual Objectification of Women

Laura Mulvey published an article that explores visual pleasure in film using a psychoanalytic background. The pleasure and unpleasure provided by conventional narrative film depicts a woman as passive raw material for the active stare of man (Mulvey, p.67). As a result, the woman is an image of castration that induces fetishistic or voyeuristic mechanisms to evade her threat. Narrative film portrays the woman in voyeuristic form by highlighting her to-be-looked-at-ness. Narrative film employs cinematic codes that create a world, a stare, and an object which generates an illusion of the measure of desire. Carol J. Clover explores the role of gender in the Slasher Film in which the killer’s “victim is a beautiful, sexually attractive woman” (Clover, p.192). The Slasher Film is an example of sexualization of both movie and action as the role of men and women is portrayed differently. Carol Clover’s case study does not suit the topic of sexual objectification of women in film but Laura Mulvey’s case study is very suitable.

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Analysis of the Two Case Studies

Laura Mulvey’s case study delves into the issue of the politics of identity by exploring how different genders are depicted in narrative film. The text employs a psychoanalytic background to explore this issue and demonstrates how fascination is reinforced by pre-existing patterns working in the individual subject and social formations that affect an individual. Narrative film reveals, reflects, and portrays the interpretation of sexual difference based on pre-existing social formations. These social formations shape how men and women are depicted in films, which primarily act as a reflection of society. Since the unconscious of patriarchal society has shaped the structure and form of film, eroticism plays a major role in how women are depicted. The patriarchal society has contributed to the use of images and erotic ways of looking and spectacle in film. Mulvey further contends that the patriarchal unconscious has had a two-fold impact on the function of the woman. First, the woman “symbolizes the castration threat by her real absence of a penis” (Mulvey, p.57). Secondly, she raises a child into the symbolic as she is viewed as a carrier of the bleeding wound. Therefore, narrative film reinforces the idea that a woman can only exist in light of castration and cannot surpass it.

Carol Clover’s case study explores the role of gender in the slasher film based on Hitchcock’s Psycho, which is the immediate ancestor of the film. The elements of the film are familiar as the killer is a psychotic product from a sick family who can still be recognized as a human. On the other hand, the victim of the psychotic killer is a beautiful, sexually attractive woman. While none of the features employed in the film is original, it depicts the sexualization of movie and action characterized by numerous imitations and variations. The idea of a psychotic killer is portrayed in other films like Texas Chain and Halloween. This implies that the idea of a killer targeting beautiful women is a reflection of the patriarchal unconscious that dominates society. Therefore, men are portrayed as superior in the slasher film, which reinforces the patriarchal unconscious in society. On the contrary, women are portrayed as sexual objects who are targeted by men for their self-gratification.

Mulvey suggests that narrative film provides a series of possible pleasures classified into scopophilia (which is pleasure obtained from looking at oneself) and reverse formation, which is pleasure in being looked at. Scopophilia represents pleasure in looking while its reverse formation represents fascination. While narrative film develops scopophilia in its narcissistic aspect, it satisfies an ancient wish for pleasurable looking or fascination. Therefore, Mulvey introduces the concept of male gaze, which projects its phantasy onto the female figure. This concept of male gaze promotes a sexualized way of looking that empowers men while objectifying women (Loreck par, 3). Based on this concept, a woman is visually depicted as an object of heterosexual male desire. As a result, the woman is framed/shaped by male desire as her thoughts, feelings, and her own sexual desires are considered less important. Therefore, Mulvey suggests that conventional Hollywood films primarily respond to an intrinsic desire known as scopophilia i.e. the sexual pleasure derived from looking. Narrative film displays a woman as a sexual object using erotic spectacle to satisfy heterosexual male desire. While the presence of a woman is a crucial element of narrative film, her visual presence tends to interfere with the development of a storyline as erotic contemplation is emphasized. This essentially means that narrative film employs visual media that seemingly sexualizes women for a male viewer. Consequently, most of the popular movies have story lines and incorporate elements that seek to satisfy masculine scopophilia. In these films, the male gaze adopts many forms through situations where the female characters are depicted based on what they represent to the male characters. Therefore, the most important thing is what the female characters represent or provoke in the hero who is mostly a male character (Loreck par, 10).

Clover demonstrates how slasher films are characterized by explicit violence that is usually directed toward women. Most of these violent scenes take place during or immediately after mild erotic scenes (Cowan & O’Brien, p.187). Clover notes that “actual rape is practically nonexistent in the slasher film” (p.195). However, the films portray the idea that violence and sex are alternatives rather than concomitants. In this regard, the slasher film portrays them as a substitute for and a prelude to each other. The slasher film portrays women in a stereotypical manner as there are few female killers whose reasons for murder significantly differ from men. Men killers in this film are motivated by sexual or erotic desires, which expands the idea of women objectification. In essence, male characters are depicted as aggressive and brave while women are sexually objectified. Clover further contends that sexual transgressors of both men and women in the slasher film are destined for early destruction. One of the imperatives in this film that transcends gender lines is killing those involved in unauthorized sex. While the numbers are not equal and the scenes unequally charged, men who engage in wrong sex in the slasher film also die.

Comparison of the Texts

Mulvey and Clover’s case study explores the politics of identity by examining how men and women are depicted in films. While the two authors use different kinds of films for their exploration, their texts have some similarities and differences in how men and women are portrayed. One of the similarities in these texts is the idea that films reflect the patriarchal unconscious that dominate society. In their exploration of the role of men and women in the society, Mulvey and Clover show how gender is viewed from the lenses of patriarchy. Despite the changes in the role of women in society, patriarchy still influences the understanding of the role of both genders. This is evident in Mulvey’s idea of the use of patriarchal unconscious to define the role of women. Patriarchal unconscious shapes how women view themselves and their function in society. This concept has in turn shaped the roles of male and female characters in narrative films. Clover portrays the idea of patriarchy by demonstrating how the slasher film is dominated by men killers in comparison to women. Slasher films with female killers are few and their reasons for killing differ from men’s. This suggests that the male killers is a more acceptable idea in the society in comparison to female killers because of patriarchy.

Secondly, the two texts highlight the theory of psychoanalytic feminism by demonstrating how psychic lives develop in men and women. Psychoanalytic feminism postulates that men have an intrinsic psychological need to subdue women. Based on this theory of oppression, men have an inherent compulsion to subjugate women as the minimal resistance from women is deeply rooted within the human psyche. Consequently, women oppression by men is integrated into society and helps to sustain patriarchy. Psychoanalytic feminists believe that the subjugation of women is deeply rooted within psychic structures and fortified by the ongoing reiteration and repetition of relational dynamics developed in infancy and childhood (Marian par, 1). Mulvey demonstrates psychoanalytic feminism through his concept of the male gaze. Male gaze promotes the oppression of women by sexually objectifying them. Even though filmmakers attempt to cover women’s sexualization by giving them strong motivations and complex backstories, male gaze remains common in narrative film. Using the concept of male gaze, Mulvey shows that men use their inherent desire and need for sex as a tool for women’s oppression. Clover shows psychoanalytic feminism in slasher films through men’s use of violence and sex. As depicted in the slasher film, men oppress women by using violence and sex. These films promote the widespread acceptability of male violence against women, which is a reflection of oppression.

Despite their similarities, the two texts also differ in their representation of the identity and function of men and women in society. Mulvey specifically focuses on how sex plays a major role in how women are viewed in society. Using the concept of male gaze, Mulvey shows that women’s identity is centered on what they represent to men. As a result, men control and sometimes use women to satisfy their inherent desires for sex. Men view women as objects of pleasure, which is demonstrated by the fetishistic representation of the female image in narrative film. Narrative film does not necessarily promote the sexualization of women but simply reflects how they are perceived in society. Sexual objectification of the woman, in turn, promotes true perversion, which is “concealed under a shallow mask of ideological correctness” (Mulvey, p.66). In this regard, the man is considered to be on the right side of the law while the woman is seen to be on the wrong side.

In contrast, Clover views the representation of the identity of both men and women in the context of violence and sex. While Clover agrees that the sexual objectification dominates the society, women’s oppression by men occurs in the context of violence. As noted by Clover, violence and sex are viewed as alternatives rather than concomitant in the slasher film. Clover’s text seemingly suggests that men’s identity and function is based on aggression and violence. Aggression becomes the premise with which men subjugate women and fulfill their intrinsic desire/need for dominance. For Clover, aggression and violence seem to be the major thing behind women’s oppression in society. This has contributed to widespread acceptance of male killers whose acts are usually directed at women. To perpetuate and justify aggression, the killer is portrayed as a psychotic product of a sick family. This portrayal seeks to excuse or justify the illegal actions of men against women and enhance oppression.

In conclusion, Mulvey and Clover explore different films in relation to the representation and classification of men and women. The two provide a relatively distinct assessment of the politics of identity in terms of how men and women are represented in film. Mulvey explores gender representation in narrative film whereas Clover examines the issue based on the slasher film. These case studies aptly show how films generally reflect issues in the society, particularly on gender roles. Mulvey emphasizes that women subjugation by men is based on visual pleasure through which women are sexually objectified. As a result, men view women as sexual objects and assert their dominance over them. On the other hand, Clover highlights the use of violence and sex as the premise for women’s oppression. Clover suggests that men are aggressive and brave as depicted in the slasher film. This analysis demonstrates that Mulvey’s text aptly shows the sexual objectification of women in comparison to Clover’s text.

Works Cited

Clover, Carol J. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” University of California Press, University of California Press, 10 Feb. 2017,

Cowan, Gloria, and Margaret O’brien. “Gender and Survival vs. Death in Slasher Films: A Content Analysis.” Sex Roles, vol. 23, no. 3-4, 1990, pp. 187–196., doi:10.1007/bf00289865.

Loreck Teaching Associate in the School of Media, Janice. “Explainer: What Does the ‘Male Gaze’ Mean, and What about a Female Gaze?” The Conversation, The Conversation Inc., 22 Apr. 2020,

Marian. “A Very Short Summary of Psychoanalytic Feminist Theory and Practice.” Oakton Community College, Oakton Community College, 15 Feb. 2012,

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Arizona State University, Arizona State University, Oct. 1975,



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