In her pivotal 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” British scholar Laura Mulvey coined the term male gaze:
The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female form which is styled accordingly …Woman displayed as sexual object is the leit-motif of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to striptease, from Ziegfeld to Busby Berkeley, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire. Mainstream film neatly combined spectacle and narrative.
In the 40 years since, the male gaze has been hugely influential, sparking countless essays and debates about the power of perspective in cultural and feminist theory. More recently, discussions around the merits of the female gaze have arisen—especially with the rise of the beefcake male actor and the successful Magic Mike. But Steven Soderbergh’s bleak behind-the-scenes look at fictional male entertainers isn’t as concerned with titillating its female (and gay male) audience as you may recall. In the video above, we break down how the film pales in comparison with other examples in its depiction of the female gaze, and whether or not its sequel, Magic Mike XXL delivers on the hype.