The Male Gaze in Comics

Before I begin, it is necessary that I state what the “male gaze” means. The “male gaze,” a term mostly used in regards to film refers to the presupposition on the part of the filmmakers, that the audience will be comprised solely of male viewers. Moreover, this presupposition renders many women as sexual objects, positioned directly towards the gaze. This is seen during close-ups on the various curvatures of the female body, and the emphasis on female secondary sexual characteristics. In addition, the gaze causes females to be other to men. All in all, heterosexual men, make many of the depictions of women in film, and as a result we see women through the “male gaze.” Moving on to comics, it is clear that many of the female characters are drawn with an emphasis on their bodily aspects, which are meant to be gazed at within the diegetic space, as well as the non-diegetic space.

Depicted above, is one of the many representations of Catwoman. In most of the illustrations I have seen there is a marked emphasis on her highly sexualized body. Even though she jumps from high buildings, it is necessary that she wears heels, and at times an unzipped costume. Moreover, she is pretty much the poster girl for the “femme fatale” trope, in that she often times uses her finely tuned seduction skills to distract men for her gain. While this may be an attempt at creating a strong, independent female character, Catwoman ultimately falls into the same bad-girl stock character hole. In a border sense, this goes back to Simone de Beauvoir’s idea that men are capable of transcendence, while women can barely escape their immanence. To expand, this means that while men are capable of trascending their physical bodies and material conditions, women will more likely than not, be rooted both in body and situation. It is also important to note that many feminist scholars state that even when women assume the role of the gazer, they will inevitably assume the same role as their male counterparts (I don’t necessary buy this part), and will ultimately look for the same characteristics.

All of this being said, I DO NOT believe that the depiction of sexuality in media is a bad thing, in fact I think it is a good thing and I hope it never stops. My point is that there is an asymmetry in the gendered depictions of sexuality in most mediums that needs to be problemitized. Moreover, I think it is important that every viewer understands the gendered nature of the physical depiction of characters in comics, which can only assist to differentiate reality from fiction.

What does everyone think?

Am I nit picking?

Is this a stretch?

Does it sound plausible?

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6 Responses to The Male Gaze in Comics

  1. jamesohoulihan says:

    I dont think the highly sexualized images of females in comics is only a result of the ‘male gaze’. While comics are more dominated with male readers and writers it is easy to make the assumption that females are drawn with the male desire in mind. However if you look to other mediums, is this the case? Look at any magazine cover targeted towards women and typically it is hyper-sexualized conforming to the this “male” gaze. It goes deeper then just this as well. Barbie is another example where its target audience is females and the image is still big breasted with long legs. Therefore Im not so sure this image of women is the male gaze as women support it as well. Rather I think it is just the societal image of beauty that both women conform too. SO i guess its a question of the chicken or the egg… Did mens attraction to big breasts and small wastes come first or did women create the image to attract men

    Devon Kiddell

    • hgillespie says:

      What you’re talking about here IS an effect of the male gaze that is seen in media, whether targeted at men or women. Barbie is highly sexual, as are covers of women’s magazines, because women are highly conditioned by the media to believe that if they’re not sexy, they’re worthless. In many cases, women buy these sexualized magazines or products because they are attempting to fit themselves into these ideals that society has imposed on them: i.e., if I buy this magazine with a sexy woman on it, maybe I will read something that will help me to look like her!

      The male gaze is extremely prominent in comic books, in my opinion. I wrote a blog about a comment that a writer for Marvel made. She said that there are no female superheroes because female superheroes don’t sell; the comic book market is still dominated by males, both writers and readers. The trend in comic books has been, and still is, that female characters are very sexualized and exist primarily as pawns for the lead characters to interact with.

      • jaselby says:

        That’s not entirely true. I don’t read many comic books, but my friends that do are big fans of Batwoman (who’s actually a lesbian), Hawkgirl, and some individual Catwoman titles. These female characters all manage to carry their own titles, and of course they’ll be back up characters if you read comics where they’re, well, back up characters.

        Also, overly busty or not, many of these women also have athletic builds, because they’re, you know, in shape. An overweight Catwoman would have trouble leaping roof to roof, after all. And, these are still predominantly male readerships, and the comic book companies will do anything to sell comics. They’ll obviously portray attractive females. And, for that matter, who says they’re portraying realistic looking men? Every “super” character in superhero comics looks, well, super and a media ideal.

        Superhero titles aren’t exactly known for their quality or depth. You’re looking at a very small niche. You don’t go to an exploitation movie and then complain when it has sex and violence. There’s a plethora of better comic books that portray women more realistically. Try Love & Rockets or Ghost World, because yeah, I think you’re nit picking (but hey, that’s what a BA is all about).

        James Selby

  2. scottdouglas says:

    The concept of the male gaze is an interesting conundrum because it assumes the objectivity of women; however, such roles can be reversed because gender is a social construct. Biologically and physically there are obvious differences in sex, but associations of gender are enculturated. In relation to horror films, this marks an excellent opportunity to consider Carolyn J. Clover’s coined term the ‘Final Girl’. This role is typically played by a witty virgin girl who is able to eventually overcome her fear through a series of confrontations. Understanding the worsening conditions she transcends her frail femininity with a masculine role. As the term implies, the ‘final girl’ is the last one standing in a typical slasher. We are forced to make a feminine distinction, but our gaze adapts when she is able to penetrate the ‘monster’ with a phallic tool. This model can be seen in the highly recognized films: “Psycho” (1960), “Halloween” (1978), and “Scream” (1996).
    Great post – I am curious of other ways the effects of the ‘male gaze’ and feminism have altered our cultural perceptions.


  3. AshShan says:

    Although I do believe that a lot of comics are created for a male audience, and therefore try to be pleasing from male perspective, I don’t agree that the ‘male-gaze’ is one-dimensional. Like jamesohoulihan pointed out in an earlier comment, often media intended for female audiences (such as magazines and music) show very similar characteristics in terms of hyper-sexualizing images of women. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but often societal preference help to shape individual opinions. If exemplified female figures are preferential, they will likely make their way into all forms of media, including comics.

    Could you reverse this idea and say that male bodies in superhero comics are overly muscled and masculine because of a ‘female-gaze’? Probably not because female readers are the minority, however this does not negate the fact that men too, are often represented in hyper-sexualized ways. Once again, this can likely be attributed to societal opinions of beauty for men as well as women. Overall, I think that the portrayal of sexual characteristic in comic books is due to a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to: the audience the work is intended for, the current opinions of beauty held by the creators as well as society as a whole, and the personality of the character being drawn.

  4. jes annan says:

    As I mentioned earlier, the “male gaze” can be assumed by females as well.
    All in all, it is the embodiment of male heterosexual desire regardless of gender.

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