Josh Kortbein
Phil 4501
September 26

Mary Devereaux, "Oppressive Texts, Resisting Readers, and the Gendered Spectator: The New Aesthetics"

Discussion of feminism and its relationship to traditional aesthetics

No vision is a neutral vision. In fact, gender plays an important role in formulating the expectations we have for our representations of the world. The "male gaze" is a way of looking at the world from the perspective of the patriarchy, a social system marked by the supremacy of the father and the legal dependence of wives and children. Women depend on men for status, privilege, and identity. This oppression occurs on both the material and symbolic levels. Women are oppressed not only economically and politically, but in the forms of reasoning, signifying, and symbolical exchange of our culture. Art is such a form. It inscribes a masculinist discourse which we then learn to reproduce in our everyday lives. Art reflects the conditions of life, but also helps to establish and maintain them. In categorizing art with other forms of patriarchal oppression, feminism rejects the division of art and politics which is basic to Anglo-American aesthetics. But it presents other challenges as well: different and difficult jargon and methodology, overthrow of deeply entrenched assumptions about the universal value of art. Also charges that it is impossible to simply extend aesthetics by "adding on" feminism, as work by Goodman, Danto, and Dickie was added to the body of theory.

Male Gaze - how it works in film, a sample of feminist aesthetics

Three different "gazes" which function together.


Institutions of filmmaking remain largely populated by men - so the gaze is male-dominated. This control matters because it builds in a preference for certain kinds of films.

Characters within the film / the film text

Content/stories of traditional Hollywood films define value of women as their value to men. Hollywood film functions as a recuperative strategy designed to return wayward women to the fold.


Traditionally confined to point of view of the narrative hero (usually male). Spectator has no choice but to identify with the active, male protagonist. Women perform for the camera, and thus for the spectator.

Conditions for oppression

To be fully oppressive, male gaze needs

How the male gaze is oppressive

Male characters may be objectified or aestheticized, even portrayed in demeaning or "less than fully human" ways. But they are not debased in the larger sense of the word, because men do not lack power offscreen. Debasement requires "backup". Women's secondary positions occur offscreen as well as on, so they are debased.

effect on the spectator

Film presents its telling as absolute truth. The effect of film depends on narrative illusion: cannot call attention to itself as a story. Some allege that this encourages passivity of the viewer.

unconscious mechanisms involved

Voyeuristic pleasure

psychoanalytic approach

Rests on assumption that film reflects the psychical obsessions of the society which produces it.

Narrative cinema provides spectator with two sources of pleasure


Women represent castration threat, which is met by domestication, death, or fetishization.

what this means for aesthetics

Feminism has succeeded in placing gender on the agenda of things which are of relevance to aesthetics. It seeks to replace long-standing assumptions with new ways of thinking about art and our relationship to it.


Art has a potential for harm. Other than censorship, what other strategies to counteract/combat this harm are there?