This piece of writing aims to compare and contrast Mulvey and Coward's essays on 'Visual Please and 'The Look'. Both Coward and Mulvey look at how as a child, there comes a certain age when we finally acknowledge our own image "...recognition of himself is joyus..." (Mulvey, 1975). Mulvey goes on to explain that even though the child's recognition is joyus, it is overlaid with mis-recognition, this reflection the child sees mistakes it for more of an ideal ego, a superior projection of himself. This ideal ego can be linked towards the portrayal of a male movie star. Where women in movies are displayed as "...erotic object for the characters...and as erotic object for the spectator..." (Mulvey, 1975) the men, are seen as more perfect and more in control, a more powerful ideal ego.
When looking into contemporary media, the camera is a reoccurring object that can be used "...as an extension of the male gaze at women on the streets." (Coward, 2000) Women are constantly scrutinised through the way other women are portrayed in advertisements, film, photography and television. Through these mediums it gives birth to the 'ideal' woman which men can then judge and come to conclusions based off these visual interpretations; however because of this judgement it makes women feel vulnerable and powerless to look back at men in the same way. "Advertising in this society builds precisely on the creation of an anxiety to the effect that, unless we measure up, we will not be loved." (Coward, 2000). Women feel the need to better themselves, to reach this standard that has been set by the 'ideal' woman where in actual fact, this is a false representation of the real woman. Mulvey (1975) argues however, that within psychoanalytic terms it is the man that can hold the anxiety "...her lack of a penis, implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure." This links back to the castration complex brought up by Freud, where there is the fear of loosing his penis. To avoid this the male unconscious has to come up with a way of escaping, one of which is to objectify the woman, to make her physically beautiful, something that will satisfy.
The woman is never in control, especially when voyeurism comes into play, looking rather than being close to something, similar to a Peeping Tom. "And Peeping Toms can always stay in control...distanced he may be, but secure he remains." (Coward, 2000). This looking at a distance is mens way of defending their judgement of women, their scrutiny.
The problem is that the male gaze is not something that will disappear anytime soon. It is a way to advertise and sell, however this male gaze has developed to become somewhat of an anxiety within women. Because of this anxiety women feel the need to perfect every part of their body "...preparing the face to meet the faces that we meet." (Coward, 2000) and that in itself boosts sales of certain products. People have expanded on what once was 'sex sells' to manipulating the scrutiny of women.
Coward, R., 'The Look', in Thomas, J. (ed.) (2000), Reading Images, Basingstoke: Palgrave pg 33-39
Mulvey, L. (1975), 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', in Badmington, N. and Thomas, J. (eds.) (2008) The Routledge Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, London and New York Routledge, pg 202-212