Posts Tagged ‘MTV’

Justify My Love: Music Videos and the Construction of Sexuality


Advertisements and Music Videos: The Presence of the Male Gaze

December 13, 2011 3 comments

There is a line from a Duran Duran tour program that can best describe the idea of the gaze: “I am the eye, you are my victim.” For many years, the widespread theme has been that the male is the eye and the female is the victim.

Since the advent of the MTV film channel, male dominated music videos have essentially become the norm, thus being a staple in pop culture. A typical feature of the male gaze in music videos includes a pornographic quality, objectifying and degrading women while allowing a sexual gratification and stimulation – all of which have expanded in varying forms and evolved over the years in different styles and forms of music. (“Enculturation: Sheri Kathleen Cole.”) Though this trend is morphing as more and more feminists explore ideas and release information about the power of the female gaze, we will most likely continue to see this trend of the male gaze for years to come.

When a viewer fixates his or her attention on a particular object, they tend to see more than that specific object: there is a relationship, direct or indirect, between that said object and themselves. An image is formed and a viewer can look at the objects and how they are depicted. Additionally, they can be purchased and owned, to use for their own wants and needs. For a long time, the idea of the female form has been largely associated with some sex in some way. Women have long experienced discrimination and objectification and this system has unfortunately been widely accepted. Western culture and society is over-saturated with images in all forms of images and visuals that seek to give a sense of pleasure and contentment (“A Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose.”)

Advertisements and music videos are an integral component in terms of visual media, as it emphasizes male dominance and power on many occasions. Women are shown to willingly offer their femininity for their male spectators. The male-dominated gaze is also a major feature of many music videos as this paper discusses. Through music videos by in the early 80s to the present, it is evident that media is largely driven by the idea that males hold the power over females and it is their right to be able to gaze and consume females with their eyes.

As there is need to place women in different forms of media, there is a set standard for how they are treated off camera. Unfortunately, there tends to be a variety of derogatory terms for women with fewer responses available for men. The way gender is represented in the media is an important factor in helping one understand the differences between being male and female. Mass advertising has become a very powerful and effective tool in providing the impetus to alter ourselves and our habits into existing “perfectly” in society. For females, this includes having high levels of beauty, elegance and passivity, while, for males, it includes being tough, competitive and business-minded (“Male Gaze”). Nonetheless, these criterion may not be necessarily essential in garnering approval in today’s modern world, but they still might be present in some areas. Today, many women are shown to be independent, focused on their careers and many men feel they have the right to self-expression and self-indulgence. This new outlook might be present in today’s society but to what extent are television advertisements an accurate explanation of this new lifestyle? Nowadays, advertisements on television produce some inaccurate portrayals of men and women, revealed through two types of commercials: household and beauty.

The “male gaze” is the concept that women are portrayed in media in the way men see them. Since the medium is traditionally handled by men in terms of writing, production and marketing, the depiction of women is as how men want them to be: overtly sexy/sexual, submissive, fragile – only few exaggerated fragments of female characteristics that women actually possess. This idea comes mostly from feminist theory but has since been applied to many formats of media. The image of a nude female has traditionally been that of an inactive, reclining female or one that is pictured reveling in her sexuality as she sees her image in the mirror. This nurtures the spectator-owner’s sense of ego and possession. The spectator-owner’s gaze sees not merely the object of the gaze, but sees the relationship between the object and the self. They see her as a creature of their domain, under the gaze of possession. (“The ‘Male Gaze’”) Some feminists say that the male gaze is a true example of the level of power that men have in society. This level of power affects everything in the media, including how women are portrayed. Being that “sex sells” in today’s modern world, advertisements have shown attractive females, pressing the idea that if you acquire the product the company is promoting and/or selling, you will, in some way, get the girl. Females are not alone in that men are also presented in this manner, but in a far more infrequent and varying degree. For instance, in I, Robot (2004) the main character is played by Will Smith, a tall and handsome figure with scenes showing his physique. But this is presented in a manner that the main character is not something just to look at, but to focus on in his scene, his dialogue and his action.

Laura Mulvey, famed professor of film and media studies who also writes a seminal work in feminist film theory, released her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1975. This essay explores the idea of the gaze and details her research in how the gaze is specifically male. Mulvey’s perspective was that film (and, we can argue the whole of mass media even today) is produced from a perspective that is almost always male. Additionally, we as an audience of media consumers are trained to see ourselves and the world through this “male gaze”. By Mulvey’s calculation, women who are captured by the male gaze are valued primarily for their ability to be looked at, and to be pleasing to behold according to established modes of heterosexual attractiveness. Furthermore, Mulvey argued there are two ways in which the male gaze sees women: as madonnas or whores. You’ve probably heard this part before. The male gaze, basically, is the idea that nearly all media is produced using this standardized way of looking — even women look using the male gaze, because that is the default (“Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Breaking the Male Gaze: A Close Reading of “Alejandro”)

“The message though was always the same: buy the product, get the girl; or buy the product to get to be like the girl so you can get your man” in other words, “‘Buy’ the image, ‘get’ the woman” (Wykes, p. 41). In this way, the male gaze allows women to be an item that helps the products to get sold (the “sex sells” adage that comes up whenever we talk about modern marketing). Even advertising aimed at women isn’t exempt: many women are encouraged to critique themselves and their bodies as the photographer views the model, therefore buying the product in order to become more like the model advertising it.

In 1981, MTV was developed to deliver the audience to its advertisers and vice versa. Although it can be argued that music videos are essentially miniature commercials for bands and their music, in the hands of devoted fans, they are vivid glimpses into a world created for the fans and sanctioned by the band (“Looking and the Gaze”). Once the fan has enough interviews, videos, and articles, they can piece together an entire “world” wherein a woman becomes the woman in the leading role: the woman in the video.

The hip-hop genre is a mostly male-dominated section of popular music that emphasizes vanity, aggression and machismo. The lyrics of the artists are boundless, using metaphors to outshine others in a competitive battle to prove that one is better than the other.  Some current artists represent the revered masculine persona in the hip-hop community that embodies all that is masculine – from sex appeal to enormous wealth. There is a visual that is attached to the music supporting this idea, therefore giving listeners and viewers a clear picture of what a male is supposed to look like and what females are to be attracted to. Oftentimes, these projects are produced, directed and written by males and does much to add to the gratification of a male audience – beautiful women in scantily clad clothing, expensive and exotic cars and a lavish lifestyle. These women who are featured in these scenes are placed merely as a prop, mostly to be seen and never to have their feelings and point of view heard. The best example of this is the video for rapper Jay-Z’s 2000 summer hit “Big Pimpin'”. Though at the time of the release of the track and it’s accompanying video, he was seemingly reveling in the “pimp” culture while glorifying it. During an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2010, he revealed his now conflicting feelings about the song: “It was like, I can’t believe I said that. And kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing? Reading it is really harsh.”

As illustrated through numerous examples, the “male gaze” term has been applied outside of the framework that Mulvey initially documented. The creator and/or the audience does not necessarily have to be male, nor does the subject of the gaze have to be unhappy with the result. In the end, the simplest way to describe the male gaze is to return it to its roots of the female model/actress/character being looked at by the male viewer.


Maggie Wykes and Barrie Gunter (The Media and Body Image, 2005): “Ways of seeing women”, pp. 38-47.

“The ‘Male-Gaze’”. St. Lawrence University. St. Lawrence University, n.d. Web. 1 Dec 2011. <;.

Sullivan, Andrew. “Male Gaze” « Abagond.” Abagond. 28 Feb. 2008. Web. 2 Dec. 2011. <;.

Streeter, Thomas, Nicole Hintlian, and Samantha Chipetz. “A Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose.” The University of Vermont. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <;.

Kinzel, Lesley. “Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Breaking the Male Gaze: A Close Reading of “Alejandro” « Two Whole Cakes.” Two Whole Cakes. 9 July 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <;.

Lloyd, Rachel. “Jay Z’s ‘Big Pimpin” regret “provides” blue print for hip hop.” The Grio. MSNBC, 2010. Web. 13 Dec 2011. <;.

“Looking and the Gaze.” SUNY Oneonta | Home. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <;.

Cole, Sheri K. “Enculturation: Sheri Kathleen Cole.” 11: Master Hands, A Video Mashup Round Table | Enculturation. 1999. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <;.