Keira Knightly has recently spoken up against filming sex scenes directed by a man, and how she refuses to cater to the male gaze. The term ‘male gaze’ was coined by scholar and filmmaker, Laura Mulvey, who wrote an essay highlighting that in cinema, women’s human form is an object of desire and used as a sexual stimulus. In this sense, men have an active role in viewing and women have a passive one, in being the object.
As a society, we need to stop trying to save the male ego, and start trying to uplift and empower women
This concept shows how the objectification of women in media has been internalised by many of us, that it is seen as the norm and is barely challenged. Knightly’s recent interview shows how female actors are constantly facing this battle in the film industry, and her decision to no longer act in sex scenes directed by men isn’t only personal, but could hopefully set a precedent for future films. When it comes down to portraying the female experience in film, it needs to be written, directed and created by women, so that the portrayal is authentic. As a society, we need to stop trying to save the male ego, and start trying to uplift and empower women.
Knightly also mentioned that in film, ‘women are meant to play the flirt or the mother in order to get their voice heard. I can’t. It makes me feel sick.’ Her words highlight how women are restricted in being able to get their voice across in the media, and cannot authentically play characters that reflect real-life struggles and experiences that women face. With the film industry still being dominated by men, in fact, in 2019, women only made up 10.7% of directors in the top 100 grossing films, it feels unlikely that this will change anytime soon.
Women have been portrayed in film as one-dimensional characters that are there to serve the men in their lives
The male gaze, and the male ego are all about portraying women to fulfil men’s desires; you have to be sexy, but not too sexy, you have to be nice and supportive and not bossy. For decades, women have been portrayed in film as one-dimensional characters that are there to serve the men in their lives. Take the James Bond films, for example, whilst they are one of the most iconic film series in British pop culture, the women in the films serve primarily as objects of sexual desire for James Bond to fulfil his sexual fantasies with. These female characters hardly have individual personalities or plotlines of their own.
With equality measures being introduced, and more awareness being spread about sexism within the film industry, hopefully there will be change coming soon to bring about proper representation for women that deconstructs the male gaze. Though there is still a long way to go, celebrities like Knightly who speak out about these issues will help to bring about more equality in the industry, and hopefully in the future there will be more female directors and film creators. It’s also important that sex scenes are portrayed more realistically, and that different body types, races and imperfections are still presented as being attractive without fetishizing anyone’s sexuality, body type or race for the sake of the male ego.
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