Wednesday, December 5th, 2012...10:41 pm

Analysis Project 2 : The Lady Eve and The Female Gaze

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The Lady Eve and The Female Gaze

Link to mirror scene :

Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” on male gaze is a psychoanalysis of how film is fascinated with women’s figure and physical aspect. In the theory she explains that there are two main approaches. The first one is that women are depicted as objects to be used sexually and are put in an imaginary pedestal. The second approach is that women have no agency and that film never lets us relate to the female because the gaze is only seen through the males perspective. Mulvey sees this gaze mainly by how the camera looks at the characters but also states that there are other gazes. Like when we gaze as spectators or when camera gazes at the characters. She states that the gaze is power and that in films we see everything through the eyes of the male character. She also argues that women are seen as passive and men as the voyeurs. In The Lady Eve we see a different type of gaze, the female gaze, which I will explain further on. The Lady Eve, shows us gender politics and how typical gender stereotypes are changed.

Even though Mulveys theory of the male gaze has been asserted in most films, there is also the opposite happening in some films. There are several films that tend to have a different approach to the gaze, instead of having a defined male gaze there is a female gaze. For example   in The Lady Eve, a classic screwball comedy, written and directed by Preston Sturges is a perfect representation of the female gaze. In this film Jean (Barbara Stanwyck) a con artist who falls in love with Charles (Henry Fonda) a scientist who just came back from one of his adventures. They get married twice but the second time he thinks he is marrying another person, even though the film is very confusing at the same time it is hilarious and sometimes deceiving. The film represents gender politics in our culture and the new role of women in films and society.

Through the whole film we clearly know that Jean has control over him, she is the voyeur. Gender politics play a huge role in this film because it not only changes the usual role of female and male but it deceived the Hayes Production Code and the usual taboo topics.  One example of the female gaze is the scene where Jean is looking at Charles through her pocket mirror. There is a big contradictions with gender stereotypes, usually the man is the one that ‘picks’ out a women and stares very obviously. But in this scene Jean has control over Charles and she is the one that ‘picked’ the man.

Every woman surrounding Charles competes with each other to try to get his attention. They all smile and blush politely to get noticed. Everything is in deep focus; you can notice the women next to him how she smiles slightly at him without trying to be obvious. Jean voyeuristically narrates what Charles and the women that surround him with her pocket mirror, which she holds very highly and not discrete. Every “Jean” that passes does something to impress him, the first one moves her hips very abruptly, the next drops her handkerchief very obviously and comically, and the last one actually goes up to Charles. We can still feel that Jean is in control over the situation without him noticing it. It almost feels like we are watching a football game. The way jean narrates is very fast and it seems like the players are about to make a touchdown.  Also the camera is always very still just moving side to side but Charles is always in the center, like if he is an object. Additionally the scene was mostly a medium shot straight on which I think made us look at them very straight forward and detailed. Just like the male gaze puts females in a pedestal, the female gaze puts the male in a pedestal. This gives us the impression that Jean is in control of him manipulating him like   a puppet. She controls what Charles says, what the people surrounding him are saying to him and the actions he is taking before he actually does them.

Moreover when Jean speaks about the other women she says “every Jean in the room is giving her a thermometer” which she is implying that every woman is ‘her’ in the room.  Even though Jean knows who Charles is and his full name she calls him by “Bookworm” not by his real name which really shows power over that person, Jean is minimizing him. She is eyes dropping on him and because we can see through the mirror and everything is in deep focus we feel like we are eyes dropping also. Which in fact is one of the main theory’s in Laura Mulveys “male gaze”.  Jean narrates in voice over to his Dad all of this making fun of the other women and even of Charles. During the whole scene Jean speaks for Charles makes order for him and he follows, when she says to turn around, he does.

Female representation is very obvious in this film; it really changed the usual role of women. As the male gaze was very common in films, The Lady Eve shows a whole new vision in film making, the female gaze. Jean which is the representation of   females in the film is a con artist that manipulates and deceives the ‘strong’ man, Charles. The Lady Eve, with the example of the mirror scene I gave above really represents gender politics. The female in the film has control over every aspect of her life and other people’s life as well. This at the time was very controversial due to the chauvinistic society that women were living.  Jean challenges all of this and dominates the film, representing the female gaze.


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  • The major strength of your analysis here is the way that you link Mulvey’s theory to the specific formal details within the scene (e.g. the placement of Charles in the center of the frame, Jean’s voiceover putting her in control of the gaze). I’d never thought about her nickname “Bookworm” as a move to objectify Charles, but you are absolutely right!

    You used the phrase “eyes dropping” and I wondered at first if you meant “eavesdropping” or listening in. Even if you did, it’s a really productive mistake, I love the idea of “looking in” as a kind of visual parallel!
    Thanks for your great insights this semester.

  • Oh yes! This sort of thing really rings my bell. Each one of those pics has such an excitingly sexy story behind it.

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