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What is the “male gaze”?

The concept was first developed by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay entitled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. The “male gaze” is the way visual arts depict the world and women from a masculine (usually a white, heterosexual male) point of view.

The male gaze consists of three different gazes:

  1. that of the person behind the camera
  2. that of the characters within the representation or film itself
  3. that of the spectator

Think about a recent film you saw and ask yourself:

  • Was the film directed by a man?
  • Were the main characters of the film male?
  • Did the camera linger over parts of a woman’s body?
  • Did the male character(s) stare at a woman?
  • Did he/they comment on the woman’s body?
  • Did you get the sense that these shots (or this scene) was for the enjoyment of the male spectators or audience members?

If you answer “yes” to any of these, then the film possesses a “male gaze”.

“The male gaze occurs when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. It may linger over the curves of a woman’s body, for instance. The woman is usually displayed on two different levels: as an erotic object for both the characters within the film and for the spectator who is watching the film. The man emerges as the dominant power within the created film fantasy. The woman is passive to the active gaze from the man. This adds an element of patriarchal order, and it is often seen in… ‘narrative film’. Mulvey argues that, in mainstream cinema, the male gaze typically takes precedence over the female gaze, reflecting an underlying power asymmetry.”

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Can a woman possess the “male gaze”?

Some argue that a woman who enjoys the objectification of the “male gaze” or feels a sense of power when men look at her sexually, may not be “passive to the active male gaze”. However, even if she looks back at the gazer, she is reinforcing his active male gaze on her, which reinforces the patriarchy.

Remember Jennifer Aniston’s striptease in “We’re the Millers”?  That’s the “male gaze”.

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What about the “female gaze”?

If a woman is actively gazing at a man and objectifying him, does she instead have the “female gaze”? What if a woman is gazing at herself in a mirror or gazing at other women?

“Mulvey’s essay also states that the female gaze is the same as the male gaze. This means that women look at themselves [and other women] through the eyes of men. The male gaze may be seen by a feminist either as a manifestation of unequal power between gazer and gazed, or as a conscious or subconscious attempt to develop that inequality. From this perspective, a woman who welcomes an objectifying gaze may be simply conforming to norms established to benefit men, thereby reinforcing the power of the gaze to reduce a recipient to an object.”

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How does this apply to films about cannabis?

Because straight, white men dominate the media, their view on the world—and cannabis—is primarily what we see.

The majority of the films and TV shows about cannabis have a male director, male lead actors, and the majority of the speaking roles are male. Sometimes they have all three, which unequivocally means they are guilty of the “male gaze”.

Next,  when you consider the roles women have in these films, they are primarily supporting characters (the wives, girlfriends or love interests) to the male heroes, so the film has the “male gaze”.

Weeds is the most notable example of a leading female role in a cannabis film in recent history, and yet Nancy (played by Mary-Louise Parker) definitely uses her sex appeal to her advantage–and sometimes to her detriment. The show was created by Jenji Kohan (a woman, also known for “Orange is the New Black”) and had some female writers and directors, but is was still kind of “male-gaze-y” at times.

If you want to examine women’s roles in cannabis films a step further, ask yourself:

  1. Did two or more women have names and speak?
  2. Did they speak to each other?
  3. If they did, did they discuss something other than a man?

If you answer “no” to any of these, the film is also guilty of failing The Bechdel Test, another important part of feminist film criticism that shows female representation in the film. Once you start asking yourself these questions, it’s amazing how many films fail The Bechdel Test. Milla Jovovich’s character didn’t say a word in “Dazed and Confused”. None of the original “Star Wars” films pass The Bechdel Test. Fifty-percent of the 2016 Oscar Nominated Films failed The Bechdel Test,

Finally, consider how the film treats the Cannabis sativa plant. Is it oogled, devoured, or sexualized by the camera or male characters? If this wonderful plant is here to re-balance the divine masculine and divine feminine aspects of ourselves and our world, would She want to be objectified by the “male gaze” like this? We think not.

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“Mary Janes: The Women of Weed” showcases the female perspective on the cannabis industry.

“Mary Janes” is directed by a woman, features female subjects and the audience sees the cannabis world through their active points-of-view. While they may not always see eye to eye on issues within the cannabis industry, our film gives audiences a glimpse of what it really means to be “The Women of Weed”. There is no “male gaze” here.

Join the #Puffragette Movement. Tell us how you combat the “male gaze”. For some tips, check out Everyday Feminist.

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