The theory of the Male gaze was posed by filmmaker Laura Mulvey in 1977 in her essay Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema which claims that movies, as written, directed and produced in an industry dominated by cis-gendered, heterosexual white men turn women into objecst to cater to the male fantasy and male satisfaction. The VVitch was written and directed by Robert Egger who is a cis-gendered, heterosexual white man, who plays with the concept of “the male gaze” to twist and tell the story about a young girl in colonial America. The male gaze is often used to sexualize and objectify women, but Egger uses it frighten and terrify.
The male gaze creates power imbalances and the use of the male gaze in this movie is being used to demonstrate Thomasin’s lack of power and agency in her life. Thomasin cannot escape and, she cannot avoid being objectified. She lives in a puritanical society that will not only objectifies her, but will blame, and punish her for just being a woman.
Close-ups to Dehumanize
These shots are framed to dehumanize and objectify Thomasin by not showing her eyes and not allowing the audience to connect with her on-screen. In the same way, the audience is encouraged to empathize with Caleb’s odd sexualization of his sister, both the audience and Caleb are aware that he should not be looking at his sister in this way . Although this may be intended to create distress in the audience in order to amplify the uneasiness, this follows a traditional male gaze format. Similar formats can be seen in blatant examples such as Michael Bay’s Transformers. Parts of the female body are shown in order to commoditfy and sexualize women to appeal to the male fantasy. Although the context is different, the intention for the director to promote the audience to empathize with the male character and objectify/ dehumanize the female character remains the same. These scenes highlight that.
This same technique can be used to create an opposite reaction as well.
As dark and indistinguishable as this shot is, it is not without intention. They are using the same technique to dehumanize the subject. However, instead of focusing on younger, conventionally attractive women, in this shot, Eggers is showing us a bloody elderly woman’s body in grotesque positions and engaging in taboo and satanic rituals. They are using the same technique used to dehumanize Thomasin, to dehumanize the witch as well, but instead of being meant to arouse and excite the viewer, this is meant to disgust and frighten. Both Thomasin and the witch are both being visually segmented in the same way to elicit two very different reactions.
The Male Gaze and Emphasized Femininity
A big part of the Male Gaze is the use of emphasized femininity as a tool for making women an object of desire.
The witch disguises herself as a young, beautiful women to take advantage of a repressed boy’s sexual fantasies in order to lure him to her willingly. This is reminiscent of the Femme Fatale trope, where she lures the man in using her soft, attractive, feminine image to lull them into a false sense of security and then turns on him taking advantage of his biases. Eggers make the viewer engage in the male gaze, so that he can twist the image into something that is scary, and horrifying, to make the viewer question their biases. The frightening part of this is to be the fact that she knows that pretending to be a young, beautiful will get her want she wants. If she was not a traditionally attractive woman, wearing a revealing corset it would have been easy for Caleb to run away. She puts on a facade of emphasized femininity which appeals to male sexual fantasies because she knows that is how men want to see women, and she takes advantage it. The only give away is her hands, which are the focus of the scene before cutting to black.
Emphasized femininity comes also in the form of the last few shots of the movie where Thomasin has made her bargain with the devil and is being led to the ritual. She walks there, completely naked after being covered for the entire movie. The way these shots are lit, they draw attention to her feminine form and her butt, further sexualizing Thomasin, because we do not see her face until she makes it to the ritual grounds.
Although Egger uses these obvious techniques of objectification, it is to a means. The irony is that even though Thomasin and the Witches are dehumanized, that dehumanization is what drags the atmosphere of the movie into the world of the uncanny. The audience would feel uncomfortable looking at Thomasin the way Caleb gazes upon her as they’re siblings. The sexualization of Thomasin is related directly to her association with the occult and her liberation from puritan society. The discomfort that the audience feels from the depictions of older naked women is exactly what Eggers wants. The audience is tended and encouraged to side with William and Caleb. But they lose and the audience loses. They lose everything to the people that Egger made them fear, the objectified, dehumanized, sexualized women.
Jones, N. M. (2019, February 20). Inside the Fight to Dismantle the (White) Gods of Hollywood. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/the-wrong-kind-of-women-male-gaze-excerpt
Kelly, C. R. (2012). Feminine Purity and Masculine Revenge-Seeking InTaken(2008). Feminist Media Studies, 14(3), 403-418. doi:10.1080/14680777.2012.740062
Mulvey, L. (1999). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema.