Women Warriors and the (Unfortunate) Male Gaze

The male gaze has once again made its presence known in Hollywood, though is anyone really surprised? For all the films boasting strong female leads, there are a slew of others presenting women as sexualized objects meant to be rescued and bedded, or as barely clothed warriors whose armor does little to actually protect their bodies in battle. This time, the controversy has touched the highly anticipated 2017 film, The Justice League, a follow-up to Patty Jenkins masterful 2017 film Wonder Woman. Fans of Zack Snyder’s take on the superhero team noticed the highly revealing costumes of the Amazon warriors, a sudden departure from the more practical costumes the women wore in Wonder Woman. 

WONDER WOMAN
The costumes from “Wonder Woman” were designed by Lindy Hemming.
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Costumes from “Justice League” were designed by Michael Wilkinson.

For those of you familiar with my site, we have discussed the male gaze before, and the influence it has on the presentations of female characters in movies, television shows, comic books, and video games.

“The male gaze” was a term first coined by feminist film critic, Laura Mulvey, in 1975, and describes a masculine point of view across movies and literature in which women are presented as the objects of male pleasure. Mulvey states that the female characters in question have no direct influence on the plot, and merely serve as a support or a sexual object for the male.

Of course, the Amazon warriors from Justice League are strong and capable, but their revealing costumes reinforces the tired trope that women warriors need to be sexualized in order to be found interesting and hold the attention of the male audience. Zack Snyder and Michael Wilkinson have taken the inspirational, strong, and graceful women and relegated them to roles of sexed up eye candy, undercutting the respect Patty Jenkins and Lindy Hemmings paid to the warriors in Wonder Woman. 

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Do male warriors wear revealing armor that exposes their vital organs? Not often, and when they do, it’s seen as laughable and outrageous. As a male viewer, I think it’s time for film-makers to understand that women are just as heroic as men, and don’t need revealing costumes to keep our attention. Men can no longer just dismiss this as a female issue that only women can discuss. After all, it’s men who keep pushing these tired, sexualized roles onto women, turning them from powerful leaders into nothing more than simple eye candy.

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