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In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world in the visual arts and in literature from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In the visual and aesthetic presentations of narrative cinema, the male gaze has three perspectives: that of the man behind the camera, that of the male characters within the film's cinematic representations; and that of the spectator gazing at the image.
The concept of the gaze (le regard) was first used by the English art critic John Berger in Ways of Seeing (1972), which presents analyses of the representation of women — as passive objects to be seen — in advertising and as nude subjects in European art. The feminist intellectual Laura Mulvey applied the concepts of the gaze to critique traditional representations of women in cinema, from which work emerged the concept and the term of the male gaze.
The beauty standards perpetuated by the gaze have historically sexualized and fetishized the black female nude due to an attraction to their characteristics but at the same time punished black women and pushed their bodies outside of what is considered desirable.
The psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan are the foundations from which Mulvey developed the theory of the male gaze and interpreted and explained scopophilia, the "primordial wish for pleasurable looking" that is satisfied by the cinematic experience.: 807 The terms scopophilia and scoptophilia identify both the aesthetic joy and the sexual pleasures derived from looking at someone or something.: 815 Concerning the psychologic applications and functions of the gaze, the male gaze is conceptually contrasted with the female gaze.
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