An essay by Laura Mulvey which employs psychoanalysis to analyze the ways of the unconscious of patriarchal society how that translates to the big screen her intention is to “destroy pleasure and beauty in the traditional sense” by asking questions

uses Sigmund Freud’s |Psychosexual theory and Psychoanalysis focuses on unconscious mentions Lacanian mirror stage

Mulvey argues that mainstream cinema is structured by the male gaze, which objectifies women and positions them as passive spectacles for the pleasure of male viewers. Mulvey also distinguishes between two modes of cinematic pleasure: scopophilia (the pleasure of looking) and identification (the pleasure of relating to the characters). She suggests that women are denied both modes of pleasure in patriarchal cinema, and calls for alternative forms of filmmaking that challenge the dominant ideology and aesthetics.

Key Points

Phallocentrism Pleasure is derived from:

  1. Scopophilia dimming of lights, faux-voyeuristic, how

    voyeuristic perversion. darkness of the cinema, the angles of the shots, and positioning of the screen and seats provides the illusion of peering into another world. In this arrangement, the viewer can repress his exhibitionism and project it onto the protagonist, while engaging instead with his voyueristic fantasies.

  2. ego libido
  3. castration complex

latent sexism and how it affects cinema 1

women are objects or portrayed that way; they are mere passive participants, they are props, they slow down the narrative with erotic contemplation (metaphorical but also literal in cases - see slo-mo), devoid of any actual characteristics just a vessel, a vehicle for male Laura attributes this to women’s lack of phallus

pinups, stripteases, they are anti-narrative; reduced to powerless, agency-less, objects that are possessed

  1. Phallocenterism penis envy castration anxiety castrated woman paradox of phallocentrism - phallus = center of the world; BUT it depends on the image of a castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. the burden is on the woman. woman is the lynchpin to the system

  2. function of woman in forming patiarchal unconscious is twofold

    1. she first symbolizes the castration threat by her absence of a real penis
    2. thereby raises her child into the symbolic This does not make it into law and language, but remains in the unconscious and affects

    She can only exist in relation to castration and cannot transcend it.

    a woman = siginifier of the male other; bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them (!e) bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning

psychoanalysis brings feminists nearer to the roots of their oppression

  1. Scopophilia, Voyeurism, Ego viewer finds pleasure in seeing his more perfect ego ideal in the form of the protagonist (identification) She becomes an object of eroticism both for male characters in the movie and for the gaze of the male viewer

male viewer plays spectator to that eroticism, participating in the demonization or paternalization of the female character—a process through which he is granted power

male sadism that unconsciously allows this dynamic to function, as well as the cinematic strategies used to embody and uphold it

Examples she cites

  1. Josef von Sternberg, a director whose work embodies the castration anxiety, “breaks the woman down into fragmented body parts—creating “the ultimate fetish” on the screen”
  2. Alfred Hitchcock - Vertigo and Rear Window as films in which voyeurism and the male gaze play central roles in the plot and overall appeal

film-makers have the capacity to stop catering to the “neurotic needs of the male ego”

Destruction of Pleasure as a Radical Weapon

”It is said that analysing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it. That is the intention of this article."

"In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive female."

"Woman as representation signifies castration.”

cinema normalizes

Mulvey argues, the phallus has no power or presence without her, as her very lack signifies its presence. Therefore, woman is conceived of symbolically as both jealously lacking, and as fertile mother, but she is not presented as a legitimate character with agency and verbal expression.


  1. see Microaggression