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Session 6: Gender and Identity

Defining Gender

'Sex' refers to the biological differences between men and women, whereas 'gender' refers to the cultural roles of masculinity and femininity; they are social constructs. Definitions of gender are specific to time and place and roles change over time to reflect broader social change within media and wider visual culture. Non-binary is a spectrum of identities, and transgender suggests that gender identity does not correspond with a persons birth sex.

The Male Gaze - Laura Mulvey

In this essay, man is said to make themselves better than by making woman lesser than. The male gaze refers to the act of representing women in media from a male point of view, reducing them to objects of male pleasure. The British feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey pointed to three perspectives; the man behind the camera, the characters in the film and the male viewer. Therefore, women are presented in a way that depicts them as being passive and observed and the men as the active observers; the male gaze projects its fantasy on the female figure.Pleasure from film comes from 'using another person as an object of sexual stimulation through sight', and/or identifying with the image seen, developed through narcissism and composition of the ego. The woman's function is as an 'erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as an erotic object for the spectator' watching.

Whereas I do agree that in the past these ideas of sexual objectification were very obviously portrayed in the media, I feel a lot has changed since then; we now see a lot more powerful female leading roles in todays movie scene, where they are not as sexualised, but there is still a lot of room for improvement regarding equal portrayal of males and females.

The Power Dynamic

Gender roles suggests that men inhabit the world of paid work whilst women inhabit the world of the home, and are rarely shown in positions of power in the workplace. Men are displayed as active, forceful, reserved and alert whilst women as seen as passive, emotional and tactile; the 'feminine touch'.

Analysing Style Magazines

It is questionable that magazines accurately reflect real men and women and could actually be promoting myths about femininity and masculinity. They occupy the world of leisure/pleasure, selling a future happier self, potentially linking the consumption of content with gender identity. Bignal argues that style magazines amplify differences between masculinity and femininity and draw upon familiar cultural codes.

Mens style magazines seem to be firmly heterosexual in their content, reinforcing outdated, misogynistic ideologies of a society in which men hold all the power. They tend to use unrealistic male role models such as above, suggesting a more serious tone, in conjunction with the article titles and colour palette.

​This contrasts to women style magazines which tend to link femininity with consumerism and regularly depict different viewpoints on things such as a woman's body image. The above example depicts a posed, airbrushed celebrity; the 'feminine touch', with articles mainly related to fashion, beauty and sex, suggesting women are self-obsessed and superficial.



  • Gauntlett, D. Media, Gender & Identity (pages 2-15)

  • Mulvey, L. Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema (pages 9-20)

  • Neale, S. Masculinity as Spectacle (pages 833-844)




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