In this series, “The Textures of Sexuality,” we have undergraduate students from two schools considering how the body is implicated in the storytelling devices used in popular media. Baker University Student Jordan House analyzes “The Male Gaze” and how the movie 9-5 breaks that “rule.”
Laura Mulvey once said, “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.” This quote sets the tone for entertainment business. The “Male Gaze” is a term that was coined by Mulvey in 1975, and it refers to the objectification of women in all movies. This idea does make sense when thinking about it.
Black Widow spends most of the time in the Avengers and other Marvel movies running around in a skin tight suit and is often shot in poses that sexualize her body and Padme is reduced to a love interest and mother in the Star Wars franchise. However, while the idea still hurts a little bit, it makes watching movies a challenge. As a self-identified feminist, I felt a lot of dissonance about liking movies that treat women in a way that I do not agree with at all. It was disappointing to realize the whole entertainment industry, which often is described as the most liberal industry is sexist just like society as a whole. However, I immediately thought of one movie that was different – 9 to 5.
The concept of the male gaze comes in three parts: the director, the subject, and the spectator. The director in the case of 9 to 5 was male, but it was co-written by a woman. This is interesting because while most of the material was directed by a man, there was a large part of the script that was written by a woman. The subject of the movie is where the gaze gets tricky as it is about three women overthrowing their misogynic boss. Each of these women have a different background and at the beginning of the film seem to be affected by the gaze. Lily Tomlin’s character is one of the most experienced workers in her field, yet she is overlooked for a promotion by her male counterpart. Jane Fonda’s character has never been an independent person until her husband cheated on her. Lastly, Dolly Parton’s character is classified as the office floozy because of her clothing and her perceived relationship with the boss.
Once these women decide that they need to get rid of the boss, the movie loses the gaze that is once held.
The characters decide that they need to kidnap and tie up their boss so that they can run the company the way they feel it should be. When the only major male character is out of the picture, then we see the women in new roles. We see Fonda’s character finally has independence and confidence in herself, Tomlin’s character is the boss of the company like she deserved, and Parton’s character loses the role of the floozy of the company and gains the respect of her co-workers. Once the man is out of the office, we see that the atmosphere of the movie shifts. The women in the office are much more friendly, comfortable, and effective. Therefore, the lens is temporarily removed until the boss returns in the end of the movie. When someone higher up in the company returns, the boss gets the credit for the changes the women made. However, if they confess, they might face jail time. In the end, however, the three women take over as bosses of the company while their boss gets a “promotion” in South America.
As a spectator of 9 to 5, it was refreshing to see a movie break the lens in a major way. We do not have to focus on how these women relate to their male counterparts as they are allowed to focus on how they function as complete. We do not have to shift into the place of the male like Mulvey suggests in other films such as the Avengers or StarWars, where the female characters are more objects than subjects of the story. Therefore, there is at least one film that destroys the gaze and would make Mulvey proud. You go, 9 to 5.