If you look at this gifset and start jerking off—you are the problem. Well, sort of. To be fair to you, nameless dudebro with your cock in hand, society has definitely normalized the objectification of female bodies to the point that even writers and directors of family shows feel the need to put a little boob/ass/leg into the mix for no apparent reason.
I mean, really. That shot of Clara’s boobs is totally gratuitous and exploitative. Yes, she has phenomenal boobs. I get it. It’s not that her cleavage is amazing that makes this shot problematic. Cleavage can be absolutely wonderful. I love cleavage! But the zoom and the way her face is cropped out of the shot and the sort of stripping thing going on during that whole scene is gross because it is shot with a ton of male gaze.
What is male gaze? jerking-off-dude asks.
Well, let me tell you, jerking-off-dude. Male gaze is the concept that a woman will generally be a passive object (meaning, she will be watched as opposed to doing the watching herself) in film/tv because the dudes filming and writing her are under the assumption that their target audience is predominantly heterosexual and male. So in order to capture the attentions of that target audience, directors and writers need to entice them with the things heterosexual males like—tits/ass/legs.
Male gaze isn’t necessarily sexual. Bookishandi pointed out to me that the Bad Wolf sequence in The Parting of the Ways is very much an example of male gaze, given that we are viewing Rose and all of the religious imagery that accompanies her in that scene through the Doctor’s eyes (and we even see him gazing at her as though she is a god, someone to be feared and adored).
There’s also a sense of action on her part (i.e., not passive). But I wonder at that. She does stuff, but is she really active? Her power seems to be wrapped up in the inability of the Daleks and the Doctor to look away and then the power needs to be taken from her.
I would argue that she is not passive in becoming the Bad Wolf (for hopefully obvious reasons—she looks into the heart of the TARDIS, she is the one gazing at all of Time and Space, she forces the TARDIS to take her back to the Doctor) and that her actions as the Bad Wolf are not passive either—she grants Jack immortality, she wipes out the Daleks, she creates the very meme that leads her to save the Doctor in the first place. But because we see her actions as the Bad Wolf through the Doctor’s eyes, it’s male gaze.
However, I’m going to focus on the sort of male gaze that is sexual, that does objectify female bodies for male sexual gratification.
I was hard-pressed to find any clear examples of male gaze in episodes not written by Steven Moffat. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist—for instance, I do think there is a significant amount of male gaze in New Earth, but because the shots of Rose with that glorious cleavage aren’t really directing the eyes of the audience to her cleavage, it’s not as clear as say, focusing on Rose’s heaving chest while she’s bound at the wrists and at robot-knife-point in the second gif. Completely passive whilst waiting for the Doctor to save her from the monsters, yet entirely not interested in what those clockwork robots are selling.
Not only is this entirely dismissive of her ability to get out of nasty situations on her own, but it also turns being captive without any consent on her part into something sexy. And that, my friends, is a symptom of rape culture! Which is very not good.
Then, there’s Jack creeping on Rose while she’s hanging from a zeppelin in the middle of a German air raid. Instead of being a decent human being and, you know, going to save her right away, he takes the time to zoom in on her ass,
which is an admittedly good ass. Now, I can justify this with Jack’s being a real dickwad when we first meet him, or even to show how sexual he is—which is exactly why we see him flirting with that soldier who he’s clearly having sex with. The difference is that we specifically see Rose as a sexual object through Jack’s eyes, whereas there’s no butt-shot of his male lover.
Because the audience doesn’t want to see men’s asses, at least according to the writers. (Now Moffat wrote this episode, but this two-parter was the only time that RTD had any real editorial power over Moffat’s work, and RTD was known for being very heavy handed as an editor, so I’m not excusing him AT ALL). Would Jack zoom in on the Ninth Doctor’s ass, given the opportunity? Obviously. But because of male gaze and the misguided, sexist belief that girls (or gay guys *ironicallyglancingatRTD*) don’t like sci-fi, that wasn’t remotely in the cards.
But of course, if you give a Moff an inch of titties, he’ll take a mile of titties. So when he took over the show, it shouldn’t have surprised ANYONE that he turned the sexist bullshit (and the gratuitous leg/ass/boob shots) up to eleven.
Seriously, like ten minutes into his first episode, he introduces us to adult!Amy by focusing oh-so-slowly on her magnificent legs, defined in sexy pantyhose and a stripper police mini. Again, if Amy was a real person and chose miniskirts and sexy gear for herself because it made her feel good, there’s no problem at all. But she’s not and she doesn’t, although I do think Karen had some input in Amy’s style, so it’s just straight up objectification. Then the Doctor (read: Moffat) dubs her “The Legs” for laughs in s6.
It’s very telling that Amy is constantly objectified until the Rory/Amy/Doctor love triangle comes to an end, and then the miniskirts make way for trousers and fairly conservative sweaters and jackets. Just a few episodes later, we get young!River and Mrs. Robinson references and that scene above, in which River gets attacked by the Nazis and then has all of that extra regeneration energy, and for some reason there is a ridiculous down-shirt shot.
Okay, I get it. Alex Kingston is gorgeous and has amazing breasts. Yes. And that is wonderful! But this shot obviously intended for all the little fanboys who were so irritated by the lack of fanservice in RTD’s era. It’s not at all a coincidence that Alex is always dressed up on outfits that draw focus on her breasts—save for her expedition in the Library and her uniform in the Angels two-parter.
I hope I don’t have to explain why that last gif is riddled with male gaze. (If I do: River takes off her coat, revealing amazing cleavage and there’s a shot of a ceramic pot with the word “Yowzah” on it. Interestingly, we see it through her eyes, but it’s still a man expressing his delight at her breasts. Essentially, she’s being trans-temporally catcalled.)
It might seem complimentary, but it’s really not about the women’s feelings or sexual autonomy or anything—it’s totally, completely, 100% about the straight male audience and their boners.
However, I do think Doctor Who has subverted the concept of male gaze, too. In The Girl Who Waited, Rory stares at the statue’s breasts and grosses the Doctor out. A statue exists exclusively to be admired and gazed on, which makes them prime male gaze meat.
So this might be making fun of male gaze or mocking dudes because they’re literally unable to keep themselves from perving out (which is not true or okay and actually perpetuates rape culture by putting the onus on the victim to stay safe). I tend to go with the former, because the rest of the episode was about men being passive objects and a woman rejecting her passivity, although ultimately it doesn’t matter because that woman—or the version of her with all of that great character development, anyway—ends up being stuffed in a fridge.
The interesting thing that the writers don’t seem to understand is this—their audience isn’t homogeneous, and it certainly isn’t all male. The problem is that there has been ONE female writer since the show came back in 2005 (Helen Raynor, who wrote the s3 Daleks-in-NYC two-parter and the Sontaran two-parter in s4). And there haven’t been ANY female directors. So what we get is a creative team made up exclusively of white men, and a few female producers to make sure things run smoothly.
Have women written for the Expanded Universe (books, audio adventures, etc.)? Yes. Even if those are considered canon (and I generally do
because the Stone Rose is better than most of the episodes in s2) the majority of the audience only sees the tv show, and so the work that those women do only impacts a small sector of the fandom.
We need to pressure The Powers That Be to diversify the writers’ room. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that we have a very white, very male gaze-y show when the writers all are white and men.
And I’m not saying that men can’t write amazing, empowered, complex and flawed women—for all of their flaws, Joss Whedon and RTD have given sci-fi some of the best characters who happen to be women ever—but it’s far more likely that a woman of color will be far more progressive in her treatment of characters than a white man.
Feel like adding onto this? Please do. I’m sure I didn’t cover all of Doctor Who’s male gaze. And if you’re a dudebro with your cock in your hands, just imagine your mom in all of these scenes.