In Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, it is the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. The psychological effect, Lacan argues, is that the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object. This concept is bound with his theory of the mirror stage, in which a child encountering a mirror realizes that he or she has an external appearance. Lacan suggests that this gaze effect can similarly be produced by any conceivable object such as a chair or a television screen. This is not to say that the object behaves optically as a mirror; instead it means that the awareness of any object can induce an awareness of also being an object.
It has also been called an aspect of one of the “most powerful human forces”; that is, “the meeting of the face and the gaze” because “Only there do we exist for one another.”
Systems of power and the gaze
Michel Foucault first used the term “medical gaze” in The Birth of the Clinic to explain the process of medical diagnosis, power dynamics between doctors and patients, and the hegemony of medical knowledge in society. He elaborated on the gaze to illustrate a particular dynamic in power relations and disciplinary mechanisms in his Discipline and Punish, such as surveillance and the function of related disciplinary mechanisms and self-regulation in a prison or school as an apparatus of power.
The gaze is not something one has or uses; rather, it is the relationship into which someone enters. As Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright write in Practices of Looking, “The gaze is integral to systems of power and ideas about knowledge.” Three main concepts that Foucault introduced are panopticism, power/knowledge, and biopower. These concepts all address self-regulation under systems of surveillance. This refers to how people modify their behaviour under the belief that they are constantly being watched even if they cannot directly see who or what is watching them. This possible surveillance, whether real or unreal, has self-regulating effects.
The male gaze
Main article: Male gaze
In her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey introduced the second-wave feminist concept of “male gaze” as a feature of gender power asymmetry in film. The concept was present in earlier studies of the gaze,[specify] but it was Mulvey who brought it to the forefront. Mulvey stated that women were objectified in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera. Hollywood films played to the models of voyeurism and scopophilia The concept has subsequently been influential in feminist film theory and media studies.
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