Contemporary Cinematic Portrayals of Female Sexuality in Top-Grossing R-Rated U.S. Films (2000-2009)
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Researchers contend that sex in the mass media typically degrades and objectifies women, as the majority of modern mainstream films is produced and directed by men who portray women’s bodies in ways that appeal to the “male gaze.” These portrayals include using stereotypical images and representations, including observable “gazing” and objectification of female bodies, utilizing visually consistent and unattainable images of female beauty, and ignoring or discouraging the consideration of women's sexual needs, experiences, and pleasures in filmic texts and imagery. Through a qualitative and quantitative analysis, I examine women’s sexual images in top-grossing R-rated U.S. contemporary cinema from 2000 to 2009 to compare how male and female directors represent women’s sexuality and imagery, and investigate whether female directors offer more balanced nudity, more diverse imagery, and less gazing of female bodies than their male counterparts.
The feminist male gaze theory, developed in Mulvey’s (1975) essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” and subsequent revisions, examines some of these issues through a male voyeur/female object cinematic framework, and is an underlying concept of this research. Extensive research has examined the application of a filmic male gaze on several cinematic factors ranging from its wide and varied incorporation in film to its cultural effects on women and societal standards for women’s gendered sexual representation and acceptable sexual behavior. Feminist scholars have also examined an alternative spectator position, i.e. the feminine gaze, on women’s perspective and experiences.
Findings in this study indicate that while male directors used more nude scenes, sex scenes, women, and body parts in their movies than female directors, female directors used women’s bodies in greater proportion than men’s bodies compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, while also including some diverse imagery in their movies, female-directors do not collectively show less stereotyped and more diverse and realistic images of women than their male counterparts. However, female directors did utilize less total and proportions of male gazes of female bodies in their movies’ sex and nude scenes.