A theory that film is an instrument
of and for men, which carries representations of women, living "the good
life," and sexual fantasy
from a male point of view. The term "male gaze" is also used in discussing mediums other
The concept was originally used in a 1975 seminal article by Laura Mulvey, a feminist film theorist. The article, called "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," is one of the most widely cited articles in contemporary film theory.
In her piece, Mulvey discusses Freud's theory of scopophilia- pleasure involved in looking at other people's bodies as objects- and its importance in "classical" Hollywood cinema, which typically focuses on a male protagonist in the narrative as well as assuming a male viewer. "The pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female," said Mulvey.
Her article naturally generated a sizeable amount of controversy with film theorists, many believing that the "male gaze" theory does not take into account other factors. (Is it really so simplistic when it comes to the spectator- masculine or feminine? And what about gay viewers?)
While the theory does carry weight and is often discussed and applied still today, there have been improvements in cinema when it comes to "gaze diversity." Take a look at a film by Jane Campion or Patricia Rozema.