It is no great irony that the male gaze is present in full force at the Oscars every year. The theory’s origins lie in feminist film theory, articulated first by Laura Mulvey, in her 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” and so it is only suitable for the tradition to be upheld during a celebration of film.
It was through the lens of a camera that we first learned about objectification and the way in which women are fetishized as sexualized things to be admired, rather than treated as full, active beings — both in film scenes and in the public sphere. Women were “to-be-looked-at,” and men were the lookers, making them permanent porn consumers, even when they weren’t in front of a screen.
In a constant pornified state, women are expected to be visually-pleasing — to titillate or die. I mean that figuratively, as of course fuckable women are sentenced to male violence just as often as unfuckable ones. But unfuckable women — those who are not conventionally attractive, young, properly passive and pleasing to men — may as well be dead in our culture: invisible, worthless, irrelevant, a source or mockery or derision. Men never suffer the same fate — their attractiveness or desirability has zero impact on their ability to be powerful, successful people, worthy of respect, worthy of being seen and heard.
This reality was exemplified on Sunday at the Oscars, as Jenny Beavan, an incredibly talented woman, widely-respected in her field, walked down the aisle to accept the award for costume design, for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road. Her male peers sneered and smirked, apparently offended that a woman who did not fit their standards of fuckability dared to show her face in public — at their awards ceremony! These men knew, just as everyone knows, that the Oscars are not really about celebrating talent, innovation, or skill, but about celebrating white men in their continued excellence at being white men. Oh, and about admiring beautiful, near-naked, decorated women.
Men like Tom McCarthy, the 49-year-old director of Spotlight, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the 52-year-old director of The Revenant, and Steve Golin, the 60-year-old producer of The Revenant and Spotlight, made it perfectly clear that they had no interest in celebrating the talent of women. They made clear, with their laughing and their angry stares, that they had no interest in celebrating women at all. They made clear that they believe women are still, in 2016, to be seen and not heard, and that unless women can be used as masturbatory material, they are worthless.
For the record, Beavan looked great. I mean, look at this fucking jacket:
But also, who gives a fuck? Literally no one comments on the age or attractiveness of men at the Oscars. They are permitted to be celebrated and treated with respect regardless of wrinkles, weight, or style. In fact, older men are treated with more respect and admiration than anyone else at the awards show. Appearance, age, and clothing only become relevant when it comes to women.
So, while some have called the treatment of Beavan “humiliating,” I disagree. The only people who should be humiliated at this response are the men whose grotesque, unapologetic hatred for women has now been publicly outed.