Unfortunately, the Laura Mulvey 'male gaze'*1 distortion of the Lacanian/Sartrean gaze is the most well known among laymen. But it fails to capture a fascinating issue in modern psychoanalysis: to what extent have psychoanalysis and folk versions of psychoanalysis changed the libidinal structure of people. Surely, the very way our societies in the popular media discuss the structure of the mind that it is fair to say we now have, through self-conscious reflection, jungian anxieties and kleinian reactions etc. So it would surely be as certain to say feminism will inject its ideas into the romantic flirtation and change it. Let's look at the Lacanian gaze to understand this.
Marilyn Monroe offers up a vignette to help us:“‘Men do not see me, they just lay their eyes on me’.
That is *2 :suggestive of Lacan’s distinction between the function of the eye and the gaze—“mustn’t we distinguish between the function of the eye and that of the gaze?”
In contrast, Mulvey's 'male gaze':'concept is deployed politically to defend at the level of personal affect, where the “male gaze” can come to refer to a fantasy of an all-powerful gaze that punishes and torments: a gaze, I suggest, that metonymically comes to stand in for a ferocious primal father...'Hence, the tendency to only think of the gaze in terms of Foucaldian power relations (a man's gaze is power over the woman and nothing more).somewhat tellingly while Mulvey’s essay articulates the structure of an eroticized gaze—a male viewing position structured on a woman as the object of desire—it does little to address the position of the one “caught” in this gaze, or to use psychoanalysis to understand what is at stake when one is the object of a gaze.So the question that causes feminists to blush, sometimes with anger, sometimes with embarrassment:to ask the question of one’s desire is, many might argue, precisely what generates feminist inquiry and in this, feminist protest and questioning has been equated with the discourse of the hysteric. Indeed, the fundamental question at the heart of second wave feminism animates the hysteric’s ultimate question:In Lacan's gaze, we understand that the gaze provokes anxiety in the woman and is heavily involved in her libidinal desires. The movie, Black Swan, in dealing with the elegant art of ballet, and its covering over of the base eroticism of the woman's body with the beautiful aesthetic of dance:what is a woman?The results of a properly feminist questioning would appear, at least in some expressions of post-feminist culture, to have resulted in a world dominated by feminist ideas. At the institutional level feminist knowledge is implicated in a range of social, political, and regulatory structures and processes. Perhaps more obviously, spectacles of female agency and desire are promoted among other imperatives to enjoy in neoliberal cultures of self-promotion. Yet, as many cultural theorists suggest, expressions of post-feminism (depending on how one defines the ‘post’) always operate—somewhat like Monroe—in a double movement between traditional articulations of femininity and feminism. Which is to say, that when one speaks from a feminist position of knowledge, the feminine question is expressed beneath the bar, and as Lacan notes, “as soon as you ask the question ‘What does a woman want?’ you locate the question at the level of desire, and everyone knows that, for woman, to locate the question at the level of desire is to question the hysteric.” That is, where the theory is mobilized in this way that places so much emphasis on the master’s desire (at the expense of a woman’s), it might be said to be an expression of hysterical discourse. I have previously argued that feminist discourses—as a form of hysterical protest—have bypassed the analyst’s discourse and moved into the university discourse where feminist knowledge production is taken as truth; here feminism’s knowledge product can intervene into the subject’s affective reality and provide a (seemingly legitimate) name for affect. But in doing so, I suggest, it Feminism as a signifier—of identity, knowledge, and universal truth— not only intervenes into the subject’s affects but defends against them and obstruct efforts towards (self) analysis.... animates the anxiety triggered by the Real encountered in Lacan’s seminar X, where anxiety is felt in the gaze that signals what has been repressed. Feminist responses to the film’s articulation of this gaze functions to both deflect politically what is felt personally regarding the gaze.Feminism becomes part of the libidinal structure of women inculcated by feminism:I suggest, Black Swan metaphorises the problem of the gaze for the feminine subject where there is an excessive (moral) force or defence against it. For a woman, feminism may provide a defence against anxiety invoked in the gaze—whether metaphorically animated in film or popular culture, real experience, or both.This can be seen with feminist critic responses to the movie:'feminist critics such as Jacobs reacted at a political (feminist theoretical) level with the personal disgust of Nina in the film when confronted with the eroticism signaled in the gaze of the Other. This particular deployment works, I suggest, to defend against the problem of the Other’s gaze: specifically, the anxiety induced when caught in the gaze of the Other that is a reminder of the (Real) sexual realm so keenly reduced to social convention within feminist discourse and just as adamantly repressed...'This strange tension between the acceptable (Lacanian university) discourse on women's desires and the hidden desires is plain to see in all the constant antagonisms in the media culture wars.
*1 In the heavily cited and rather unhelpful “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”.
*2 All quotes from: Alison Horbury, 'What Does Feminism Want?', Continental Thought & Theory, Volume 1, Issue 3