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Girl on Girl Action: Girls and the Female Gaze

A Biblical Feminist Confronts the Girls Goddesses, Part 9

Susan L.M. Goldberg


August 4, 2013 - 7:00 am

Nothing says Hollywood glamour like chopping your own locks in an OCD stupor.

Check out the first eight installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:

June 6: A Biblical Feminist Confronts The Girls Goddesses, Part 1

June 16: Sex Mitzvah’d: Virginity Isn’t Easy for Girls

June 23: Money: Is That What Girls Goddesses Really Want?

June 30: Millennial Girls Are Easy: Sex, Power & Porn

July 7: Sex for Girls’ Sake: Porn, Art, or Both?

July 14: Single Issue Goddess: The War on Women’s Intellect

July 21: Her Body, Herself: The Right Size & Shape of Girls

July 28: Girls: Best Friends Forever-ish


In 1975, film theorist Laura Mulvey posited that cinema possessed an inherent “male gaze” that objectified women on screen. This male gaze presumably exists because film (and television) is an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry targeting male viewership. Interestingly, the theory stretches back into the history of art:

“When you look at an object, you are seeing more than just the thing itself: you are seeing the relation between the thing and yourself. …The [Renaissance era] painting of female beauty offered up the pleasure of her appearance for the male spectator-owner’s gaze. But the spectator-owner’s gaze sees not merely the object of the gaze, but sees the relationship between the object and the self. He sees her as a creature of his domain, under his gaze of possession…”

Lena Dunham is one of a small but growing number of women behind the camera being praised by feminists for cultivating the “female gaze” on screen in the 21st century. However, the praise she is receiving from feminist circles isn’t as liberating as one would think:

“After centuries of women being played back to themselves through the male gaze, we are being played back to ourselves through the female gaze,” [Make Love Not Porn founder Cindy] Gallop said. “I love, love, love how much nudity and skin exposure Lena Dunham goes for. That is real world body, having sex with men who find real world bodies desirable.”

Wait. Women have struggled to move into seats of real power in the film and television industry in order to… make sex ugly? That’s the female gaze?


The female gaze on life – still all about the sex, if not the fun.

Not quite. For feminist critics, the sex not only has to be ugly, it should be fat, too:

“While Dunham’s graphic nudity and sex scenes may provoke disgust or discomfort for some viewers, watching Girls can feel subversively empowering… It is a rare thrill to see an honest erotic depiction of a television actress who not only doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model, but doesn’t want to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. You might even say that it’s aspirational.”

Girls began as the story of four young women facing the challenges of entering adulthood in New York City. Feminist critics have managed to praise this potentially complex story line as being the story of a chubby chick having bad sex.

At least with the male gaze we were pretty and the sex was good.

The Bible doesn’t detail the sex lives of its female characters which, considering the fact that Biblical authors and scribes were male, flies in the face of Mulvey’s theory regarding male-dominated media. What the Bible does detail of its females are the character traits that made them worth writing about. Compassion, insight, modesty, kindness, and selflessness are only a few of the traits illustrated in the stories of the matriarchs, the prophetess Deborah, the heroines Esther and Ruth. The Proverbial Woman of Valor is prized for, among other things, “considering a field and buying it, and from her earnings planting a vineyard.” Second wave feminism fought for this kind of economic equality.  Today’s female gaze sees fat, bad sex as real liberation.

Until contemporary feminism escapes the goddess mentality of valuing women for their physical worth, they will never know equality much less freedom. As for the bad sex and fat bodies, if that is the best argument for goddess feminism this movement stands to go the way of the Greek pantheon.

Susan L.M. Goldberg is a writer with a Master's in Radio, Television & Film. Preferred bar mates include Ann Coulter, Camille Paglia and Dorothy Parker. Her writing tends towards the intersection of culture, politics and faith with the interest in starting, not stopping the discussion. Follow her on Twitter @SLMGoldberg.

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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What is with all this "goddess" claptrap among women? There's even some commercial on TV telling women to "discover the goddess within"! As a man, I feel embarrassed for women by this stuff.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Little girls who are "princesses" and never grow out of it grow up to be "goddesses." Its really the same thing. It may be cute in a three year old, but in a grown woman--its really not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I watched the first few episodes of the first season of girls, mainly to see what the fuss was about. I was initially struck by how banal it all was. Nothing that happened was the least bit surprising or interesting. The nudity and sex were about as exciting as dental X-rays. After a while I began to feel like some creepy guy peeping through his neighbor's window.
I'd rather watch 10 seconds of, say, Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' than an entire season of Lean Dunham in 'Girls'. The 'girl gaze' is like drinking a Starbucks at Zales, by comparison.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Some moron in 1975 figured out that men read Playboy and women don't and that pin ups of women have to be nice looking women. Congratulations. And film never had handsome leading men running around with their shirts off and all of Alan Ladd's fan mail came from men.

So create an industry of pin up paintings where men accidentally half pull down their trousers on a fish hook or whose pants fall down when they're putting on a new screen door.

Yeah, you're right, I don't like staring at men. And no, I don't really think about it. It's built in and comes without a PhD thesis.

"Male gaze." I'm seeing that stuff more and more on blogs right next to my unconscious white privilege. What's a whine and blame gaze called? Is there a "self-pity" gaze?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are times when I really feel sorry for younger males in this country. If this is what they have to select from it becomes intuitively obvious why they are not in the mood to marry. These young women make shallow, self absorbed, and selfish into complements.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Honestly, I thought it was kind of interesting at first but now I find it depressing, ugly and just plain boring. I click on it for five minutes at a time and click away. Politics and social commentary aside, I've given up trying to find any kind of deeper meaning in it.

"Girls" didn't jump the shark, it just lowered itself slowly into the piranha tank.

Lena needs to cut a kewl spot for Planned Parenthood, or NARAL, or do a "Go Naked" shoot for PETA, or give an interview about a past abortion, or talk about when she was raped in college, or do a stint in rehab, or tear up the Pope's picture on SNL, or hit the campus circuit doing Vagina Monologues readings...or something, anything hip and outrageous.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One word to describe the series "Girls", boring.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Fat acceptance. All sex all the time. What a life.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Fat bodies, bad sex and mediocre writing ... man, now that's liberating!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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