The Image of Woman and the Concept of Male Gaze in George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man
Laura Mulvey (1941- ), a British feminist theorist, is the first to introduce the concept of "male gaze" in her 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” critiquing that image of the objectified female in films. This theory came out of the context of the feminist movement shedding light on the problematic female portrayals claiming that women's existence can only be shown in patriarchal terms and in relation to men. Hollywood cinema produced several recurrent images of women in patriarchal societies rendering them passive and men active. In the present paper, I argue that Mulvey’s theory bearing a determining impression on the interpretation of the image of women as objects-to-be-gazed-at not only applies to films but also to drama. This research investigates the presentation of female characters in George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man (1894) from this unique perspective employing Sigmund Freud's scopophiliac elements. It is found that Mulvey's concept is reinforced in the play by pre-existing patterns of fascination resulted from the social formations which already moulded that patriarchal society in the Victorian era. In the play, Raina, Catherine and Louka are presented as passive, pretty faces to be gazed at, in contrast to the leading male characters- Sergius, Bluntschli and Petkoff- who are seen as active, war-like creatures reflecting a lack that determines women unequal to men in every aspect and thus endorsing dehumanization of women. In Shaw’s dramatic performance under investigation, women lack men's distinguished traits and this lack, consequently, plays a significant role towards the construction of the symbolic male gaze. Gender power is found to be a controlling force not only in films but in theatre too and that is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideologies and discourses.
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