AskDefine | Define gaze

Dictionary Definition

gaze n : a long fixed look; "he fixed his paternal gaze on me" [syn: regard] v : look at with fixed eyes; "The students stared at the teacher with amazement" [syn: stare]

User Contributed Dictionary



Origin uncertain.




  1. To stare intently or earnestly.
    In fact, for Antonioni this gazing is probably the most fundamental of all cognitive activities ... (from Thinking in the Absence of Image)
  2. To stare at.
    • 1667: Strait toward Heav'n my wondring Eyes I turnd, / And gaz'd a while the ample Skie — John Milton, Paradise Lost (book VIII)


To stare intently or earnestly
To stare at
Translations to be checked


  1. A fixed look; a look of eagerness, wonder, or admiration; a continued look of attention.
  2. : The object gazed on.


A fixed look
The object gazed on

Extensive Definition

The concept of gaze (often also called the gaze or, in French, le regard), in analysing visual culture, is one that deals with how an audience views the people presented. The concept of the gaze became popular with the rise of postmodern philosophy and social theory and was first discussed by 1960s French intellectuals, namely Michel Foucault's description of the medical gaze and Lacan's analysis of the gaze's role in the mirror stage development of the human psyche. This concept is extended in the framework of feminist theory, where it can deal with how men look at women, how women look at themselves and other women, and the effects surrounding this. In addition, the concept of the "normative gaze" is used by critical theorists such as Cornel West to describe the way in which the idea of Eurocentric racial identity provides the lens through which other races are viewed and socially constructed. Laura Mulvey criticized such gazes (in films) as "male". Arising in the context of artistic practice, psychoanalysis and French feminism, Bracha Ettinger's notion of the feminine "matrixial gaze" contributes to the contemporary debates concerning the gaze in art.

Forms of gaze

The gaze can be characterised by who is doing the looking:
  • The spectator's gaze: the spectator who is viewing the text. This is often us, the audience of a certain text.
  • Intra-diegetic gaze, where one person depicted in the text is looking at another person or object in the text, such as one character looking at another.
  • Extra-diegetic gaze, where the person depicted in the text looks at the spectator, such as an aside, or an acknowledgement of the fourth wall.
  • The camera's gaze, which is the gaze of the camera, and is often equated to the director's gaze.
These are not the only forms of gaze. Other forms include the gaze of an audience within a "text within the text", such as Lisa Simpson and Bart Simpson watching the cartoon-within-a-cartoon Itchy and Scratchy on The Simpsons, or editorial gaze, whereby a certain aspect of the text is given emphasis, such as in photography, where a caption or a cropping of an image depicting one thing can emphasize a completely different idea.
Other theorists such as Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen provide the idea of the gaze as a relationship between offering and demanding gaze: indirect gaze is an offer by the spectator, where we initiate the gaze, and the subject is not aware of this, and direct gaze is a demand by the subject, who looks at us, demanding our gaze.
Gaze can also be further categorised into the direction of the gaze, where the subjects are looking at each other, apart, at the same object, or where one is gazing at another who is gazing at something else.

Effects of gaze

Gazing and seeing someone gaze upon another provides us with a lot of information about our relationship to the subjects, or the relationships between the subjects upon whom we gaze, or the situation in which the subjects are doing the gazing.
The mutuality of the gaze can reflect power structure, or the nature of a relationship between the subjects, as proposed by Catherine Lutz and Jane Collins, where this "tell[s] us who has the right and/or need to look at whom".
Although it may appear that "gaze" is merely looking at, Jonathan Schroeder tells us that "it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze". The gaze characterizes and displays the relationships between the subjects by looking.
This idea forms a basis of feminist analysis of texts.

Gaze and feminist theory

Laura Mulvey, in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", introduced the concept of the gaze as a symptom of power asymmetry, hypothesizing about what she called the "male gaze." The theory of the male gaze has been hugely influential in feminist film theory and in media studies.
The defining characteristic of the male gaze is that the audience is forced to regard the action and characters of a text through the perspective of a heterosexual man; the camera lingers on the curves of the female body, and events which occur1 to women are presented largely in the context of a man's reaction to these events. The male gaze denies women agency, relegating them to the status of objects. The female reader or viewer must experience2 the narrative secondarily, by identification with the male.
Mulvey's essay was one of the first to articulate the idea that sexism can exist not only in the content of a text, but in the way that text is presented, and in its implications about its expected audience.
Some theorists also have noted the degrees to which persons are encouraged to gaze upon women in advertising, sexualizing the female body even in situations where female body has nothing to do with the product being advertised.
1. It is worth noting a distinction between an event and amalgamation of abstract causes, i.e., things, directions, responses. 2. It is worth noting that experience is not required to participate in the culture; socio-contextuality will pertain more from the vantage of lawfulness over its transpersonal regards.

Responses to "male gaze"

Male gaze in relation to feminist theory presents asymmetrical gaze as a means of exhibiting an unequal power relationship; that is, the male imposes an unwanted gaze upon the female. While some argue that women who fit the ideal of female beauty enjoy this gaze, many second-wave feminists would argue whether these women are actually willing, noting that they may be merely seeking to conform to the hegemonic norms constructed to the benefit of male interests that further underline the power of the male gaze. (see also exhibitionism)
The question of whether a female gaze exists to a meaningful extent in contrast to the male one arises naturally in considering the male gaze. Mulvey, the originator of the phrase "male gaze", argues that "the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze...". Nalini Paul describes Wide Sargasso Sea, where the character Antoinette views Rochester and places a garland upon him to appear as a hero, and "Rochester does not feel comfortable with having this role enforced upon him; thus he rejects it by removing the garland and crushing the flowers."
In the perspective of male gaze as merely possessing a gaze, the position of a female possessing the gaze is then the female assuming the male gaze. Eva-Maria Jacobsson supports this by describing a "female gaze" as "a mere cross identification with masculinity".
However, disregarding the viewpoint of gendered possession of gaze as proposed by Mulvey above, there is evidence to support a view of a female gaze — at least as an objectification of men — in texts such as advertisements and teen magazines.
The gaze can also be directed toward members of the same gender for several reasons, not all of which are sexual, such as in comparison of body image or in clothing.

Gaze and psychoanalysis

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, an early and influential theorist of child development, found the concept of the gaze important in what he termed "the mirror stage", whereupon children gaze at a mirror image of themselves (usually an image of themselves in an actual mirror, but a twin brother or sister can also function as a mirror image) and use this image to derive a degree of coordination over their physical movements. Lacan therefore linked the concept of the gaze to the development of individual human agency. To this end, he transformed the concept of the gaze into a dialectic between what he called the ideal-ego and the ego-ideal. The ideal-ego is the image of imaginary self-identification - in other words, the idealized image that the person imagines themselves to be or aspires to be; whilst the ego-ideal is the imaginary gaze of another person who gazes upon the ideal-ego. An example would be if a famous rockstar (a category of identification which would function as the ideal-ego) secretly hoped that the school bully who tormented them as a child was now aware of his or her subsequent success and fame (with the imaginary, fantasmatic figure of the bully functioning as the ego-ideal).
Lacan later developed his concept of the gaze even further, claiming that the gaze does not belong to the subject but, rather, the object. In his Seminar One, he told his audience: "I can feel myself under the gaze of someone whose eyes I do not see, not even discern. All that is necessary is for something to signify to me that there may be others there. This window, if it gets a bit dark, and if I have reasons for thinking that there is someone behind it, is straight-away a gaze" (Lacan, 1988, p. 215).
Starting from 1985, the artist and psychoanalyst Bracha L. Ettinger has developed the idea of the "matrixial gaze" based upon her articulation of particular feminine subjectivizing processes, patterned upon the real of pregnancy conceived as a shareable unconscious "borderspace" for affective, phantasmatic and traumatic differentiation in co-emergence and co-fading of partial subjects in jointness. The idea of the matrixial gaze has opened a new horizon for thinking aesthetics and ethics from the angle of feminine subjectivizing agency. The art historians Griselda Pollock and Catherine de Zegher developed readings of art history and contemporary art based on Ettinger's notion of matrixial gaze and screen. In the 2000s, Ettinger developed also the idea of a primary aesthetical affect she has named "fascinance" (in opposition to Lacan's "fascinum"), by which the infant has psychic access and primary knowledge of the other and the world. This is a creative and transformational gaze.


  • Armstrong, Carol and de Zegher, Catherine, Women Artists at the Millennium. MIT Press, October Books, 2006.
  • Ettinger, Bracha L., "The Matrixial Gaze" (1994) reprinted as Chapter 1 in: The Matrixial Borderspace. University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • Ettinger, Bracha L., "Com-passionate Co-response-ability, Initiation in Jointness, and the link x of Matrixial Virtuality". In: Gorge(l). Oppression and relief in Art. Edited by Sofie Van Loo. Royal Museum of Fine Art. Antwerpen, 2006.
  • Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory - see External links.
  • Florence, Penny and Pollock, Griselda, Looking back to the Future. G & B Arts, 2001.
  • Jacobsson, Eva-Maria: A Female Gaze? (1999) - see External links
  • Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen: Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. (1996)
  • Lacan, Jacques: Seminar One: Freud's Papers On Technique (1988)
  • Lacan, Jacques:Seminar Eleven: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. NY & London, W.W. Norton and Co., 1978.
  • Lutz, Catherine & Jane Collins: The Photograph as an Intersection of Gazes: The Example of National Geographic. (1994)
  • Mulvey, Laura: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975, 1992)
  • Pollock, Griselda (Ed.), Psychoanalysis and the Image. Blackwell, 2006
  • Notes on The Gaze (1998) - see External links.
  • Paul, Nalini: The Female Gaze - see External links
  • Schroeder, Jonathan E: Consuming Representation: A Visual Approach to Consumer Research.
  • Theory, Culture and Society, Volume 21, Number 1, 2004.
  • de Zegher, Catherine, Inside the Visible. MIT Press, 1996.
gaze in French: Regard
gaze in Russian: Взгляд
gaze in Ukrainian: Погляд (зір)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

admire, be amazed, be astonished, be vigilant, be watchful, bedroom eyes, bore, come-hither look, contemplate, crane, crane the neck, evil eye, eye, eyeball, follow, gape, gaup, gawk, gaze at, gaze open-mouthed, glad eye, glare, gloat, glower, glowering look, goggle, have a looksee, hold in view, inspect, keep in sight, keep in view, keep under observation, look, look after, look at, look on, look upon, malocchio, marvel, observe, ogle, peek, peep, peer, penetrating look, reconnoiter, regard, rubberneck, scout, scrutinize, see, spy upon, stand aghast, stand on tiptoe, stare, stare at, stare down, stare hard, stare openmouthed, survey, view, watch, whammy, wonder
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