The Female Gaze and Fairy Tales

The male gaze is a fixture of cinema and, to an extent, of literature. Women, more often than not, experience storytelling through a masculine perspective.

However, the female gaze does exist and it’s a wonderful thing. Lately I’ve been encountering examples. I’m working on my own take on the female gaze in Disney, so I was highly amused by a recent Buzzfeed post, “This is What Disney Princes Would Look Like in Real Life.” Prince Eric is particularly noteworthy! I’ve actually always argued there’s a nice parallel between The Little Mermaid (1989) and Dirty Dancing (1987) in which the young heroines peek and openly goggle at their respective princes. The audience is invited to share their gaze. It’s the female gaze in action. Even when Johnny sneaks a peek at Baby changing in the backseat of his car, the audience – and Baby – is watching him sneak that peek.

As I’ve been researching, I’ve come across other examples. Jupiter Ascending (2015) caught my eye because I first read Donna Dickens’ piece on HitFix. I saw the film recently when I downloaded it, having missed it at the cinema. It’s amazing. It really is Cinderella in space. It is trashy and kitschy. It’s not a perfect film – there’s a good review here about the queerness of the villain, for instance – but I really enjoyed the scene with the bees and Jupiter’s female-dominated family life. I also enjoyed the space skates. I would like a pair of those. The film also understands fairy tale. The plot is a little barmy and inconsistent and concerned with capitalism. These are all traits of fairy tale. Logic should never get in the way of a good celebration of and take-down of capitalism!

Then this morning I discovered this great post on Tumblr. I always recommend George of the Jungle (1997) as an entertaining film. I had never explicitly thought about it in light of the female gaze, but it is utterly about the female gaze. I think I’ll have to rewatch it now! The post doesn’t mention one of my favourite scenes, in which George dresses unself-consciously in a short, summery dress. He even does a little twirl! It’s not quite a fairy tale, but it does have many of the elements. The lost son raised by animal friends, the princess from far-off lands who has to be rescued. Yet the tale takes many of the tropes and re-realises them to create a very positive feminine experience.

One of my very favourite fairy tales about the female gaze, though, is that of Betta. A tale by Basile in the 17th century, this is a tale about a girl who rejects all her marriage prospects and literally creates a husband of her own with her own hands. He is beautiful. The Queen even desires him and steals him away. Oh, there should totally be a film about Betta!

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