It has been a norm in horror films or films in general to have a stronger male gaze than a female gaze or even no female gaze at all. Viewers often see the film in the perspective of a male. In films, women are often the victims as well emphasizing more how men dominates or establishes their control over women. In the article of Linda Williams, “When the Woman Looks”, she discusses the gaze of the female in relation to the monster in horror films and the male characters and gaze.
A gaze is seen as a look of desire and curiosity. The female gaze on the monster or male characters in horror films, she says, are either punished by the male, allows for a reflection of herself to be seen in the monster, or is a threat to the vulnerable male. First, the female look is punished in a way that the male gains control over her the moment she looks. In the article it is said that it “allows him to master her through her look”. The woman’s desire and curiosity leads to her own victimization. Second, the female gaze on the monster of the film allows for a reflection of herself to be seen. A woman and a monster in a film are both seen the same way by males. Williams mentions that the “affinity between monster and woman is the sense in which her look at the monster recognizes their similar status within patriarchal structures of seeing.” The female gaze on the monster allows her to relate to the monster’s differences and see her own. The male gaze expresses fear for the monster and so does the female. Though, despite the fear in the look of the female there is still that sense of relatability with the monster. This, again, emphasizes the dominance of the male gaze in films. Lastly, the female look gives off a threat to the vulnerable male. The look of a woman on a male shows a feared power and potency. The male recognizes that the woman’s look and the monster also has the power “to mutilate and transform the vulnerable male”.
As an example of how the application of William’s article could work, the film It Follows will be used. It Follows is a film that revolves around a woman who is followed everywhere by an entity unknown after having sex with a guy. It was directed by David Robert Mitchell and released in 2014 and, worldwide, in March 2015. The entity, with the titular “it”, is the source of fear and horror in the film. The film focuses on the fear of the unknown making the entity, “it”, to be open to the interpretation of the viewers. It is, as it is passed in the form of intercourse, a reflection of a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV or AIDS. Personally, I thought of it as such given that it is sexually transmitted. In addition, the reason for or cause of the death of the one being followed is also because of intercourse.
The film focuses on the main character and woman named Jay. After having “it” transferred to her, it constantly follows her wherever she is in different forms. In the film we can see that Jay, the woman, is the victim of the film because of a male, similar to a lot of other horror films having women as victims. She becomes the object of the gaze both in the film and outside. In the film, “it” seemingly does not remove its eyes off of her as it follows her everywhere. Outside the film, she, being the main character and victim, is seen by the audience as such all throughout.
Linda Williams discusses the female gaze in relation to the monster and the male characters. Again, she mentions that the female look is punished. To apply this to the film, we see that the monster is able to keep Jay in shock and gaining control over her causing her own (almost) victimization before she realizes the need to escape. Second, Williams talks of having fear of the monster but, also relating with it. Having “it” inside her and following her leads her to become like the monster itself. Lastly, and in relation to the second, Williams mentions that power of a female to harm a vulnerable male. Again, Jay, in a way, becomes the monster as well. She could pass it on to anyone or, if she dies, even give it back to Hugh. This gives her somewhat a “power” to overcome a male.
Source: Linda William, “When the Woman Looks.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).