The “male gaze”, which is the way in which women are depicted from a masculine viewpoint, is a useful lens to critique a text’s view towards woman. The “Teacher’s Pet” episode from Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and his film The Cabin in the Woods offer pertinent examples of where Whedon misses the mark. The conceit of this Buffy episode is men’s piggish stupidity that is a result of their view of women, i.e., the Male Gaze. The villainess of the Buffy episode is supposed to be hypersexual as she is a siren, and the episode is trying to mock the male gaze, but the depictions of the Male Gaze here seem to portray the episode’s slant as less mockery and more conforming to it. For example, the introduction of Mrs. French’s character, an obvious portrayal of the male gaze as it is literally Xander’s gaze towards Mrs. French, straddles the line of satire and indulgence.
Mrs. French is not wearing a provocative outfit, she is dressed rather modestly in a mid-length skirt, a white blouse, and blazer, not a revealing outfit, but audiences are meant to see her as provocative in this scene. Should audiences be expected to leer at other women in the episode who are dressed with a similar professionalism as hypersexual? Evidently other characters are expected to do so as in the following scene where Mrs. French lectures on Praying Mantises Xander’s mouth hangs open and Blayne makes a sexual innuendo towards her. Further along in the episode, during the seduction scene where Mrs. French has Xander to her house, the scene begins with a tilt-up of Mrs. French lighting candles before settling on a close-up that gives audiences a birds-eye view of her cleavage. While it can be deemed necessary to show Mrs. French as intending to be provocatively dressed in this scene, the shot lingers long enough on her cleavage to get the point across and starts to titillate the audiences more than make them think.
In Whedon’s (co-written but not directed) The Cabin in the Woods (2012), the deconstruction of the Male Gaze is less ambiguous in its failed attempt. The scene where the two adolescent-horror-film-stereotypes, “The Athlete”, or Curt (Chris Hemsworth), and “The Whore, or Jules (Anna Hutchinson) become intimate in the forest and Jules’s breasts are exposed to the expectant officials of this “ritual”, proxies for horror audiences, conforms to the genre’s sexism rather than skewer the misogyny by actually showing the actress’ breasts. What makes this more damning of Whedon is that he has confessed that the two manipulators, or “puppeteers” (a favorite analogy of Whedon’s), of the “ritual” are direct representations of him and the director, as the book Reading Joss Whedon points out (Wilcox et al. 277). The film does not need to actually show the actress’s breasts to make its point. There are many ways the film could have achieved the same message without the explicit reveal. The film could have blocked the scene so that it is understood she is topless without actually showing areolas. The lighting could have obscured the actress’s nipples. The scene could have cut away at the very last second so audiences cannot see Jules’s breasts. If the film, one that was emphatically trying to be subversive and witty, wanted to really subvert the genre, they could have had full-frontal male nudity from Curt.
Wilcox, R. & Cochran, T. R. & Masson, C. & Lavery, D..Reading Joss Whedon. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2014.