The Male Gaze and The Complementarian Church

In 1975 the feminist writer and theorist, Laura Mulvey, highlighted a problem to be found in the film and media industry in how it portrays women. She suggested that:

The male gaze occurs when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. It may linger over the curves of a woman's body, for instance. The woman is usually displayed on two different levels: as an erotic object for both the characters within the film, as well as the spectator who is watching the film. The man emerges as the dominant power within the created film fantasy. The woman is passive to the active gaze from the man. This adds an element of 'patriarchal' order and it is often seen in "illusionistic narrative film". Mulvey argues that, in mainstream cinema, the male gaze typically takes precedence over the female gaze, reflecting an underlying power asymmetry.

The key element here is that women are essentially referenced by men in terms of value and function. I would suspect that very few evangelicals would disagree with her view that women are over sexualised in such a way. I would like to suggest, however, that the same critique can be used in response to complementarianism; in terms of value and function if not in sexualisation.

Let's see if this theory works:

1) The male gaze occurs when the preacher puts the congregation into the perspective of the heterosexual man.

2) The woman is usually displayed on two different levels: unregenerate whore or wholesome homemaker.

3) The man emerges as the dominant power within the created ecclesiology.

4) The woman is passive to the active leadership of the man.

5) In complementarian churches the male gaze typically takes precedent over the female gaze, reflecting an underlying power asymmetry.

The destructiveness found in the media industry is worthy of challenge. The effects of the theological male gaze in church is equally in need of question.

Discuss!

4 comments:

Pam Smith said...

Strong stuff Al, and very thought provoking.

Out of everything that the General Synod debates on women becoming bishops has thrown up for me (as an ordained woman in the C of E), the most unpleasant and disturbing has been the way the complementarian view has been expressed as if it is theologically mainstream.

I think, to carry the parallel through, I would say that the woman is presented on two levels - as subordinate within the church, and subordinate everywhere else.

I believe the C of E (and other churches where women are treated unequally) actually provides a retreat from the reality of gender equality in the world, and by giving a sense of theological justification to these people, makes female subordination part of the 'gospel' they wish to preach to the world.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. A complementarian pastor recently asked me to read the manuscript of a book he has written defending the 'traditional' (sic) view of men and women and ministry. To be fair he asked me because he knew I would disagree with it. One passage that I cannot get out of my head (unfortunately) describes how this man finds that when a woman preaches he is unable to think of God because he is distracted by having to look at the contours of the woman's body. Apparently, according to this man,this is evidence of the wisdom of Paul's injunction that women should 'cover up' in church and proof that women should not teach.

Alan Molineaux said...

Thank you Pam - we are praying for all of our C of E friends and are glad for the many benefits they bring to our lives.

Anonymous - I think the pastor as revealed more about himself than any theology. Ouch!

Dave Faulkner said...

@Anonymous: so how long before the complementarians start introducing the burqua? Seriously, that is very worrying. It sounds like the complementarian pastor can only think of women as sex objects. I'm not saying Christians shouldn't dress modestly, but it turns 'covering up' into a blame tactic on women for men's failure to exercise the fruit of the Spirit, namely self-control.