The problem with Keira Knightley's recent comments on the 'male gaze'

By William Hallowell | Editor

"2015 Oscar Winner Graham Moore and Kiera Knightley" by Bhautik Joshi

Knightley recently said that she won't do nude scenes in films directed by men, due to 'vanity' and the 'male gaze'. Some say this is woke, others defend it - but it raises an issue that mustn't be ignored. 


It is well within an actor or actress' right to decide which jobs to take on, and it should be perfectly reasonable to take up an issue with a role if he or she feels uncomfortable doing a particular scene, such as one which would include nudity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an actor or actress turning down a role or declaring - as Keira Knightley has recently done - that they will not partake in work that will involve nudity. Everybody has a right to this sort of privacy. However, it is her reasoning for this decision that I find inflammatory and unnecessary.


Speaking on a podcast, she said: "I don't have an absolute ban [on filming nude scenes], but I kind of do with men". 


"It's partly to do with vanity and the male gaze" she continued.


Previously, the actress revealed she has had a 'no nudity clause' since becoming a mother in 2015. Whilst I support the right to make this choice - as there is absolutely nothing with it - her reasoning does seem rather inflammatory, whether deliberate or not. The concept of  the 'male gaze' is the idea that in certain films or scenes in films, women are overly sexualised in a misogynistic manner to please the 'heterosexual male viewer'. Whilst I acknowledge its existence in the film industry, as I think it would be hard to dispute such occurrence, it seems very one-sided, or conveniently neglectful of the equally sexual, but unequally condemned 'female gaze'.


The point I am illustrating is that this concept obviously falls in line with the feminist movement and the fact that in society, there are double standards in regards to the portrayal of the different genders on the big screen and the expectations of how these genders should behave in real life. Arguably, the 'male gaze' comes from a patriarchal time, when women had less rights, were oversexualised and deemed less intelligent. However, I think it would be utterly ludicrous to suggest that all men, or even wider society, see women in this way in 2021. Some may, but they are a sexist minority, and for a reason. 


I am not downplaying the prevalence or significance of the oversexualisation of women in Hollywood or pop culture, but it is a very one-sided term given its very gender specific criticism. Much like the term 'male privilege', it seems to suggest that only men have inherent social privileges over women, when both genders have different social advantages and disadvantages. By identifying this oversexualisation of people in films as a 'male' problem, it is very conveniently not telling the whole truth. 


'Female gaze' is just as oversexualising of men as 'male gaze' is of women - arguably it occurs less, but this justification for not wanting to perform nude scenes by Knightley does seem to fall in line with this whole push for 'political correctness'. I think the term male gaze, itself, comes across as very accusatory and one-sided. It is a double standard disregarded by third wave feminists as it doesn't complement their agenda they are pushing. 


It is the same as the purging of films and shows depicting 'blackface' following the rise (just before the fall) of the BLM movement advocating social justice for ethnic minorities. However, White Chicks, a film where two black, male actors dress in 'whiteface' and portray western white, female stereotypes is conveniently forgotten. Arguably, 'blackface' has a certain racist history of deliberately mocking black people, and by no means am I defending it, but it seems that attitudes towards white men in western society are neglected.


Magic Mike, a film directly appealing to heterosexual women and the objectification of male strippers will never receive the same level of criticism. Let's be quite honest, if an oversexualised film about female strippers was made for the entertainment of straight men, the world would self-implode. Self-proclaimed teenage girl 'activists' would rant and rage on Twitter and the mainstream media would kick up a fuss. It is such a blatant double standard. Or what about that scene in Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's epic debut as James Bond, when he emerges from the ocean under a scorching hot sun in tight swimwear and an impeccable male body, which conforms to societal beauty standards of men? This is yet another demonstration of the double standards faced by men. 


And furthermore, it seems rather odd that she would make this decision for male-directed films, as if there would be difference if the film was directed by a women. Regardless of who directs it, it is still going to be seen by both male and female audiences. The reasoning for Knightley's decision just seems deliberately aggravating. 


I am not arguing in favour of portraying the 'male gaze'. I am not attempting to solely criticise the 'female gaze'. Simply, I am pointing out that both men and women face different double standards within society. By no means am I trying to attack Keira Knightley. It is completely her right to take this decision - but her reasoning supports this very fitting narrative that it is purely women who are sexualised, not the truth, which is that both men and women are objectified within the film industry and wider society. Yet, as per usual it is one gender which is victimised and the other which is blamed and scapegoated unjustly.   

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Wendy Hallowell
9 months ago

You have highlighted a lot of good issues.