Reversing the Gaze

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure, which is styled accordingly. (UFT 155).

I would argue that Mamma Mia (2008) does not “return” the gaze, but reverses it by either directly objectifying men, or at least denying them the opportunity to command control of the passive female.

Until the wedding scene in which Donna (Meryl Streep) reluctantly agrees to marry Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Donna maintains power in her relationships with all of her former love interests, even demanding that they leave the hotel. It is only until Donna marries Sam that her position of power is altered- and even in that case Sam does not gain power, but their relationship becomes ‘even/neutral’.

Donna’s best friend, Tanya (Christine Baranski), similarly maintains control in her relationship with her admirer Pepper (Philip Michael). Tanya uses her overt sexuality to subject Pepper to her whims. Although she is an object of Pepper’s desire and therefore his “gaze”, Tanya commands ultimate control, denying his advances.

Rosie (Julie Walters), another of Donna’s best friends, is the active female in relation to a passive male, Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). Rosie’s “determining gaze” occurs in one of the final scenes of the film, where she pursues a reluctant Bill relentlessly until he finally returns her advances.

The relationships between men and women in this film reflect the authorship of an all female production team. With their influence, women in this film escape the gaze, allowing them to deflect it, control it, or use it to their own devices.

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