We have seen it hundreds of times, a million different movies and a no two plot lines the same. The main female protagonist comes onto the screen, she dazzles. Starting even from when we were children, Cinderella entering the ballroom and dropping the jaws of the entire royal court. Laney Boggs from She’s All That after the iconic “take the glasses off the nerd and she’s hot” makeover scene walking down the stairs to meet her date. In this moment of physical shock and awe, these female protagonists seems to be gaining some semblance of power over the crowded room or their star struck lover. In that moment, she is becoming a consumable object to be judged, admired, or just aesthetically appreciated. While it may seem that she holds all the cards in that glimmer of time, it is her portrayal in that manner however- dehumanized and sexualized- that ensures she and other female characters like her will never truly hold the power.
In The Lego Movie, this phenomenon occurs the instant we meet the highly talented master-builder Wyldstyle, or Lucy. When the protagonist Emmett first lays eyes on her, she tosses her hair in slow motion and in that moment becomes an object of Emmett’s desire and fantasy. It is also in this moment that the movie- looking through the male gaze of Emmett- seals her fate as an inferior character. Once a female character is rendered inanimate by an objectifying and patriarchal media narrative, her role becomes at least in part to please the male characters or viewers and not just to exist as a complex and dynamic human. Therefore, anytime a woman is portrayed by the media- primarily from entertainment sources such as television and movies- and is depicted severed from her humanity through being shown as just a physical object of male pleasure, she loses her power through the patriarchal narrative.
Freud coined the term “scopophilia,” or the idea of looking being a source of pleasure in itself. Cinema is fertilizer for scopophelic behavior to blossom within. Actors and actresses cast in popular movies and television shows are always model of physical perfection to be viewed for pleasure- women especially. This is because the majority of the people behind the creation of film are male so the perspective and choice of shots used in the film are the ones that a man would have selected. The Lego Movie is no exception. The film comes primarily from the perspective of Emmett, who falls for Wyldstyle the moment that he meets her. Thus, every interaction that they have beyond that point renders her in a sexual way, or for the pleasure of Emmett because the film is from his perspective. In one sequence, Wyldstyle is explaining to Emmett the history of the Lego world and as she is speaking, the shot fades her surroundings and literally erasing her words- overlaying what he is supposedly actually hearing which is something to the tune of “blah blah blah blah I’m so beautiful blah blah.” This scene is the pinnacle of the problem that women face when objectified by the patriarchal lens. She is literally being silenced by her sheer existence as a prop of Emmett’s sexuality and fantasy. Laura Mulvey would describe a phenomenon similar to this as “the castrated woman.”
Mulvey argues that by the fact that women do not have penises, that they inherently lose power in society. The fact that women don’t possess phallic power at all makes the penis a symbol of power in its scarcity. Wyldstyle not wielding phallic power then becomes an object of the patriarchal narrative that centers itself on Emmett’s phallic power. The subject-object narrative comes fully in to play when the movie casts the female characters into scopophelic props, even characters that attempt to maintain depth such as Wyldstyle.
Mulvey also makes a secondary point about narcissistic scopophilia. In this alternate model, people identify themselves with the characters being objectified and find gratification through that connection. It could be argued that because of this phenomenon, patriarchal ideologies about women being props pervade themselves even further in society through women and girls identifying themselves in characters that are being degraded by objectification. Watching iconic characters held on a pedestal by society like Cinderella be reduced to their purely physical presence eviscerates the idea that you can be things beyond your aesthetic as Cinderella is an object for the viewing pleasure of Prince Charming and audiences everywhere. Examples of the Laney Boggs/Cinderella phenomenon are widespread and pervasive in the media that is being consumed by the masses. Behind almost every seemingly powerful and competent female role model on television is the version of her in a little black dress, with the patriarchal lens of the camera scanning her body once-over before revealing her date’s delighted face and starting with shot of her disembodied feet. If all you have to identify yourself with character wise as a child are women who are constantly having to change hats and be sexualized for the viewer’s pleasure, it is no wonder that in real life women have to fight that much harder to reclaim power in workplaces and professional settings that are separated from themselves as sexual beings.