Euphoria Season Two: Addressing Their Problem With The Male Gaze Or Capitalizing On It?

Mia Romanoff, Blogger

In the second of two special episodes of the HBO show Euphoria, a significant amount of air time is spent discussing Jules’ relationship to femininity as a trans woman. In this portion of the episode, she talks about how she modeled herself as a woman based on what men found desirable, even saying that “In my head, it’s like if I can conquer men, then I can conquer femininity.” While at the core of her point is that femininity is intrinsically linked to the male gaze, the show itself often filters its female characters through this very male lens. 

The show follows a group of teenagers tied together by the main character, Rue, and her drug addiction, yet in season one, sex is instrumental to the show’s plot as well as the character’s backstories and senses of self. While all the characters deal with their relationship to sex, there is a distinction made between the male and female characters as the boys are presented as dealing with this relationship as just a part of their teenage experience while the girls and their plots are often defined by their relationship to sex. Even when the female characters, who are all underage, talk about the (often) male validation they crave as being a motivator for their actions, their words do not reflect the way the show treats its female characters. Rather it seems that the show refuses to subvert the male gaze their characters grapple with, as the aesthetics of sex and powerless teen girls take over any dialogue meant to admonish this harmful objectification.

This can be seen in the storyline of one of the peripheral characters, Kat, who becomes a cam girl, making money by having grown men pay to see her on the internet in lingerie, even though she does not need the money. The show, however, does not portray it as a foolish adolescent endeavor motivated by a need to be thought of as desirable, but rather as something that is inherently sexy despite her age and clear body image issues that she ostensibly cures through male validation. 

Another prime example of Euphoria blurring the lines between addressing the male gaze and subjecting their characters to it is Cassie, who uses promiscuity as a way to attract love and validation. It is not depicted as tragic but rather aesthetic and vaguely sad. Purple lights and a good soundtrack romanticize these young women’s experiences with the male gaze without subverting it. The show is the problem it attempts to call out. While the lingering lens could be seen by some as a refusal to pull back when it comes to tough issues, the problem is never addressed; it just sits beneath the surface as a motivator to push the characters along. One of the primary factors to consider when looking at this oversight is the fact that the show’s creator and main writer, Sam Levinson, is a man, and it is near impossible to reject the male gaze while simultaneously holding it. This new episode can either be a turning point in Euphoria’s handling of teenage femininity and sexuality, or it can be another stack of well-scripted lines that point out a problem the show helps perpetuate. As the success of Euphoria is predicated on its aesthetics and romanization of hardships I doubt this episode will truly act as a turning point, but it will hopefully be a small step in the right direction.