Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Gaze

It happens so often that many females do not even notice it anymore. It happens in the subway, on the street, in stores, offices, and schools – any place that women frequent. If a woman is paying attention she may notice the stares. Men stare at women. Sometimes the stares are subtle, sometimes they are not. A woman may feel flattered, cautious, or just frightened. This is not only an occurrence in everyday life; it is so integrated into every aspect of our culture that it goes over many people’s heads.

As Laura Mulvey states in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, “The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly (Mulvey 837). “ Women are made for men; they are simply objects of desire. Women are sexual beings, and their passiveness plays to the male’s aggressive nature. There are many examples in cinema that show the two roles of women: that as erotic object for the characters within the story, and that as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium (Mulvey 838).

A classic example of the male gaze in film is the relationship between Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) and Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall) in the Howard Hawks film The Big Sleep. Similarly to Mulvey’s analyses of the films To Have and Have Not and Only Angels Have Wings, Lauren Bacall’s character is “isolated, glamorous, on display, sexualized. But as the narrative progresses, she falls in love with the main male protagonist and becomes his property, losing her outward glamorous characteristics…her eroticism is subjected to the male star alone. By means of identification with him, through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too (Mulvey 840).”

Some individuals believe that the male acts as the aggressor, or the viewer, because he cannot handle the pressures and responsibilities of sexual objectification (Mulvey 838). This may be true, although most men will not say so with those words. Many men may say so with their actions instead. Feelings of discomfort at movies or television shows aimed at women, programs that turn the tables and show the male as the object, are telling.

The oppositional gaze is the female response to the male gaze. According to sociologist Bell Hooks, after years of repressing our desires to gaze back at males, women now feel the need to rebel. By gazing back at men, women are saying “Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality” (Hooks 116). The oppositional gaze is not limited to women. Hooks uses the phrase to describe the struggle for domination between African-American slaves and whites. “In resistance struggle, the power of the dominated to assert agency by claiming and cultivating ‘awareness’ politicizes ‘looking’ relations-one learns to look a certain way in order to resist (Hooks 116).”

Once an individual is aware of both the male gaze and the oppositional gaze, the occurrences of both in our culture are clear enough to stop someone in their tracks. One may wonder how they never noticed it before. It is only through this knowledge that women will be able to confront the male gaze, and determine its effectiveness. whether it is on the train or in the media.

Works Cited

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 837-840.

Bell Hooks. “In Black Looks: Race and Representation.” Boston: South End Press, 1992: 116

Nudes and Clubbing: Not similar in the way that you'd think.

I have always wondered, why is it that I can’t get my boyfriend to the movies to see a plot-line driven by women (Sex and the City, anyone?). “It’s a chick-flick,” he says. A chick flick? What does that even mean? A movie that only chicks can watch? Why? Why is it that it is perfectly okay and even expected that I, as a female, watch movies with plot-lines that hinge on action (being performed by men) and a boobs?

The vast majority of movies have been engineered to appeal to men by using traditional cliches- the token buxom girl running in her white tee shirt in slow motion. Even movies that aren’t all “Dude Movies” still function on these cliches. Take for example, Avatar. The male character is taught how to assimilate into Na’vi culture by the female character. She teaches him manly things, like how to conquer the flying animal and he uses the skills he taught her to save Pandora while she of course, gets hurt and plays the damsel. Why is this such a common plot? Because movies are made in the same way that the nudes are painted- with the intention of the viewer to be male.

Frustrated with my boyfriends lack on interest in seeing a movie I wanted, I went out to a club with my girlfriends. It was there that I truly realized the relevance of the oppositional gaze, as described by Bell Hooks. The women there got made up, did their hair, put on their tightest dresses and gyrated their bodies knowing they would be looked upon. It was obvious the men there put time into their image as well, but it was for a different outcome. The women there expect to be looked upon, and if the men like what they see, they approach- from behind. The men approach from behind because they want to be able to gaze upon the woman while not allowing her to gaze upon them as easily. The woman is presumed to be dancing and is made up the way she is to achieve his approach, therefore knowing she is and will be looked upon.

The assumption that women were there purely to be looked at, while having no other objective than to observe themselves being looked at came to the ultimate fruition as I made my way through the crowd to exit the club. As I zig-zagged through the crowd, with my eyes on the door, I passed a man who reached down and grabbed my breast. Startled, I made eye contact with him. He shifted his eyes away and raised his hands in an “I don’t know what your looking at, I didn’t do anything” way.

It was at this moment that I realized that since I was at that club, with my tight dress, made up face and high heels, it was assumed I was there for the purpose of being looked at, and in the extreme case, being touched. But as soon as I was the active gazer, the former recoils in shame and defense.

From the nude painters many years ago to the nightly club goers of today, the same rules apply. It seems like a dated theory initially, but when you look around it is being enacted everywhere. Why do we settle for this? I just want to be able to go out and look nice without the assumption that I’ve done it for someone else's pleasure but my own.

The Male Gaze and the Oppositional Gaze: Understanding Structures

The male gaze is perceived as pervasive in popular culture for many reasons, and many of those reasons are the same. Some people think that it stems from men viewing the female figure in commercials or art, as a sex personified. Other people think that, it is just a reason for men to be preoccupied, a form of disconnection if one will. It is from many reasons that we have another type of gaze, the oppositional gaze in order to change the way we function as a society. I think that we, as a society, have to compare and contrast both forms in order to come to a conclusion as to how we have to view the female image in society. It is from this process that we learn about portrayal of image and how the image can be used to convey specific messages. These comparisons are important in discerning how one structure is more revolutionary than the other.
A better approach to understand the two is, giving a definition on the different structures. The male gaze is best defined by what John Berger writes by stating:
“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.
this determines not only most relations between men and women
but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman
in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object –
and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” (Berger, p.47)
An example of this was when I was reading an article on Lady Gaga, and the photos that they took of her were enticing. She was was not looking into the camera in most of the shots but the way she was dress was revealing. The purpose was not to create an art, but just at see her to invoke or spark a reaction. I think that is why there really is a difference in the context of nude and naked. Berger states this by saying, “To be nude is to be naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. To be naked is to be without a disguise.” (Berger, p.54) Now, that there is fairly good definition of the male gaze, lets define what the oppositional gaze is.
Bell Hooks who coined the term states that the oppositional gaze:
“ "By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: “Not only will
I stare. I want my look to change reality.” The ability to manipulate
contain it, opens up the possibility of agency.” (Hooks, p.116)
My perspective the oppositional gaze is, we see perceive the image as, one that can cause us to be analytical. An image looked at face value, does mean that it is just face value, there are more meanings to that image. An example would be when I first saw the image of reporter Lara Logan in a crowd of Egyptian protesters, ten minutes before she was sexually assaulted.
My initial thought was she looked lost and confused in the crowd and that is a face value perspective. If we analyze the image a little further we notice that her face is soft but serious. Her seriousness is what makes the image powerful and forces the viewer to give further study of it. One cannot help or notice images that are tragic or traumatizing, especially when there is a female figure involved. The concept of this necessity to seek out more than image’s main meaning is explained by Hooks stating:
“In terms of “relations of power” as part of an effort to challenge
the assumption that power is a system of domination which controls
everything and which leaves no room for freedom.” Emphatically stating
that in all relations of power “there is necessarily the possibility of resistance,”
he invites the critical thinker to search those margins, gaps, and locations on
and through the body where agency can be found.” (Hooks, p.116)
Ok, now that I tried to explain the meanings of the two forms are, here is how I understand these two structures. The majority of what we see has male gaze, and that is an unfortunate constant. It is from this unfortunate circumstance that, I and many others are forced to resist and take that oppositional gaze. It would be easy to see an axe commercial of “wash your balls” and say to one’s self, “Ok. It’s funny but I know that this is offensive.” I have noticed this analytical response, because of reading and understanding this concept. Berger states this, but relation to images of post-Renaissance saying, “Almost all post-Renaissance Eurpoean sexual imagery is frontal – either literally or metaphorically – because the sexual protagonist is the spectator –owner lookin at it.” (Berger, p.56) I know that my identity, as a male has changed, but to the point where I am more careful of looking at what I see and here.
I would say that my role in being aware of the male gaze and the oppositional gaze it’s, our responsibility to make others aware of it. If more people are aware of it, and we demystify it we make a difference. This is how we it would make a greater impact on the society and its interaction with the media of today. It may not be a great impact, but it is an impact no less. I feel this is the purpose of media awareness, knowing that image is more that an image. More people should the time to look around media viewed environment. Maybe, we would not be so passive to what is being shown as either insulting, or degrading towards women.

Works Cited

Hooks, Bell. In Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston,Massachusetts: South End Press, 1992.
John, Berger. Ways of Seeing. London, England, 1972.
Image, CBS. Tuesday February 15, 2011 2011. 11 February 2011. .

Eyelash Prayers

The male gaze is the ever-present eye prod, the tape measure, reflected in all physical gestures of approval and disapproval. The male gaze is, for me, so basic and familiar, it seems to be rooted so deeply that prior to my knowledge of this term of description, I perceived my heavy constant surveillance as simple self-awareness. I can liken my self-esteem to that of a cup of water, filled about 1/3rd. I depend on the male gaze to either fill the glass, or tip and spill my precious water,
(, nan goldin)
sometimes even knock it over. A man pours water into my glass with a compliment, a wink, some prolonged eye-contact indicative of approval.
Surveilance of self in the female gender is constant. The manner of a women's self image derived from how she is perceived by others negates her ability to perceive herself, the thoughts and judgements of others only matter and give her worth and power. I can remember being seven and not being able to concentrate on my nightly prayers because I was so distracted by picturing myself praying and wishing that I could somehow see the way that my eyelashes looked with my eyes closed in meditation. This is proof that the effects of the gaze cannot be switched off.
The imposition of the male gaze is causal to the self-flagellation of so many women. Women are the "watched" gender. It is this expected passivity that renders us vulnerable to the gaze, so much so that we turn it in and on to ourselves, judging our choice of clothing or style of hair according to the imaginary tally of the gaze's score. I know that in my own life this has been true, I reluctantly admit that on many occasions I have worn clothes and makeup for a boy's attention rather than my own comfort. In this way, the male gaze can diminish and rob a woman of her self, quietly and beneath her consciousness. Girls are left powerless in our cultural norm of not being allowed to look back. The gaze is intimidating and a look returned is branded as an unattractive insolence contributes to a girl's undesirability. We are bred to be desirable, we are bred to desire to be desirable. As Bell Hooks wrote in The Oppositional Gaze, "Imagine the terror felt by a child who has come to understand through repeated punishments that one's gaze can be dangerous. The child who learned so well to look the other way when necessary. Yet, when punished, the child is told by parents, 'Look at me when I talk to you'. Only, the child is afraid to look. Afraid to look, but fascinated by the gaze. There is power in looking." (115)
This gaze is completely manifested and encouraged in so many aspects of our culture, a particularly striking example to me is TLC's "Toddler's & Tiaras" which documents childhood pageantry. The whole premise of a pageant is being watched, combed over and poked. The male gaze is the scoring by which young girls on the show are rated. On this show, girls are scored from infancy on how photogenic they are, their "facial beauty" and their performance in swimsuits. Watching this show is like a sick parade of children vying for approval from adults who do not know them, rating them based on their level of physical attractiveness and docility. This for me is extremely disturbing. It perpetuates extreme self-consciousness that cycles into issues of drug abuse and teen pregnancy and eating disorders. Girls are sexualized and primped to appear on a stage not to speak, but to prance and win a crown based on how "pretty" they are. Children in full makeup is not for their pleasure, but for the cultural ritual of the continuation of the gaze which is so harmful.
Though I was never in pageants, I, like all women, am constantly affected by the gaze. I hope soon to be able to rid myself of judgements of the gaze that follows the female gender, a task I know I cannot complete without hard work in difficulty.I have always been thirsty, almost insatiably so, and I rely on the approval of testosterone to temporarily quench my need. Water trickles in, but I tip the cup over, and my glass was never filled half way to begin with.

"Heres looking at you,kid"

He watches her as she walks down the street.Holding a briefcase and wearing the pinstripe suit that she just bought from Nordstrom,she doesn't notice the stares. The gazes that follow her down the street, exploring every curve of her body,every move that she makes. The man doesn't care about her name, or her job, or even if she cares about his staring. Shes there for his pleasure, for him to lap up the sight of her passing him by. The male gaze is a dangerous and pervasive perspective in popular culture and media. Through the male gaze, women are objects, meant to be seen and shown like an art piece. Women are meant to be nameless objects of desire and are often shown that way, in art and mainstream media.Unfortunately this perspective and vision is extremely prolofic in media today and is often taken for granted as the norm.

A prime example that I'll use from my childhood is the image of Betty Boop, the sexy Cartoon pin up girl. Betty Boop w
as cancelled back in the 1930's but remained popular in media and her entire cartoon series was re released in the 1990's. Betty Boop remains a popular mainstream character and is the subject of many tattoos, advertisements, books, and even bed sheet sets. But we should ask why exactly, has Betty Boop remained so popular. For a second lets stare at the character.Although Betty Boop had at first been played by an actress and was an actual person in the 1930's, she then turned into this comic below.Shes the epitome of this male gaze,written by Laura Mulvey. Mulvey says"The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on the female form which is styled accordingly,...with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness."

Her dress is barely long enough to cover her thighs and butt.It also doesn't have any straps to hold it up over her enormous breasts.The top of the dress is also shaped into a sweet heart neckline, meant to enhance the curve of her breasts in the center.She wears a garter with a heart and in almost every picture of her the garter is exposed, almost like its inviting men to try to take it off.Her eyes are wide open, giving her a deer in head lights look. It gives the impression of shallowness and naivete,as if she'll believe anything a man says to her. She constantly is shown with her little dog,who is most often pulling at her gown,as if hes on the males side,trying to get it off. Lastly Her demure expression bring her character together.She gives off the impression of shyness, coupled with her hand over her mouth or her constantly puckered red lips, its as if she becomes just a token for women everywhere, that they should be seen
and not heard. There only there to be looked at and not much else, which perfectly exemplifies the male gaze.

The oppositional gaze is another gaze thats prolific in mainstream media. This type of Gaze, according to Bell Hooks, is how she looks at mainstream media and that has
developed in Black and minority culture. Bell Hooks, a black sociologist watched as African american characters in media were subservient slaves or bit actors. African Americans were rarely shown on screen and when they were they usually took the part of a servant or an obscure farmhand. The oppositional gaze developed because African Americans couldn't identify with any of their African American counterparts on screen.They started looking at media as an opposition to their freedom and rights, only maintaining white supremacy and keeping their African american counterparts "in their place"
Amos and Andy are a prime example of this. The most obvious issue with these characters are that th
eyre played by white men, as if African American men are not good enough to play African American men on screen. The second problem with this is that both characters were fools, constantly doing the most idiotic things. Of course it seemed funny,but neither character
was multi dimensional in that an African American would identify or even want to identify with these men. These one dimensional characters showed negative or non existent aspects of African American culture.,as if a few stupid laughs were all African Americans were good for.

Its weird how I never noticed before the sly undertones set by mainstream media before Id taken some Media classes. When it isn't presented in your face, you don't realize how deep down this pervasive structure goes. Where I once woke up in the morning and just put on what I like, I find myself thinking why do I like what I like? Is it because I like the style or maybe because the fit looks good on me and everyone that is looking will know it looks good on me? The same thing happens in movies and the games I play where I find myself question
ing characters and their purpose. For example the movie Casablanca, which is one of my favorites movies of all time is subject to critical thought. Ilsa, the female lead in the movie,is a pretty perfectly coiffed woman who is
constantly being told what to do. She doesn't have any major intelligent breakthroughs in the movie at all and is told by Rick to leave, and she just follows his orders. Sam, the African American piano player is only that, a piano player, Ricks sidekick. He often tells Rick that Ilsa will bring danger and misfortune his way and Rick usually tells him to shut just be quiet and play the piano,as if thats all hes good for.

The Male Gaze

Let me first start off by saying what I won't do. I am not a sociologist, a psychologist or psychoanalyst. I won't make any arguments about the male gaze being a male driven conspiracy to objectify all women. I won't make an argument linking the male “penis inadequacy complex” to the discrimination, or objectification of women in the media. I don't have a wild enough imagination to do that. Sorry if that's what you hoped to read here. I am sure you can find plenty of these kind of arguments somewhere else. What I will do however, is take a rational and common sense perspective on how the male gaze came to be solidified in the popular culture and how it is being challenged today.

Let's first start off my defining what the male gaze is. John Berger in “Ways of Seeing” defines the male gaze as a form of vision for the male audience.

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object- and most particularly and object of vision: a sight.” (Berger, 47)

Berger also noted the use of a mirror as a device to show that women see themselves as a sight as well. The mirror was there to “make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.” (Berger, 51)

Media works are produced with the male audience in mind. This leads to the image of women being twisted into the something that the male audience would consume. Women are turned into sights. They become objects. as well as they are being made to live up to those artificial representations of the woman. Popular media became the mirror that Berger described. It became a place where women saw themselves as sights and male designed fantasies of women. The penetration and repetition of the popular media made women indoctrinated into living up to those fake ideals and representations of women.

The male gaze is the pervasive form of visualization in the western media due the historical factors that shaped our society. I would argue that due the traditional roles of gender in a household, the media moguls targeted the male audience. Typically the male brought home the bacon while the woman took care of the children and the house. The balance of financial power was always in favor of the man. He was the primary source of income for the household, thus he had the major say in how the money was spent. He could decide to go out and splurge on himself, whether it was going out with his buddies or buying the next best car, gadget etc. He was the decision maker in spending money.


Knowing this, the advertising and media moguls exploited it like any good business person would. It's a rational choice. Sex sells. Why not use it to sell my product?

It's interesting to note how the women were presented in the revisionist media as the people who spent all the money. The women became the spender while the male reclined into the oppressed position of bread winner. He had only one purpose, and that was his Sisyphean task of earning money and the woman spending it all. There was never enough of it. She became the bitch, and he became the oppressed victim.

Could this be perhaps be another exploitation of another event in our social history? Women started to enter the workforce in large numbers in the mid to late 60s. Finally the legislation in Congress was slowly being pushed for greater access to jobs for women. Gender discrimination was now forbidden albeit it was practiced until present time. With women slowly making their way into the workforce that was usually male dominated, the male world rebuked this event. Well at least it tired to do so. Despite the adversity of discrimination in the workforce, women made gained more ground.

This dissatisfaction with the female intruder in the male world resulted in the TV and film media switching the roles of the women in then traditional setting. The women become the spenders and the males became the oppressed earners.

For example,the song, “Gold Digger” by K. West still carries on this fixation of women spending man's money, using the man simply as a financial institution.

The point is that the media establishment is a rational capitalist organism. It exploits the social situations for the sake of the money. Is there anything wrong in that? That's debatable. I myself would do the same.

Today's media still largely carries on this male gaze. The male audience is the primary target, well at least in the most of the cases. The opposition gaze is slowly making it's way into the media world as well. Though it's largely subtle.

A good example of the male gaze could be, the character of Kate Beckett in “Castle”, a prime time show. Detective Kate Beckett often finds herself wearing high heels in show. There wouldn't be anything wrong with that with the exception of wearing them out in the field. I don't know, I never wore heels so I cannot comment on their usefulness. Maybe they provide good heel support that makes chasing bad guys a lot easier. Who knows? But she sure does look sexy taking those bad guys down while wearing high heels.

In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Mulvey talks about the scopophilia and phallocentrism in the motion pictures. Scopophilia is a sexual expression by the way of looking. In the media women are often objectified as a sexual object in this way. The male audience is supposed to self identify with the character possessing the woman. (Mulvey, 835)

Two good examples of this are the sex scenes from the Hollow Man and the Black Swan.

Although the sex scene from the Black Swan is between two females, the way it was shot, allows the viewer to imagine/visualize himself as part taking in the sex act with Natalie Portman.

Huge part of scopophilia is also voyeurism. Allowing the character to observe the woman in secret and derive sexual pleasure from it. Best example of this is the scene from the Hollow Man.

The oppositional gaze as described by Bell Hooks is an alternative gaze developed in opposition to the predominant male gaze of the society from the position of the male audience. Bell hooks notes that in “resistance struggle, the power of the dominated to assert agency by claiming and cultivating 'awareness' politicizes' looking' relations- one learns to look a certain way in order to resist.” (Hooks, 116)
It has developed as way of resistance to self identification with the oppressed female character. It is the refusal to assume the society's given role of women. This refusal to either self identify with the either the dominator or the dominated deconstructs the male gaze.

We have two examples that can show the oppositional gaze.

  1. The character of Detective Dani Reese in the prime time show “ Life”,was a strong female character. She wasn't sexualized. She was illustrated as the alpha “male” in the professional relationship with her partner.

Unfortunately as the show progressed to the second season the ratings dropped. To rescue the show from complete demise, the executive producers decided to sex up the character of Dani Reese. Now she found herself, having a sex affair with her captain. She started to wear tighter clothes. Her hair was no longer pulled back into a pony tail. Her character had her rough edges smoothed out.

In the video you can clearly see that she presents herself in a non sexual way. She doesn't wear make up. She has her hair pulled backwards out of convenience. She doesn't wear heels while in the field chasing the bad guys.

  1. The character of  Olivia Dunham is another example. She is a law enforcement agent. She is the dominant character in the series. She doesn't wear make up or high heels. She is presented as a realistic( well at least somewhat normal) image of a working woman in the law enforcement agency.

Personally, I don't particularly mind or object the male gaze. I think we are all entitled to fantasies. Some men like to watch female bad ass detectives take down the bad guys in tight clothes while wearing high heels. There's nothing wrong in that, provided that we as a society know that it's the male gaze and that it's purely a fantasy of the male mind.There should be the female gaze in opposition to the male gaze. Let women have the same right to objectify men as men have done so for ages to women. Lastly if we as a society do decide to indulge ourselves in such objectification we should be prepared to make sure that children, boys and girls, learn that these images of objectified female and male genders is purely fantasy and should not make it's way to the real life.

Works Cited

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972: 36-64

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

Bell Hooks. “In Black Looks: Race and Representation.” Boston: South End Press, 1992: 115-31

Way of Seeing

Types of gaze are categorized by who is doing the looking and who is being looked at. According to John Berger’s point of view, male gaze is the ideology of image ownership came from the oil painting in Western Europe. Female model is always put on display to spectator-owner directly or indirectly through a mirror. Her attention usually directed towards male spectator-owner. Her body and her beauty offered up the pleasure for the male spectator. He sees her in the painting as his domain under his gaze. Male gaze is not simply the object of the gaze. It is also the relationship between the object and the self. “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at” (John Berger, 47)

There are several reasons that the male gaze is so pervasive in popular culture. First of all, “the attitudes and values which informed that tradition are expressed through other more widely diffused media.” (John Berger, 63) Secondly, this ideology roots in people’s mind deeply. People usually take it for granted. People tend to think that women should be shown for the pleasure of male spectators. In addition, we are living in a society that men have more power than women. Men have higher social status than women. As John Berger mentions in the essay, “a men’s presence is dependent upon the promise of power, which he embodies.” (John Berger,45)

At the same time, Laura Mulvey argues that film provides visual pleasure through scopophilia. Mass media always serves to sexually objectify women, especially, the film. The male audience usually relates himself with the male character in the film. This perspective allows the male audience to take the female character as his own personal sex object. “Through participation in his power, the spectator can indirectly possess her too.” (Laura Mulvey, 840)

Bell Hooks argues that “gaze had informed black parenting and black spectatorship.” (Bell Hooks, 115) Moreover, “the gaze has been and is a site of resistance for colonized black people globally.” (Bell, Hooks, 116) She argues that black female spectatorship was not considered important enough in our society. Mass media always helped maintain white supremacy. They are presenting white people as dominance viewers. On the other hand, black women can assess the cinema’s construction of white womanhood as object with an oppositional gaze.

Even there is some of black spectatorship of black films, but they focus on men rather than women. “This gendered relation to looking made the experience of the black male spectator radically different from that of the black female spectator.” (Bell Hooks, 118) There are few positive images of black women in the movies. Moreover, Hollywood likes to use white women film stats rather than black women. Black women don’t identify themselves in the movies because the movies don’t include their race. So many black women choose not to identify with Hollywood films. “The impact of racism and sexism [is] so over-determining spectatorship.” (Bell Hooks, 130) As a result, black women view film is still underdevelopment.

Before I get into the media major, I didn’t pay attention on this issue. I thought it has no effect on me. But now, I realize that the male gaze is so pervasive in mass media, especially in advertising. There is no doubt that the main purpose of the advertisement is to sell produce. But they not only sell produce, but also sell images, concept of sexuality and ideal female beauty. I found that there is only one part of women’s bodies is focus on. Breast is used to sell any produce. The male gaze makes women to be an object to help the products to get sold. On the other hand, I did affect by those advertising. I have learned to view myself as the photographer and spectators views the female model. As a result, I spent much money and time to make myself to become more like the models that I saw in advertising.

Want to know what is the forecast for today?

What characteristics define a woman? Is it her personality, skills and charisma? Or simply her physical appearance, her ‘looks’? What is a woman’s role in society? Is it to play an equal part? Or are women here simply to please men? Are we meant to be just beautiful? Sexy? Desirable?
Female representation as objects ‘to look at’ is not new in our time or society.

Women were being presented and still are today, as something to gaze at; as sexual objects that are simply here to please men, to excite their fantasy. Since, “There is power in looking.” (hooks, 115) and men possess the power, women’s social status and representation have changed by default, “…the social presence of a woman is different in kind from that of a man. A man’s presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies.” (Berger, 45)

An answer on, ‘Who is doing the looking?’ can explain the abundance of a specific female representation. This ‘artificial women’s image’ was, and still is here, for male pleasure; for the male gaze that still has the power to create an image of women based on the way men long to see them. A look that is not based on reality. The male gaze is so powerful that it has shaped society and has formed an unreal, simple, shallow and dangerous way of seeing women. All women’s representation in media is influenced by that.

What do men want to see? What do they want to gaze at? Women… beautiful, sexy women. Since men are thought to be the viewers/buyers, by all media, this misleading representation is everywhere. In TV ads; where sexy women advertise yogurt by licking the spoon or in magazines, where they advertise perfumes naked. In television, where the majority of female television personalities are mostly, good-looking with great figures. All over the web, in video-clips, in athletic games. And of course, in films. The majority of actresses are beautiful, young women, with amazing bodies.

It is almost certain that a film will have a beautiful woman that you would want to look at. In addition, it is almost certain that she will participate in an erotic scene. Why? For male pleasure. As stated in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, specifically, in cinema and films, “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 phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly.” (Mulvey, 837) This unequal power between men and women, the gazer and the gazed, is according to Mulvey, simple because, “ ...the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification.” But men can ‘bear the burden’ of easily reducing women to objects; objects of their sexual desire and pleasure.

Women are being presented in films, mainly, as sexual objects. This story is not new. This representation can be seen in an entire category of European oil paintings; nudes. Women, here too, are being depicted as passive beings, laying naked there to feed men’s hunger. As Berger states, “He is the spectator in front of the picture and he is presumed to be a man. Everything is addressed to him.” and “It is for him that the figures have assumed their nudity.” (Berger, 54)

Women’s representation emphasizes their status as sexual beings. They are reduced to erotic objects, passive figures for the active male. Since there is pleasure in looking, men impose their gaze upon women turning them into tools of male pleasure and excitement. Female representation offers visual pleasure in abundance.

This predominant way of seeing women, is not only limited to gender, but in addition to race, for bell hooks. She states in Black Looks that the oppositional gaze was the product of the denial of slaves’ ‘right to gaze’ and that produced,“…an overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze.” (hooks, 116) Being an African-American herself, she could not identify with the female representation that was almost entirely white, “….the woman to be looked at and desired is ‘white.’” (hooks, 118) This opposition, the looking back at the looker, was not simply because women were misrepresented as gender, but also as race. It is why women of color could not identify with the women presented on screen.

The oppositional gaze calls for more skeptical and critical viewers/ media-receivers. It is a critical gaze, “Black women were able to critically assess the cinema’s construction of white womanhood as object of phallocentric gaze and choose not to identify with either the victim or the perpetrator” (hooks, 122) This monochromatic representation can still be seen today. Some steps have been made but they are only baby steps. On Sunday the 27th as we watch the Academy Awards, 2011 we may not all notice that there will be no African American representation.

This designed/artificial image of women influences, in different degrees, women’s lives. Mine too. Coming to understand these structures makes me feel like we are pawns in a game. How we actually ‘look’ and how we are trying to ‘look’ can affect our lives and most importantly, our feelings and inner world when we realize that we do not match the ‘desired’ look. The ‘look’ that is influenced by the images that are being presented to us from an early age, in order to be desirable, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” But more importantly, “This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.” (Berger, 47)

We spend time trying to be something that we may not be just because that is what we are being told we should be like. Men, other women, ourselves watch how we women look, move and behave. I am definitely adopting a more critical gaze when it comes to media from now on. Not feeling comfortable and happy in our own skin is a sad reality for many of us. Unfortunately, we are caught in this vicious cycle and it is hard to escape this shallow mentality that how one looks weighs more than the actual person.

Work Cited
bell hooks. In Black Looks: Race and Representation Boston: South End Press,1992: 115-31
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972: 36-64
Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44

Do you see what I see?

The male gaze, described by Laura Mulvey in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, is the active male visual consumption of women and images of women. This form of consumption is encouraged and promoted by the media. Within a patriarchal society the role of women is that of passive object, subject to the whims and impulses of the dominant male. The effort to dehumanize women serves to lower their standing beneath the animalistic behavior that unchecked male dominance condones. This demotion from human being to expendable doll is necessary to justify such behaviors. Mulvey states, “Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning”. The notion of women as “signifiers” rejects their inherent value as individuals.

The male gaze continues to be prevalent in these “modern times” because images normalizing patriarchal structures are continuously repeated, brainwashing generations of audiences, including female audiences, into the acceptance of this cultural hegemony. The results? Tweens dress like prostitutes, teenage girls get breast implants and women of all ages suffer from eating disorders because they are taught to hate their “inadequate” bodies. Meanwhile young men are indoctrinated into unrealistic expectations of the female form, and rape victims are blamed for the crimes committed against them. According to 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and only 6% of assailants will spend a day in jail.

In “Ways Of Seeing”, John Berger reveals early examples of the male gaze in Renaissance nude paintings. In accordance with other works of this period, Bronzino’s painting of Venus, according to Berger, exemplifies this predatory point of view: “Her body is arranged the way it is, to display it to the man looking at the picture. This picture is made to appeal to his sexuality. It has nothing to do with her sexuality”, she does not exist only her image exists in the domination fantasy of the male viewer. Her gaze merely signifies his ownership of her. The media continues to package and re-package these same damaging images and ideals. Emulating poses from Renaissance art, the fashion and advertising industries continually recreate images of passive, sexually available, feminized shells:

Hollywood consistently portrays women as sexualized spectacles that titilize both the male protagonist and viewers alike:

(and this might seem a little off topic but even films that don’t appear to be following the standard Hollywood formula like “The Kids Are Alright” still manages to let men know who’s on top, I mean really, a film about a lesbian family but the straight guy still gets laid by one of the wives?!)

Disney movies may be one of the most egregious examples of the perpetuation of stereotypes by encouraging children to idealize overly feminized and sexualized characters: is a link for “The Top 10 Hottest Animated Disney Women”.

Video games promote these unrealistic ideals by creating bizarrely distorted female caricatures:

In “The Oppositional Gaze”, Bell Hooks pierces the illusion of the male gaze by naming it and holding it accountable. Hooks reveals how historically, the experience of black women has been invalidated through omission by both the media, and the Feminist movement. Recognizing the psychological paralyses caused when one is forbidden from “looking”, Hooks draws a parallel between the Black slave experience and that of women. Hooks states, “There is power in looking”, this power is in both looking back at those who seek to fix you in their gaze, and in looking critically at the images, stories and stereotypes propagated by the media. The oppositional gaze refuses to “stay in it’s place”, unwilling to wear the blinders of dominant society.

Reading Berger’s statement: “A woman must continually watch herself…She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another”, was a revelation for me. I have been hyper-aware of how I appear to others for as long as I can remember but never cognizant of my “awareness”. I see now how debilitating and fragmenting it has been to habitually interrupt myself, stepping outside of myself, when I sensed that someone was looking at me, especially a man. But there are a few reasons for this hyper-awareness, every single day of my life that I can remember, even as a child, I have felt preyed upon by the gaze of men. As a young girl I learned to have my radar up for the men around me. And yet I know not all looks are predatory, I look at people all the time. And my experience of being looked at has always been filled with conflicting feelings. There’s the part of me that buys into the idea that my value is relative to my desirability while at the same time I feel enormous resentment when men stare at me. I have this brainwashed, compliant part of me, feeling that my appearance is of extraordinary significance and if nobody’s looking something must be wrong (I hate admitting this!) and yet I find men’s blatant slack-jawed stares disgusting and infuriating. Looking at these social structures and my unconscious participation in them is painful and it makes me really, really angry. But I know that Bell Hooks is right, there is power in looking.

Hot Robot Slave

According to Mulvey, the ‘male gaze’ is the way men view women by looking at them, which then judges them and objectifying them. As Berger points it out in paintings, ‘men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at’ which men surveys them and depiction of fantasy ensues. This is very evident to pop culture today due to media productions directed towards male audiences. This exploits women and all their beauty because sex sells.

One example that takes the male gaze in a literal sense is a video made by famous youtubers Smosh. They make funny, crazy and sometimes offensive videos for their fans on youtube. This particular video kinda hits the spot in this topic. The video is called ‘Hot Robot Slave’ in which they literally get a female robot and make her do household work, and they even attempt to date her. Just like in the male gaze where male objectifies the women, in this video, the woman is really an object. You could further look on the comments on what the audience's fantasy, which majority is male.

I too realized that I did a video of showcasing the ‘male gaze’ in a literal sense. In the opening of my short film ‘Taking Julia,’ the main character sees a girl walking by and he immediately stare and fantasize about her in a model photo shoot. This was made to show the women’s beauty and have the audience stare with the main character. I made this opening sequence to attract viewers, and have them hooked on to watch the whole video. I even made the thumbnail of the video the girl’s screen capture picture. Yup, guilty as charged. The video made 5k views in a week on youtube, which is not bad knowing I’m not as popular as Smosh, with their video almost reaching 2 million views.

Bell Hooks starts with a history lesson about how the slaves were forbidden to stare and gaze at the slave owners and white people in general. They were punished when they looked. The only time they can look is through mediums like the movies. They couldn’t relate to the characters that they were watching because they were often stereotyped, so they gaze at them with their own ideals rather than what the media and others intended for them. That is oppositional gaze.

During the class discussion and having read the reading materials, I noticed more and more on how the male dominates the media, and often enough, are centered around them too. With these gazes and the different perspective, it shows more on how the media exploit women and sexuality, and use that as an advantage to market their products. Knowing this, now I can strengthen my marketing campaign with my films and videos.

Men act ; Women appear ..........

Be it Cinema, T.V, Arts or any other media dominated by male society, Pleasure in looking has been divided into: Active/male and Passive/female. According to Mulvey, the concept of male gaze is the one that deals with how men look at women. She believes that in the film, audiences have to view the character from a heterosexual view where females are always objectified (Mulvey, 839).

For instance, the camera rolling over the curves of women's body, close-ups of her lips, legs, breasts, relegates women to status of objects and these events are mostly in response to a man's reaction. There are several advertisements where we can find the women's body being sexually exposed when it has nothing to do with the products being sold.

The advertisement shown above is one of Tom Ford's glasses ad which clearly incorporates Mulvey's criticism. The model shown in this ad is expressing so called "invitational" pose, perhaps suggesting sexual connotations.

Coming from the black feminist perspective, Bell hooks talks about the oppositional gaze. According to hooks, the oppositional gaze is the one that averts the objectifying, dehumanizing gaze of white Americans and which helped to re-establish the black American status giving them a voice (hooks,116).I remember watching William Faulkner’s " A rose for Emily" where they have portrayed a black women as vocally deformed incapable of utterance.there are several other examples that describes the birth of oppositional gaze.Bell, remembering the character from Amos n Andy, wrote a short essay to encourage black women not to accept the stereotypical representation but to think critically.

After these reading and constant analysis, I have come to an understanding that the media has such control over our imagination and there really is a conscious manipulation of representation. While studying back in Nepal I always thought women in United States have the equal rights as men, but now encountering such ridiculous gender stereotypes in various forms of media has made me think more critically. I feel that such stereotypes, these male dominating structures are politically and culturally constructed.


Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” British Broadcasting Corporation, 1972: 36-64

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

Bell Hooks. “In Black Looks: Race and Representation.” Boston: South End Press, 1992: 115-31