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