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 http://www.rainn.org/statistics: 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and only 6% of assailants will spend a day in jail.
Hollywood consistently portrays women as sexualized spectacles that titilize both the male protagonist and viewers alike: http://images.coveralia.com/audio/t/The_Best_Of_Bond_James_Bond--Frontal.jpg
(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?!)
Video games promote these unrealistic ideals by creating bizarrely distorted female caricatures: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3173/2893053671_9ab8a9b87a.jpg
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.