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.