Saturday, February 26, 2011

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

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