Friday, February 25, 2011

"You got me looking at you and now you're looking at me" Toni Braxton


Mulvey coined the term "male gaze", where heterosexual men see women as an object. Further Mulvey stated that film is powered by patriarchy and patriarchy creates social constructs of gender. When I first read Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", I was lost in all the psycho babble. Even with a psychology degree, the vocabulary distracted me. When I got to the paragraph about the "female figure" posing a "deeper problem" (Mulvey 840) I applied Mulvey's theory to the film Black Snake Moan. Lazarus is trying to escape castration anxiety by "asserting control and subjecting the guilty person" Rae "through punishment"; he chains Rae to a radiator (Mulvey 840). Lazarus was "forcing a change" in Rae, trying to "cure" her nymphomania (Mulvey 840). Reinforcing the male gaze and keeping the male audience entertained, Rae was in a crop top confederate flag t-shirt and white panties for half of the film. The camera lingered a lot longer around her bare midriff. Lazarus treated her like an animal and offered to modestly cloth her when she is more human and "cured". Then he removes the chains.

Rae did not own or claim her sexual being. She was not in control of her sexuality. The men around her claimed and dominated her sexuality: be it Lazarus who chained her for her wicked ways; her mother's boyfriend who sexually abused her in her youth; her boyfriend's friend who feels entitled to her because of her known promiscuity. She had unwillingly "submitted to the demands" of these men (Berger 52); a slave to her own sexuality.

The story of damsel in distress saved by a man is told and retold in different ways . I don't need a man to save me or to help change me, but narrative cinema in a patriarchal society dictates otherwise. These social constructs of men and women are constantly reinforced by the images we see on screen. Do I identify with the images? Or do I have my own oppositional gaze? I don't go "to movies expecting to see compelling representations" of of Filipino femalesness (Hooks 119). I enjoy watching film and television. Do I forget about racism? Honestly, when I am watching, it is to escape the stress of the everyday. I choose to look. I identify with female protagonists in that they are female. I'm not looking for a Filipina. When I do see a Filipina, I am pleasantly surprised for there are so few.

My boyfriend has taken a liking to the the television series"Spartacus: Blood and Sand". I have not watched a full episode in its entirety; but from what I gather, violence and sex fill the hour. "300" with its slow motion gore comes to mind when watching "Spartacus". Spartacus is a gladiator, a slave and prisoner of war; property won from a battle. The slavery on this show is not the slavery that we are familiar with here in the United States. Sometimes gladiators were paying off debt and could win their freedom. Freedom could be bought and freely given by the slave owner. Treated as personal possessions by their Roman masters, female slaves in the show are almost always topless if not completely nude.

Roman women are also shown naked and in R-rated scenes having every desire fulfilled. In a strange twist Roman women gaze at the gladiators scantily clad in a loin cloth and boots: wearing minimal armor to protect the upper body or legs. This female gaze is just as objectifying as the male gaze: gladiators were slaves whom the Roman wealth saw as chattel to be used and abused for their amusement. The gladiators serve as eye candy not only to the women cast on the show, but also to the homosexual male and female audience. Conversely Roman and slave women are eye candy for the male cast and are being watched by homosexual females and a male audience. Further if two females kissing, it may be for the benefit of the heterosexual male watching. However, the difference in the way male and female bodies are shown on the show is drastic. While women are shown nude in just about every episode, male bodies are only shown nude on a rare occasion. My boyfriend likes to point out the occasional full frontal male nudity to show that there is some equivalence in the way men are portrayed in comparison to women. However, full male nudity is always from afar and only for a second.

Does Oprah have the oppositional gaze? She is the female black spectator. Her perspective is different from that of a white male or white female. She falls prey to Berger's "Women watch themselves being looked at" (47) and is aware of her good side, of being looked at, but that may be a function of her job as talk show host. TV talk shows have come a long way since the "Donahue Show". Shows became diverse in their viewpoints introducing female hosts, including Oprah Winfrey who opened up doors for other TV talk show personalities of ethnic background. "The View" was a talk show that began after the success of Oprah. The concept of the show highlighting the varied viewpoints of women of different backgrounds with typically one caucasian woman, one Asian American woman or Latin American woman, and one African American woman. The viewpoints of people of color is discussed in the "Oppositional Gaze" by Bell Hooks. Where Bell Hooks first discusses the gaze as the physical act of looking, she goes on to discuss the impact of mass media as a way of "introducing and maintaining white supremacy" and power (Hooks 117). The image of black people on TV was the way white people understood to some degree blacks and vice versa (Hooks 117). Hook states that black women that she had talked with did not relate to black women in film. However, today black woman as well as women of all backgrounds identify with Oprah Winfrey. We do not see Oprah as an object. She overcomes and overpowers this notion of white male supremacy. She has the power to influence public opinion. She is a black woman, a person actualizing her dream. And we want to emanate her.

Finally, I wanted to end with a different media: music. I had wanted to play this during the power point presentation last week; however, I am not technically savvy. This song says a lot about "Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at" (Berger 47). The singer is hyper aware that she is being looked at by a male. Please click on the link to listen: Looking at Me by Toni Braxton Source:

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.

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