Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Male Gaze

Gender roles and sexual oppression has existed for as long as we can remember. Human beings as a whole are referred to as "Man" historically speaking right. So the views of John Berger in the book and series Ways of Seeing shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. It states that there is an inequality between men and women. "A man's presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies," his strength and what he is capable of doing whereas a woman's presence is about what can be done to her. "To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men."(Berger pg45-46). This leads to the Male gaze. The male gaze says that the female is the object of desire for a male. It refers to the fact that women are put on exhibit to be looked at simply to stimulate men.
We are all victims of this idea and I use the word victim loosely because as I see it these are perfect example of "Art imitating Life" not the other way around. These are man made ideas being illustrated and dramatized on screen. I believe this is why the male gaze is pervasive as used in the media. It is an extremely popular medium to broadcast these ways of seeing which are really our innate ways of thinking. The media simply perpetuates the idea that all a woman is good for is to be there for mans pleasure. Women must be passive and accessible. The image of passive women and overtly sexual women for no reason at all other than to stimulate pleasure and desire in men is commonplace in today's media especially advertising and movies. It's everywhere you turn.. unless you are a total recluse who does not leave your home or watch TV, film, or even read the paper. We talk about the use of advertising to sell images as in this beer ad. Similar to the paintings and ads in Berger the woman is lying passively covered only in bottle caps. This is a typical ad, nothing that would cause us to double take if passed on the train, except to find out what the ad is supposedly selling. As is the poster for the show Nikita. Here the photo is supposed to draw men to watch because they see the sexy woman and women are supposed to see the gun and feel in control. But still the image in the forefront is the woman lying down.. she's not even holding the gun.
Personally I didn't pay attention to these ideas too much before reading the articles. It was always something there as I was growing up. While acknowledging that the "Double Standards" in regards to sex and behavior as well as the constant objectifying of women was unfair and felt wrong to me especially because just seemed like the norm. The statement that I've noticed relates to me the most was when Berger says that a woman must not only watch herself being looked at but we are also surveyors. "because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance". Thinking of the future generations, it made me sad that I agreed when he says "her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another."
It is perfectly normal for females of all ages to either dress down so as not to be looked at by men or to dress up to be appreciated by men. (Even when we dress up simply because we like it, we can not escape being made to feel as objects by the ever present male gaze.) From my position I feel like I was a passive participant and now I'm being led to maybe stop critiquing myself and my appearances and in turn critique the images put before me instead.
This is where I agree with Bell Hooks oppositional gaze. The oppositional gaze arose from two perspectives of the same person. As an African American and as a woman, Hooks and others like her viewed the images in the media specifically during her time, TV shows like Amos and Andy and cinema differently . She couldnt identify with what she saw, in fact she refused to. Hooks chose to turn the idea of male gaze around. Gasp. She developed a view which analyzed what she saw and also what she didnt see. "Black female spectators actively chose not to identify with the film's imaginary subject because such identification was disabling" (Hooks pg 122). Personally i feel that this is the gaze i would choose to use. Not just because as Hooks i am an African American woman but because it is a good way to remind yourself that you are not or do not have to be the same as you are 'seen'.

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