The male gaze is defined as a sort of filter that is put onto various mediums that asserts male dominance over women. This gaze sexualizes and objectifies the woman. The male gaze also affects how women see themselves and how they act in public. In John Berger’s article, “Ways of Seeing” he exemplifies the root of this issue using European oil paintings. He states, “One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at…thus she turns herself into an object” (47). Berger points out that women are aware they are being watched and accept it. Women portray a certain persona because they know they are being watched by men. This idea which he pins to a specific moment in history can easily be applied in the 1970s (when this article was written) and even today, as he later points out with photographic examples.
The male gaze is persuasive because it penetrates media and a woman’s own thought. Laura Mulvey states, “Ultimately, the meaning of the woman is sexual difference…Thus the woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of the men, the active controllers of the look” (840). Mulvey further argues Berger’s point and transports this to film as well. This means that men put into media what they see women as and women are constantly hiding their identities and being self-conscience about their actions because they are constantly subject to this gaze.
According to Bell Hooks, the oppositional gaze is a critical look that analyzes and re-interprets the construction of societal ideals and media. Specifically, it is used by black females to challenge the male gaze and broadens the ideas of what the gaze, or filter on the media actually is. In this selection, she redefines the male gaze and pins it closer to the white male gaze. “When most black people in the United States first had the opportunity to look at film and television, they did so fully aware that mass media was a system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy… it was the oppositional black gaze that responded to these looking relations by developing independent black cinema”(117). By creating this first separation, we can see an even larger bias in the media industry that Berger did not examine.
Bell Hooks makes a second important argument that really is the core of the oppositional gaze. She claims that black women are not granted the allowed to look and are not represented in media often (118). The ideal woman portrayed in film and television, is a white, sexy, obedient lover to her counterpart. The key being that she is white. The oppositional gaze gives women, specifically black women the power to examine and challenge the white male gaze, which has enforced the ideas of racial superiority, white supremacy and gender inequality. Berger examines the ways in which women are seen, while Bell Hooks examines ways that women can view themselves and things that are presented to them.
Women are sexualized and marketed toward a male audience or more simply, “sex sells”. This idea was not a foreign one to me; however, reading articles about the male gaze this past week has really opened my eyes to this ideal still being prominent in today’s society. Berger, in my opinion exemplifies the root and foundation for the gaze, which society has then built upon (quite thoroughly). I do acknowledge the fact that this article was published some time ago, and I do not ignore that some progress has been made. I feel that that progress has been made by people like Bell Hooks, who have solutions and alternate responses to the male gaze. However, there is no doubt that most images, films and television shows still do cater to a male audience. This audience still objectifies, and sexualizes women for their own viewing pleasure. Specific examples of this would be magazines like Cosmopolitan. This magazine is supposed to empower women, but it does show with headlines like, “How to please your man in bed.” How is that empowering? Women are increasingly more concerned about how males view them and how they can be more obedient and pleasing to men. I understand that this is meant to represent 'sexual freedom' however, it still makes pleasing men a priority instead of finding ways to empower women through ideals of independence. These kinds of headlines and articles exemplify that women are aware that they are being observed and are willingly trying to cater to men and make themselves more appealing and pleasing to men. Some people may argue that Berger’s article is out of date, and it may be in some cases, but the underlying ideas of women being surveyed and women appearing are still very valid and clear in today’s society.
Note: 'Secrets of Male Arousal'
Body Secrets: Playing with women's insecurities about their bodies...they are constantly watched after all... Also, in the corner, 12 ways to be 'accidentally' sexy.
Gwyneth Paltrow: acknowledging the male gaze by addressing the camera.
Images found on google images.
Bell Hooks. In Black Looks: race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992: 115-131.
Berger, John. Chapters 2,3. Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting, 1972.
Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. NY: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-844.