Think about it. You are leaving the house for the first time today. You were happily cooped up in your room, wearing, I do not know, tracksuit bottoms or something, and chances are you do not have makeup on. Yet there are probably a few rituals which you abide by before you decide to finally leave the house, and these all get done before you go about checking that you have your keys for the millionth time. No, chances are you put on your makeup, find a “half decent outfit”, look for a suitable pair of shoes, then you finally venture out. Because you do not want anyone to see you looking as if you have just emerged from a bush, do you? When you eventually decide that you look acceptable, you finally head out. You wander past quite a few old people, some people who look around 16 who you are convinced that they look better than you, then you see that guy who you admit is moderately attractive, yet you would not dare to ever do as much a look him in the eye. The trip to the local shop has been fine, you have gotten what you need, but you decide to take the short cut back, where on the way you pass that crappy car garage place. There are about 7 men working there, who look as if they have about 5 kids each, of whom they do not know about. Yet, one would assume that they would be too busy going about their lengthy day at work, while thinking about the daily trip to the pub with the “lads” after work and gazing at those old sketchy posters in the tearoom whenever they get a moment. But you are wrong. As you pass by, a few of them give off an unsynchronised and out of tune whistle. Then, just for a minute, you wish that you had kept on your comfortable trackies, considering that otherwise you end up receiving unwanted, unpalatable, degrading attention, and the fact that all that effort was made for merely a ten-minute round trip.
Ok, I am afraid that I reckon that this is something which most young women can relate to. Nevertheless, how is this relevant? Well, looks, looks and looks. None of us like being gazed at, yet we still feel unnecessary pressures. Yes, this post is all about the male gaze.
What is the male gaze?
The male gaze relates to “the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and in literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexualmale viewer.” This is particularly the case with women of colour, who have historically been perceived as hypersexual. In practice, yes you have guessed it, it leads to women feeling the need to look, consciously or subconsciously, in a way that satisfies this. Meanwhile, as already mentioned, it can lead to incidents of sexual harassment and worse. But catcalling is so 1960s right? Wrong!
Why is it even a thing?
The idea of the male gaze could be traced back to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who embodied the idea of the male gaze in Being and Nothingness (1943). Here, the “act of gazing” created “a subjective power difference, which is felt by the gazer and by the gazed.” This is because the person “being gazed at” is seen as “an object”, rather than a human being.
The Modern Outlook of the Male Gaze
The male gaze is very predominant in modern film. Often there is focus on the woman’s body, to be seen as an object of desire for the characters in the film and for the male viewer. This represents a balance of power of the man over the woman. This also takes prominence within the workplace, where women will put in large efforts into their appearance and even go to extremes such as paying for plastic surgery such as to mitigate the physical impacts of ageing, meanwhile men can get away with merely putting on a business suit and tie each day. This reinforces the power balance of men over women within the world of work.
The Female Gaze
The female gaze relates to when women take up the male gaze, either internally or externally. When this occurs externally, women view other women through the male gaze, and when it occurs internally, women see themselves in relation to the male gaze, which as you can guess, can lead to a lot of self-deprecation, insecurity, and potentially mental illness. Once again, this reinforces the male gaze. This can replicate within women’s magazines, which while they have come a long way from the past, now often discussing practical issues of genuine importance, if you were to flip the page over, you would be bound to find some advert illustrating to women another way of “improving” the outer appearance. A tremendous problem with this, is that often women, being more than aware of the toxicity of these standards will not necessarily distinguish between what is of help, and of what is merely an advert trying to reinforce this ideal. Of courses, this will lead women to continue to internalise the male gaze, whether consciously or subconsciously.
How can we Revert the Male Gaze
I am going to be realistic, as this is not something that we are going to be able to achieve overnight. Nevertheless, for a start, if we all become a bit more aware of the current issues at hand and become a little more cynical when we choose to consume content, then we should become less vulnerable to being thrown into it. This hopefully should enable us to all become a little less susceptible to content advertising produce to us, and as a result magazines would have less reason to feature such ads.
More importantly, the male gaze encourages women to act in competitive, individualistic ways, which is unsurprising considering that because of beauty standards and suppression in the workplace, women are bound to see “attractive” women as a potential threat, rather than a companion.
Another thing which can be done, is to revert the male gaze in films, where the man instead is portrayed as the “bimbo”, while being mocked by female counterparts.
The Beauty Myth Naomi Wolf