The male gaze and the oppositional gaze are ideas linked to the power dynamics between men and women, and white supremacy and colored women, respectively. The male gaze is the objectification of females in all forms of mediums and aesthetics. The male is the dominant gender because he is in control of looking. The female is viewed as an aesthetic – a piece of art that is looked upon. In Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, she states:
“In their traditional exhibitional role women are simultaneously looked upon at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. Women displayed as sexual object is the leit-motiff of erotic spectacle …she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire.” (837)
The female traditional nature is less aggressive, which automatically makes them less dominant. In the past, women were prohibited to wear certain clothings and to show skin. In rebellion, to cut loose from regulations constructed by men, women smoked, showed skin, and developed their own style. Women are naturally concerned about their presentation and looks. Women want to feel liberated and confident, and establish themselves through clothing, shoes, makeup, and hairstyles. Also, the female may want to attract a male’s gaze for potential mating by looking her best.
The male gaze is a pervasive form of vision in popular culture because female celebrities have pressure to be beautiful in the public eye. In red carpet events, male celebrities often wear simple, clean cut suits, while female celebrities are glamorized with elaborate dresses of top designers, fine jewelry, hair and makeup. They are used to advertise products (clothing and jewelry), like mannequins (objects). Once again, the female is used as a visual canvas. The female celebrity has adopted the male gaze to their advantage by purposely enforcing objectification to the audience to promote their work. Miley Cyrus is a great example of objectifying herself through her sexual actions and outfits to attract audience, controversy, and sales. She either wears skimpy clothing, is nude, or flaunting her assets. Her controversial music videos: “Wrecking Ball”, she was nude on a wrecking ball, and “Adore You”, she was on a bed (as if she was under the covers) touching her body and rolling around. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” music video featured half-nude females as the fully-clothed males watched. There is a dichotomy between nudity and nakedness. In Ways of Seeing, Berger differentiate nakedness from nudity: “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized by others” (54). We can call the examples, nudity because we neither know everything about Miley Cyrus nor the women in Robin Thicke’s music video.
The oppositional gaze is white supremacy over black people through looking. Oppositional gaze has developed from the history of white owners and black slaves.” There is power in looking” (115) as Bell Hooks argues in The Oppositional Gaze. Slaves were prohibited from looking as consequences proceeded. Daring to look is an act of rebellion against the whites. Novels represent white supremacy and the powerless blacks. During the time of slavery in southern United States, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It revealed how horrific slavery was and the forceful white owners were. For Harriet Beecher Stowe to shine a light on how abusive and vicious white owners were, she had to represent the white owners with power and the blacks vulnerable and without power.
The oppositional gaze caused me to think about a few things that I have encountered. In Asian culture, there is a fixed line between the old and the youth – the youth must not look directly into the eyes of the old when scold at. I’ve also learned that staring into someone’s eyes targets their weak spot, which reveals their uncomfortability, nervousness, and intimidation. As an American with Chinese descent, I experience a lot of Asian stereotypes through various mediums – television shows and movies. I agree with “I could always get pleasure from the movies as long as I did not look too deep” (121). Often, I have to not watch it from a critical perspective and put down my guards in order to enjoy the segment. What makes stereotypes comical? I believe it is the representation done by someone of another ethnicity that cause it to be funny.
The male gaze and the oppositional gaze are pervasive and has developed because it began in the early days of our history. History can’t be changed or manipulated as it is in the past, and history is constantly accumulated to the present.
Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines music video:
Tom Ford for Men ads:
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Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze.” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Eds. Boston: South End Press, 1992: 115-131.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-844.