The oppositional gaze represents the intrinsic power held by the dispossessed as they actively challenge the way power relations are traditionally defined. At the core of this is the fear of the ‘Other’. In a world of what Bell Hooks terms the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy”, the one archetype that all others are compared to is successful, suave, confident, powerful white male. Not only does this person have agency, but also the respect and authority that come from being recognized as a powerful and intelligent figure. The other is his antithesis, his negative. It is what he isn’t. If one’s role is defined by the ‘other’, what would one be if the conceptual ‘other’ were to change or disappear entirely?
Hence, when minorities such as African Americans and women attempt to subvert the established institutions of patriarchy, they often are seen as a threat to stability and normalcy. When someone is attempting to assert power, a confrontational stare or a steady calm gaze can mean a challenge while avoiding eye contact can be a sign of weakness or fear.
In The Oppositional Gaze, Bell Hooks said ”The ability to manipulate one’s gaze in the face of structures of domination that would contain it, opens up the possibility of agency” (Hooks, 116). In this regard, the male gaze can often be seen in women’s ads, not only because it is a sign of our patriarchal world, but also because it encourages women to see themselves in relationship to ‘the gaze’. In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey said, “In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact…Women displayed as sexual object is the leit-motiff of erotic spectacle: from pin-ups to strip-tease, from Zeigfield to Busby Berkely, she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire” (Mulvey, 837).
Consequently, the gaze does not specifically belong to the realm of man, but it is usually employed as such because traditionally, society (patriarchs) values beautiful women. In the consumer-driven culture of America, it is often easier to appeal to a woman’s vanity and her insecurities in order to sell products which enhance beauty (or are perceived to). The perpetuation of the “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” depends on people continuing to see the message behind these ads as more important (being beautiful and admired and playing into that trope) than the ad itself (which is trying to sell a product).