The “gaze” can be best described as the power or control that a certain individual or group believes they hold over other individuals or groups. In regards to the “male gaze”, it is defined as the way men objectify women and the way in which men believe they hold control or power over women. This can be noted through different forms of media, such as ads, in which women are posed or presented, by men behind the lens, in a way that makes them appear as a desirable object in order to sell or attract consumers, and to basically appeal to the male population. For example, many a times women are often displayed in a sexually suggestive manner that almost has nothing in common with the product being advertised such as perfumes or colognes . In many films, female characters are mostly on screen just for the male audience’s pleasure. In Laura Mulvey’s article, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, she states how women in film are “displayed” and looked at as sexual objects and as signifiers of the male desire(837).
The “male gaze” has become a consequence of the ever present patriarchy that has become prevalent in popular culture. The system of patriarchy allows for the the white male to have power and authority over women and individuals. This authority over women is at times seen in ads in which the female appears subservient to man, at times she is under him or is posed in a way that makes her seem weak and vulnerable in contrast to the rigid and domineering male.
Due to this male gaze, women are often watching themselves and how they act in public. As John Berger states” from earliest childhood, she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually”(46). Women are constantly surveying themselves and everything they do in order to not only appease others but also men because, as Berger stated, this is of “crucial importance” and is thought of a success in her life(46).
Another form of power struggle between individuals is the “oppositional gaze”, which can be described as the way in which individuals are targeted not just on the bases of gender but also race. Bell Hooks notes the oppositional gaze as form of resistance for black individuals(116) in a society where they are misrepresented. In the aspects of media, there is a lack of representation of black women and even if they are represented it is usually based on stereotypes that in no way represent this group. As Bell Hooks notes, black women are often portrayed as undesirable or with traits that can be considered as negative. The main details noticed in film or other forms of media is the black women were below what was considered attractive or what was desirable to look at, which was the white woman.(118).
In regards to these different systems of power, they have vastly allowed me to view things that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Learning of these systems has allowed me to see how the male gaze and patriarchy are so deeply engraved in the media and how I’ve come to see it as normal. The readings have allowed me to see how much women are objectified and how the gaze affects not only a certain gender but also a race. In ads and magazines women are displayed as sexual object instead of beings while men are posed in a way that makes them seem confident and in control of their environment.