Who holds the power by looking? In the case of the male gaze, the men are doing the looking, therefore, they have the power. It is men looking at women, and women watching themselves being looked at by men. For John Berger, the gaze seems to be a power struggle. It creates the possession and possessor. The possessor being a man wanting to posses a woman. Berger also expresses that this concept not only arbitrates the relationship between man and woman, but also between women and the surveyors within themselves. In Ways of Seeing he states, “And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constant yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman ” (pg. 46). Although women may not incur the gaze at every moment, it is always at the forefront of their consciousness. This surveyor and surveyed relationship within women creates a dual personality. In order to be fully realized, women must always survey everything they do and everything they are because how she appears to men is ultimately of the upmost importance.
The patriarchal society we live in allows for this to be such a pervasive form of vision. This concept is seen not only in modern popular culture, but throughout history as well. Berger’s dissecting of European nudes and the way the female body is portrayed, mirrors advertisements and photographs seen in our modern culture. These women are depicted to cater to a male fantasy. The women in these forms of media are either portrayed as innocent and docile, or overwhelmingly sexified, while they are looking dead straight at the male spectator, or giving a slight glance. Furthermore, today’s culture perpetuates the idea of the male surveyor within a female consciousness. Even though she may be looking at herself in a mirror, she is doing so through male eyes. The advertisements and commercials we see each day show women in the image of man.
Bell Hooks describes the oppositional gaze as a rebellious desire. It is the black peoples’ right to gaze which creates an overwhelming longing to look. This gaze was developed because when the black community looked to film and television all they saw was a “system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy”(pg. 117). She says, “to stare at the television, or mainstream movies, to engage its images, was to engage its negation of black representation” (pg. 117). In order for the black audience, black women in particular, to relate to the material they would have to alter their way of viewing. The oppositional gaze was a response to this kind looking relations, which led to the creation of black cinema.
These readings have helped me to see the objectification of women where I might not have noticed it before. Advertisements and commercials have become more of assessment for me. I can see more clearly now how an ad for men’s fragrance featuring a beautiful woman can be a way of insinuating that if a man purchases the fragrance he can essentially posses the woman as well. We see celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashain objectifying themselves in order to be successful. They perform and make appearances dressed in very little in order to make a name for themselves. They dress themselves in what they believe will appeal to the male spectator, and in turn this will make other girls/women want to dress like them so they can also receive the kind of male attention these celebrities garner. It becomes a never ending cycle.
Link to article about the recent Sports Illustrated cover:
The photos above are the covers for the recent Sports Ill