Image: photograph by Barbara Kruger, untitled (“Your gaze hits the side of my face”) ,1981
The male gaze is not just a way of looking but a powerful interaction between a man and a woman, where a woman works to appear in a certain way to a man, and a man is allowed to judge her by her physical appearance and actions.
Based on an analysis made by Berger, women are judged on how they look and how they act. Berger gave the example that if a woman makes a joke she will be not be taken seriously by men because she is communicating to men that she is a joke. Berger states that a woman cannot make a joke for the sake of amusement, like a man (47). Therefore, in order for a woman to appear in the way she wants to in the eyes of a man she must watch her self and monitor her behavior (Berger 46). This gives the woman the illusion that she is in control of her own image, when in fact she never is. The man still has the power to determine how she will be treated.
According to Berger, a woman also does not own her own sexuality; the male gaze strips a woman of any agency and assumes that the woman is there for the pleasure of the man (55). Since the male gaze teaches a man to judge a woman by her appearance the woman can also become an object. Men and women are taught the male gaze not only through still images (such as photographs, and illustrations) but through films as well. In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey describes how the camera documents a woman in the film. In films the camera may focus on a woman’s body (such as her legs) or her face, which turns the woman into an erotic object in the film (838). The camera controls what the audience can and cannot see and therefore trains the audience to look at the woman as an object, rather than as a person. To summarize, a women in films are often shown as sexual objects that freeze “the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation” (Mulvey 837).
Advertising often preys on the insecurities in women by using the male gaze to encourage women to buy products that would help them appear how they would like to look in the eyes of men. The male gaze can have a destructive effect on women because women often sacrifice their own identity in order to reach the ideal that is portrayed in the media.
The oppositional gaze examines the media representations of a group and works to challenge them. In The Oppositional Gaze, Bell Hooks describes how the oppositional gaze was used by African Americans: “when most black people in the United States first had the opportunity to look at film and television, they did so fully aware that mass media was a system of knowledge and power reproducing and maintaining white supremacy” (117). Those who look with an oppositional gaze may choose to create media that challenges the stereotypes presented in mainstream media.
The male gaze can be destructive to young women who are still developing their identities and sense of self. Young girls may feel that they need the male gaze for self-validation and in order to get noticed by young boys they may focus more on becoming attractive and passive. In the article The Male Gaze and Fears of Being Unnoticed and Unaccepted, Dr. Weber writes that some girls may adopt a “kind of passive, easy, giggly, even ditzy persona” to appear non-threatening to boys (Weber, “The Male Gaze and Fears of Being Unnoticed and Unaccepted”). According to Dr. Weber, the need for validation that is received from the male gaze can cause a young woman to neglect herself and her needs and can prevent her from learning how to establish emotional intimacy within relationships (Weber, “The Male Gaze and Fears of Being Unnoticed and Unaccepted”).
Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992. 115-31. Print.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 833-44. Print.
Weber, Jill P. “The Male Gaze and Fears of Being Unnoticed and Unaccepted.” Psychology Today. Psychology Today Mag., 13 June 2013. Web. 23 Feb 2014. < http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/having-sex-wanting-intimacy/201306/the-male-gaze-and-fears-being-unnoticed-and-unaccepted>