Ways of Seeing- The Male Gaze

The gaze is when someone is being watched. But it has become an engendered and a power issue. Men look at women and women know men are looking. Women become aware of this from childhood. John Berger talks about Nude paintings from the Renaissance. He said, “You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting Vanity, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure” (51). The word “nude” is used to make it less about the looking and more of an art. It is also a reason for men to look at women. But by putting a mirror in their hand it becomes a woman looking at herself not a man.

In film and photography, the camera becomes the eyes. When a woman enters a scene usually just showing a body part. Women are also more of an accessory or something nice to look at. Laura Mulvey wrote, “Traditionally, the woman displayed has function on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen” (838).” The woman is there to give the audience something to look at and usually as a love interest for the male lead. Mulvey discusses “buddy movies” (837) briefly, and how two main male characters can be involved in a bromance and its seen as normal. However in most movies with a female protagonist she is usually romantically involved with another man. Those types of movies are nicknamed chick flicks even though they usually have the quest of finding a man to love.

The oppositional gaze is to fight back against the gaze. We learn as young children to not look back at someone you’re in trouble with. We tend to look down or away from the trouble. The gaze is powerful but so is the oppositional gaze. It takes back the power and dominance.

Bell Hooks says the oppositional gaze is more race related than gender. Black people were taught not to look directly at people and to look down. However with the growing popularity of television they were allowed to look. “We laughed at television shows like Our Gang and Amos ‘n’ Andy at these white representations of blackness, but we also looked at them critically” (Hooks 117). In the same environment where a black man would be lynch for looking at a white woman is encouraged to watch them on film and television. The oppositional gaze developed to take back the domination of the gaze.

After reading these passages I’ve been come more critical to what I see in the media and my daily life. I noticed how some movies and television shows that I thought showed a strong female protagonist is usually shadowed by some type of father figure or male love interest. This has also changed my mind the most about photography and film. I always knew that men look at women differently than women looking at men but these articles reenforced that. The fashion industry is mainly geared towards women and just recently started to include more choices for men. After understanding the gaze it has made me more critical of what I see in representations of women in media and in my daily life.





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