Berger states that “Men survey women before treating them” (46). The male gaze is man’s way of judging the woman and “surveying” her every move. The male gaze can be a dominant gaze, which can leave the woman feeling lesser than the man. The women is often the watched, while the man is often doing the watching. It is for this reason that most hollywood movies cater to this notion by “dollying” the actresses for the satisfaction of the male gaze. Women know that men like to judge them, so they go the extra mile to look good and impress. Like Berger puts it, “…men act and women appear” (47). This negative notion of the male gaze creates a void in the woman’s heart, and thus lowers her self-esteem and can lead to a total loss of confidence.
Medieval paintings treated the women as the subject, in that “…[she] is aware of being seen by a spectator” (49), which is the man. These paintings depicted women as helpless and weak. They depicted women as seductive objects waiting for the man’s actions or approval. Cinema often creates visual pleasures by placing the woman in a passive or victimized roles. Mulvey states that “The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation, adding a further layer demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order as it is worked out in its favourite cinematic form — illusionistic narrative film” (843). Mulvey is saying “…that in film women are typically the objects, rather than the possessors of gaze because the control of the camera (and thus the gaze) comes from factors such as the as the assumption of heterosexual men as the default target audience for most film genres” (http://goo.gl/KvUIGs).
The oppositional gaze, as defined by Bell Hooks, encourages black women to not passively accept the stereotypes of them presented in the media, but to rather “stare” back and critique them. Hooks affirms that “By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: “Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality” (116). This is a means for black women to empower themselves through confrontation and critique of the media. According to Hooks, the oppositional gaze develops from the times of slavery when “…white slaveowners…punished enslaved black people for looking” (115). These attempts to repress the gaze of the black man “…had produced in us an overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze” (Hooks, 116).
The gaze, as I understand it, can be a dominant one in which one oppresses another through a stare of domination. The gaze can also be a prejudice one in which one pre-judges another.
Berger, John. “3.” Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting, 1973. N. pag. 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.
Tekanji. “FAQ: What Is the “male Gaze”?” Web log post. Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog. N.p., 26 Aug. 2007. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/08/26/faq-what-is-the-%E2%80%9Cmale-gaze%E2%80%9D/
Hooks, Bell. In Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: south End Press, 1992), 115-31.