The concept of the male gaze was widely introduced to us through Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. She revealed the attention given to the female subject rose greatly as the American film industry advanced. With a male controlled camera, the looking is done by the male and placed upon the female. Both the actor as well as the audience sees the female as an object to unleash its fantasies upon.
The male gaze is so widespread in today’s culture because it is applicable to all forms of media. In fact, although the theory was introduced in the mid 1970s, the male gaze can be seen throughout art history, dating back to Titian’s 16th century Venus of Urbino. This classic painting demonstrates the delicacy with which the female subject was treated – seen in the rich and idealized illustrating of her nude body, as well as her inviting smile and addressing of the viewer.
The male gaze has made its way across paintings, films and even advertisements. This last way is especially successful due to all of the products geared toward female consumers. It is made clear that in order to get the attention of the male, in order to be looked at and desired, one must resemble the female in the ad – therefore purchasing more and more to compensate for what she feels is lacking.
In order for the gaze to be male, it is not female – women are the focus of a constant power struggle. As Berger states in Ways of Seeing, a man’s presence is shown by what he is capable of doing to or for you, whereas a woman’s presence is shown by her attitude towards herself. Insecurities and anxieties easily form, as women are meant to watch themselves and adjust accordingly to the context of a man.
The oppositional gaze, as described by Bell Hooks, is a response to the gendered and racially charged male gaze. The male gaze singles out anyone that is not a white man – attaching him or her to a sense of otherness. The oppositional gaze has developed in order for those others to gain agency – African Americans in particular, as they were singled out and punished for looking during the time of slavery. While the gaze is connected to white supremacy and patriarchy, the oppositional gaze is connected to rebellion and documentation of wrongdoings.
Upon just a simple observation, it is clear that the male gaze is as strong as ever. No matter film, television or advertisement, women are still at the center of looking – as evidenced by the prominence of Botox, spray tans and low carb diets. I find it very difficult to be a media consumer in today’s society. While I can’t help but want to purchase certain products, or read certain magazines because they are visually appealing – I certainly try to do it for my satisfaction first and foremost.
Bell Hooks, in Black Looks: Race and Representation.
(Boston: South End Press, 1992), 115-31
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing.
(London: Penguin, 1972), 36-64
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings.
(New York: Oxford UP, 1999), 833-44
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