"Women dream of themselves being dreamt of." - John BergerPrior to being colonized, the Americas were filled with indigenous men and women who had equal roles in society. Men and women took on the same tasks, i.e. hunting, cooking, etc. When the Spanish came here, they were horrified; the Europeans described the men as being "feminine" because they let women do the same work as them and the women as "masculine" for doing what is considered a "man's job". However, when the Europeans came and bestowed their customs on the Natives, everything changed. Europeans saw women as a way to gain citizenship in Native land. Christopher Columbus wrote a letter to the Spanish crown saying that the women were "friendly" as an incentive to make other men come to the Americas. He talked about how the women walked around naked and could be willing to "be their friend". Women became objects to attract men to travel across the seas to America. This was only the beginning.
Nowadays, men objectify women all the time. The "male gaze" is the male point of view when looking at women. Basically, you are seeing through their eyes. Generally, it surveys and objectifies women. It is very prevalent in a woman's everyday life. A woman cannot go a day without being looked at with the "male gaze". In the car, bus, even walking, I've observed men constantly "checking out" women and "hitting" on them. They do it on purpose and knowingly; they are aware of what they are doing and how uncomfortable they make women feel. It's seen as a norm in today's society to objectify a woman. In many paintings done by men, women are the main subject of the painting. These images are made for men to look at. Women are often portrayed naked and looking at themselves, which makes them "vain", and it implies that it is alright for men to look at without feeling bad about themselves. Susanna and the Elders is often portrayed alone taking a bath as if she was inviting the men to bathe with her.
Other times women are looking at the male viewer who is looking at them in a seductive way because they know that they are being looked at. The woman in the picture is posing for Maxim magazine. She is wearing minimal clothing and is giving a seductive face to the onlooker, as if she were inviting him to be with her. She is not only given the "male gaze" but she is allowing herself to be seen as an object. Art and popular culture make it so that men think it is okay to objectify a woman, when clearly it's not. Popular magazines often show women nearly naked, and it is not seen as out of the ordinary. Most of the time, those magazines are the ones that do the best. The media and art has greatly influenced our culture, and because it continues to, men will continue to degrade women, and women will always be seen as some may call "a piece of meat".
Black female women have a look called the "oppositional gaze". They are often not acknowledged, which leads them to have the gaze. They rebel against the oppression that society bestows upon them. This rebellious look is express through their oppositional gaze. Being black and female makes them be "at the bottom of the barrel". Bell Hooks, an African American woman, mentions how potent a gaze can be, and how ever since we are little, people who control us try to restrict us from looking at them a certain way. She states, "Not only will I stare, I will want my look to change reality". It is as if she is challenging people by giving them the special gaze. Slaves shared this oppositional gaze; the gaze that showed how against things they were and by giving a look, they were making the other person aware that they were too. As previously stated, black women are very discriminated against; for example, black women roles are degrading. Consequently, black women are very underrepresented in movies. Because of all the discrimination, oppression, and under representation, the oppositional gaze has become a very potent look for black women. It is their own way of showing rebellion against the white dominated society we have today, and even had before hand. It's development is key to all the above ideas. The gaze has developed simply because black women have been put down for too long. Now independent movies are being made for black women so that they too could be a part of cinema.
The white male dominated structured society creates both the male and oppositional gaze. Because men think they are better than women and the fact that they think some women are their "property" and that they could do what they want with them lets them give us their "male gaze". They think they could look at us the way they want, which is absolutely relevant to a woman's everyday life. On the other hand, the oppositional gaze happens because black women are not being given the same stature as white men, or even white women in general. Being black and a woman is definitely not an advantage in today's society. Like I mentioned in my first paragraph with some history background I learned in my US I class, objectifying women has a long history, and black women were treated worse. They not only did not have a say, but they were treated as objects as well; their gaze means a lot. Although I am a white female, I cannot fully speak for a black woman, but I can still try and get ideas from Bell Hooks and the ways she speaks of things. Art and media examples definitely prove all these statements correct. Bell Hooks, the Guerilla girls, and John Berger all illustrate these ideas. I think that women should give those who give them a male gaze an oppositional gaze. We should not let other men look at us in the manner they do, and stand up for ourselves so that they do not keep doing it. However, we have to realize that art and media contradicts all this, and that they are some at fault for portraying women as objects and for not including black women often.
Works CitedBerger, John
Ways of Seeing. London, England. 1972.
In Black Looks: Race Representation. Boston, Massachusetts: South End Press. 1992.