To define the male gaze is not all that difficult, however the why, and how it is accomplished and how it has evolved is interesting at the very least. The first thing one must understand in the nature of human psychology, and how humans process information. The simple act of looking has connotations of challenging the unknown, and conquering it as understanding occurs, even if flawed. Animals use looks as well to assert themselves, and often physical confrontations are avoided, only using looks.
So it is no surprise to see that man has developed similar practices regarding viewing, as a sign of dominance. However, as society evolved from a hunter mentality, to an agrarian culture, then later to feudalism and so on, this dominance was no longer backed on primal factors, such as strength, aggression, but rather status, wealth, position, all of which that do not have a primordial response associated with them.
In Chadwicks book “Women Art and Society” she poses that religion plays a key role in patriarchy (p 44). Religion and more the church, plays the role in instilling a new fear, one that transcends primordial fears, where physical strength, aggression become less important. This allows the gaze to no longer be backed by a certain risk of violence through confrontation.
So now, as in the feudal era, we have power of the nobles over their subjects, and power of subjects over the women in their lives. These through religion become unquestioned, and more importantly unchallenged.
How do the pictures above affect you. You can sense an immediate response, and while looking at the young man in the photo, you may have fear, but you may also have doubts whether or not he may be successful in a direct confrontation. Now think that with the wolf. It may seem sily, but the idea is that the gaze is backed by the certainty of a response, including a violent one.
As far as the oppositional gaze, it was a matter of time until the, at the time current male gaze, was challenged, even if under veil, since physical strength no longer became the dominant factor in conveying a message. The Guerilla Girls mention in “Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art” (p25) how Hildegard Von Bingen started to “upset” the church, resulting in her ultimate confinement in house arrest for her ideas, conflicting with the church’s message of female subservience.
It may have been silenced at the time, but this and so many other messages eventually do make their way to their intended targets, regardless of how some groups try to prevent it, just to maintain a status quo of allowing them to be in control, veiling their lack of strength for a divine right look and own