By: Amanpreet Pall
The male gaze is what a woman deals with the day she is born and until her death. According to John Berger who is an author, "Men survey women before treating them" (pg. 46). Their gaze determines how a woman will stand, speak, gestures etc. She cannot even walk across the room without being "surveyed", judged and depicted into an opinion of what type of woman she is. The male gaze holds so much power it makes a woman change her entire demeanor to either suit the man's needs or hide herself entirely. For a woman, her appearance follows her wherever she goes. An example would be a job interview, studies depicted in a Forbes article, show that if two women are interviewed for the same job, the less beautiful one will most likely receive the job because the more beautiful one is too pretty. In other words, beautiful women are not capable of having intelligence, whereas a more handsome man will have a higher chance of receiving a job compared to a less handsome man.
Why is there such a vast and unfair difference? Berger states that women are..."most particularly an object of vision: a sight" (pg. 47). Being a "sight" or "object" to every male gaze in every man and woman is very scary for when women look at themselves it is through the male gaze as well. For example, when a woman is cat-called on the street (notice I say when and not "if" or "maybe", this is a personal experience which I know most women share) she feels almost guilty of being whistled or called sexually explicit words. She changes the way she walks, her body language and by looking at herself through the male gaze and a mirror in front of her wondering, what did I do wrong? When in fact the wrongdoing was not her own but that of the cat-caller or the person that harassed her in the first place.
"Three Ages of the Women and the Death" By Hans Baldung in 1510
The male gaze is pervasive in art and culture because depicting women as "objects" sells and works for the male dominated society even though there are more women in the world than men. Since the 15th century or even earlier, depicted by Adam and Eve, women have been and still are considered inferior. For example, when a man OR woman acts weak in any way a popular answer to their weakness in the American society would be "to grow some balls". In other words, grow a pair of testicles because that makes you powerful even though that is the man's most softest and weakest part his body. Why don't people say grow a vagina? The vagina can take a kick whereas a man would be crying on the floor if his "balls" were kicked, not to mention that most women push out human life through the vagina but who cares, that is a "female" body part so it is automatically weaker (sarcasm should be noted for clearly I care).
The painting above depicts the woman nude and holding a mirror. According to John Berger, "the real function of the mirror was...to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight" (pg. 51). This is so the spectator, which is a male, does not feel guilty looking at the nude woman because she is looking at herself in a mirror. This makes her a sight and the sand timer above her shows her beauty will not remain forever so she and the one watching should enjoy while they can. Unfortunately, business for the male gaze industry will continue to bloom because of the difference in nudity and nakedness. "To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others...", says Berger (pg. 54). A person is naked when he or she is coming out of the shower not nude. A person is nude if they are intentionally without any clothes etc and could be seen by others. That is why it is considered okay the way a woman is depicted in a "nude" painting especially since she has no choice and is either in a pose that she wants to be seen or a seducing expression or with a mirror. A woman should never be painted nude and act like she doesn't like it (I obviously mean the opposite what kind of an idiot do you guys think I am).
The oppositional gaze is a gaze a black woman is always depicted of having. The hierarchy of the American culture is seen as white male at the top, white woman, black male, and ending with black woman on the bottom. Since black women are at the end of the "totem pole" they are perceived of having a lot of aggression and very rebellious. Bell Hooks, a black female writer, says "Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality" (pg. 116). The reality being that women are inferior but black women go even lower. If a black man were to look at a white woman it would be considered "rape" because white women are property of only white men. Whereas black women belong as slaves to the white man and they can do so as they wish with them because a black man is still beneath a white man. No wonder there are more white female AND male models on the covers of magazines or on the runway.
I knew there was a male and oppositional gaze. I just didn't realize that was the correct terminology. Being a colored woman I have been and will be continued to be seen as an object through the male gaze and inferior through the oppositional gaze. This world should not consist of gazes, ethnicity, race, class, sexuality etc...why can't we all just be equal? As much as I want this I know equality to this extent will never exist.
Ways of Seeing. London, England. 1972.
In Black Looks: Race Representation. Boston, Massachusetts: South End Press. 1992.