Monday, September 17, 2012

Male Gaze & Oppositional Gaze

           When it comes to the male gaze, it has been expressed as a one sided male point of view.  Analyzing many oil paintings, nude women are the main focus of the painting, therefore, concluding these paintings were made to attract and impress men. Ways of Seeing by John Berger expresses how women are depicted differently from men and explains “..because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the women is designed to flatter him.” (page 64)  This quote explains how women are objectified because the assumption is made that a man is viewing therefore, it is key for the male to be interested in what he is viewing. This continues to happen today from paintings to advertisement, to sports it is said “sex sales” so in order to capture the males attention you must have naked women.
 "This nakedness is not, however, an expression of her own feelings; it is a sign of her submission to the owner's feelings or demands." (Berger, 52) One present day picture which comes to mind is the following. It shows Kayne West a Hip Hop artist and a model, (at the time his girlfriend) Amber Rose in an ad for his sneakers.  However, the main focus of the picture does not seem to be her sneaker, but rather her naked body. This is not exact but it reminds me of the  Nell Gwynne painting by Lely. which was a painting owned by Charles the Second of his mistress, it showed her as an object which he owned. What makes this ad relevant in my opinion, it shows her submissiveness and her passiveness much like the painting to the men, the body language expresses she belongs to him and submits to him at any demand. Which in turn, makes the male the dominant one, the one in charge, and the women his mercy.
The Oppositional Gaze as Bell Hooks states is "There is power in looking."(Hooks, 115). Bell hooks begins with explaining how from childhood the gaze is dangerous, to learning in school how slaves were punished for looking. But all that repression of looking or gazing caused a desire to look, to gaze to stare, oppositional gaze. The oppositional gaze was not only to be defiant, but to look and make a change.  "Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality."(Hooks, 116)
 Media was the outlet for many enslaved to gaze Hooks states, There they "look' at white womanhood without a structure of domination overseeing the gaze, interpreting, and punishing." (Hooks, 118) Enslaved males were not allowed to look at white women,  white males found that threatening. With media they were able to look without being punished.
   One example is Emmet Till, "That white supremacist structure that had murdered Emmet Till after interpreting his look as violation, as "rape" of white womanhood." (Hooks, 118). It was a serious issue which took many lives and wounded others. A mans life was taken because the simple "looked", this expresses how these individuals were stripped of something we do everyday without thinking twice about it.
  Another important part of the Oppositional Gaze is when male filmmakers became involved in media they portrayed black females from the male gaze perspective, basically stripping black women of everything. "Most of the black women I talked with were adamant that they never went to movies expecting to see compelling representations of black femaleness."(Hooks, 119) In cinema, white women though they are discriminated against they are "white", black males are enslaved but they are "males", enslaved women basically had neither so in theater they were portrayed poorly.So all they had was there oppositional gaze "Looking at films with an oppositional gaze, black women were able to critically assess the cinema's construction of white womanhood as object phallocentric gaze and choose not to identify with either the victim or the perpetrator.(Hooks, 12)
      This two readings have really opened me up to a reality of how a look, or a gaze is important. Prior to this I never thought much about the message ads, pictures, and paintings were portraying. In the Berger reading, learning about women and how they were used as objects in painting and property. In the Oppositional Gaze many enslaved people could only gaze at whites through media. How I conclude is Looking and Seeing are two completing different things. Seeing something is going in depth researching and seeing a message, looking is just viewing it but not seeing into it. 

Bell, Hooks, in Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End Press, 1992), 115-31
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London, England, 1972.


  1. I like the comparison you made of the nude and the Kanye West ad. It seems like there is such a great focus on Amber Rose as opposed to Kanye. The focus should probably be on him, and his sneakers. Essentially there isn't even a need for a woman, and a naked one at that in this ad. This was a great example of the male gaze. To have men literally look and gaze at the ad for men's shoes, they added the concept of male gaze just by adding a nude woman.

  2. I too, never really thought about how ads, pictures and paintings REALLY portrayed women. While we have all seen or experienced the male gaze, when someone becomes aware of something, all of a sudden it seems like it's everywhere. Paintings that were/are treating women are objects or things that men can "own," now seem way too common to my liking.