The presence of a man depends wholly on the promise of power in his setting. That power touches many things that include sex, morality, and physical power, all of which are external. Their presence depends on how much of a chance they have in taking control of that power. This is different however from the woman’s presence because a woman’s presence is determined by her attitude and the way she carries herself. The way she treats herself determines what she deems as appropriate to be around her. She defines how she is expected to be treated. Everything a woman does is considered at the leisure for a man to see. She is under constant surveillance of her actions, words, ideas, etc. Men look at women before they approach them. So the way that they appear to the gazing man essentially depicts how she expects to be treated by that man. Should she take her worth lightly in the face of men, she will be treated lightly BY men. The male gaze is always with a woman. It becomes instinctive to make every appearance one which is in expectation that man will be gazing at her and judging her.
The gaze only acknowledges male views. The fact that men are looking at women is driving today’s society in advertisement since most advertisements and images are made for men to look at. The way a man looks at a woman and how she is viewed by men is considered success to women.
Being nude is not the same as being naked. Being naked means that a woman is comfortable without her clothing on, she is not posing or appearing for anyone. However, when a woman is in the nude, she is not naked, not comfortably relaxed. She is putting on an appearance for man, posing and modeling her body which is totally available to the man. Manet’s point is very clear in his painting. That the woman is just as dressed up as the men are in that picnic. The second point that their looks touch upon is the fact that their look is not in response to the gazes of the males in the image. Rather, it is directed at the viewer of the image, all of the men that are looking at the image and reacting to it. So the women in the two images are making an appearance and are waiting for the male gaze to take its place and make its judgment.
There is another gaze that takes its hold in society. It does not belong to the men, however, but to women; Black women specifically. This gaze holds a lot of power over the person who receives the gaze. Bell Hooks states “there is power in looking.” (115) She describes how when she was younger, she was yelled at and punished for looking and during slavery, black people were denied even the right to gaze. Yet she tells us that even as a child, she knew that the power exercised over her and her gaze was never so absolute and final that she “did not dare to look, to sneak a peep, to stare dangerously…” and that because of that innate rebellion, she knew that the slaves also looked. By the slaves looking, they were stating that not only would they stare, but they would stare until the reality that they lived in changed. Hooks continues on to say that the oppositional gaze of the black people continued to be punished well into the decades after slavery. During the time of Emmet Till’s murder, a black man looking at a white womanhood was considered “rape” and he was brutally punished and killed because of it. However, these things did not even take into consideration the black female’s power to look. It wasn’t until recent years that black women began to write about the black female spectatorship of the cinema. Except for some race movies earlier on, black women have had to deal with forming an image of themselves through the cinema as a lack of presence. That is how they were represented.
Black women had to turn off all analysis, critique, and ideas about sexism in order to watch any movies that came from Hollywood. This look, according to Hooks, this gaze that they had mastered could bring pleasure in the midst of negation. (120-121) These women had encounters with the film that were painful because they were not able to simply turn off their feelings, their analysis. They were “looking to deep” (121) And so, black women chose to have power with their gaze, they chose to NOT look. They would boycott the movies and not give them the satisfaction of trying to identify with the white women that were portrayed in the movies. The oppositional gaze developed to help save black woman from being hurt by the absence of black women in movies, of having a “violating representation” of black women in movies. It helped women get through their movies and enjoy what they could.
In learning about these two gazes, it made me realize just how much power there is in the ability to look, to gaze, to judge. It has made me look at things in society and in the media that I hadn’t noticed before. Growing up with them had desensitized me to the negation and oppression of women of all races. In coming to realize all the different ways that women have been negated, it opened my eyes to look at different forms of art in society. And will help me take an analytical point of view to cinematic as well as visual representations of women. Hopefully this will give my views a new direction in also being the gazer. Since I am aware of what it is like to be gazed, there is no doubt that any gaze that I dare give could have an equal effect on the person I gaze at.
Many of these ideas are touched on in the feminism film theory. Click to learn a little more.
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London, England, 1972.
Hooks, Bell. In Black Looks; Race and Representation. Boston Massachusetts:
South End Press, 1992.