Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Post 1: Gazes

              The idea of the male gaze defines the roles of the subject in a work of art or any form of visual media and it's viewer or audience. That is, according to John Berger, "the surveyor and the surveyed" (Berger, 46). The theory of the male gaze stipulates that the viewer is always male, more precisely of European or white decent. It is for this reason, I believe, that women's role in western art has been neglected. Since everything was made for a man to see and enjoy, women's interests and concerns were never taken into consideration. In terms of the woman's role in art, it is simply to appease the viewer, the man. She does so in the nude. It is for him and only him that she is nude. As Berger writes, "Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own" (55). This appetite is quite obviously sexual. The woman must submit to the man's desires and never her own. Below is a work by Titian that clearly demonstrates this idea. Venus is spread out before the viewer making herself available. She also has a suggestive look about her, particularly her face. It practically shouts at the male saying "Here I am."

              One probable reason for the wide spread of the male gaze comes from the story of Adam and Eve in the Judeo-Christian book of Genesis. In it, Eve is blamed for eating the the forbidden fruit first and therefore, it is implied that man is superior to women. This idea of men over women is amplified because of it was declared buy God.
            A poignant sign that the gaze is still around can be be seen in today's advertising. In this day and age, we are constantly bombarded with advertisements that promise us happiness if we buy a certain product. From TV, billboards, radio commercials, all the way to the internet, we are constantly reminded of our imperfections. The one thing that is very striking about almost all ads is that they all contain one thing in common. That thing, or rather person, is a an above average looking female, preferably blond with breasts the size of her head and with as little cloths on as legally allowed. Just take a look at this ad by Dior.

           Now let's be honest, how many bombshells like her do we see every day? Not many right? In fact, have you ever seen someone so perfect? Of course not, no amount of cosmetics can give you what a professional in Photoshop can. So what is the point of creating this ad? Ads purposely use these altered images of attractive women to degrade the average woman into buying products to make themselves feel better. This image of what's desirable is perpetuated by how men have viewed women for centuries. This also goes back to the idea that women constantly watch themselves, as proposed by Berger. He states that,"She [the woman] has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to to others,and ultimately how she appears to men is of crucial importance" (46). Due to ads like these, women are always second-guessing themselves. This reminds me of the conversation we had on cat calls in class. One could think of ads as cat calls for women. Of course they are two completely different things but they achieve the same end. That is, it forces women to look at themselves.

              Now that we recognize the existence of male gaze in our society, surely there is something that counteracts it, something that opposes it. This oppositional gaze serves as a rebellion towards the patriarchy formed by the male gaze. That is, with the white male being at the very top of the peeking order and black women at the bottom. The origin of the oppositional gaze goes back to the time of slavery. As if being black weren't bad enough, being a woman was a whole lot worse. Back then, women of color were labeled as "mammies" and were often portrayed as large, working machines that took care of most of the housework and nagged, a lot. Bell Hooks touches on how the big screen painted black women in a negative light. In her book she describes the character "Sapphire" from the show Amos 'n' Andy as a "castrating bitch, as someone to be lied to, someone to be tricked, someone the white and black audience could hate. Scapegoated on all sides. She was not us" (Hooks, 120). Drawing from my own experience as a child, I remember a very similar character in the animated cartoon Tom and Jerry as seen below.

             After realizing the male and oppositional gazes exist it's hard not to notice them in everything you watch. Especially in big production Hollywood movies like Transformers where actors like Megan Fox are thrown in just to give a guy a stiffy. I distinctly remember a scene in the second film where the characters are running away from danger and the camara slows down like some scene out of Baywatch. It is evident that society also recognizes these injustices. Very recently, a female friend of mine showed me a youtube video in where a women describes the best way to get ready for a date while humorously pointing out the flaws in this process. Youtube link

Works Cited   

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London, England 1972. print

Hooks, Bell. Black Looks; Race and Representation. Boston Massachusetts:
      South End Press, 1992. print


  1. The connection to the male gaze and the oppositional gaze was very understanding and made it clear for the reader(me) to understand the link. Speaking of link, i thought it was great the Tom and Jerry character example you made and the video link made my day!!!(Sad but true, to most men anyway)

  2. In my post, I questioned how the male gaze can exist in advertising if the intended and commercially ideal audience of those images are women consumers, not men. Your referencing of Berger point that women are constantly viewing themselves because of how they may appear to men answers my question. It was very insightful of you and if anything, it demonstrated how pervasive the gaze is and how it can come to effect women's viewership of themselves.

  3. To be completely honest Alejandro, I remember reading your post to get a better understanding of the topic. When I first saw the question you posed I was stumped for a while, then it hit while I was watching a youtube ad. In regards to ads, most, if not all of them tend to make us feel inadequate regardless if you're male or female.

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  5. I like the use of the Dior picture, it automatically makes me think that she's selling her body to seduce the audience for the use of perfume.