Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Power of Looking

Stanford Prison Experiment

Looking has power. The ability to look or to stop someone from looking is control. You can see this everywhere. For example, use of the aviator sunglasses by the"police" in the Stanford Prison experiment so that the "prisoners" could not see their eyes. The sunglasses allowed them to look into the eyes of the people who they dominated and eliminated accidental relinquishing by covering up their own eyes. Looking is a way that people learn. Taking away the ability to see or creating limits on what the person can is a way of manipulating that person's view on life.

The male gaze dominates our culture. Its domination is appearent in all aspects of media; magazines, movies, and billboards are just a few of the ways that the male gaze has monopolized communication. It echos relentlessly so that not a peep can be heard from the perspective of women leaving them in silence. It is a way of seeing the world through the eyes of man and making it the norm. As described by John Berger in his essay, "Ways of Seeing, it has created a world where women must always watch herself being watched. She must adjust who she is and what she does in order to satisfy a spectator who is male. Women are seen as passive, exhibiting minimal action, becoming an object or trophy instead of a being. It is men that act and so the audience is presupposed to be a man.

This can be seen in the way that a woman dresses. The way that she dresses and how she presents herself is to cause a reaction by men. Not all women are models but they all walk a runway. As Berger says, "Men survey women before treating them. Consequently how a woman appears to a man can determine how she will be treated. To acquire some control over this process, women must contain it and interiorize it" (Berger 46). I guess it is not a surprise that most designers are men; it is a sure way to satisfy the need to get the approval of the male gaze. The male gaze brings with it a set of norms that a woman must follow if she wishes to be treated positively. Around there are constant reminders of the look to strive for. It is not only the way that other women appear but also the glances that judge the way a women looks. Every woman thinks about the way that she looks when she goes out because the way that she presents herself is always seen an external representation of what is within.

Sapphire Stevens
The oppositional gaze is a rebellion against the male gaze which is white. It is a negative reaction to the suppression of mainly black women who are portrayed negatively in the media that puts black women at the bottom because of a combination of being a women and being black. It exist because when looking at the representations of themselves in movies there is a reaction. Although some will not bring it beyond criticism there are a few who will use it to try to challenge the male gaze. As Bell Hooks describes most black women are considered "Sapphires" because there is a need to gain white male acceptance by black males.

Both women and blacks have had a struggle because they are considered inferior to the white male. When there are movements to change the way they are treated it is always a white female as leader for women's rights or a black male as the "brain" of the operation. This makes me think of the fact that when thinking about a serial killer most people envision a white male but never a woman or someone black and most definitely not a combination of the two. Yet when thinking about a prostitute it is always a women and when thinking about a drug dealer it is always a black male. It is because the level of intelligence associated with the different criminals. A serial killer is seen as someone who plans out their every movement and has reasoning for every action they make and rarely gets caught. A prostitute or drug dealer is not seen as someone who thinks out what they are going to do and so get caught often. The jails of course are always thought of as full of these lower class criminals with very few of the white male serial killers.

Once you are consciously aware of a male gaze and of oppositional gaze what do you do? You still have to live in a world where the male gaze dominates. Changing that way that the world sees women as a spectator is not an easy task especially when you start seeing every little example of male gaze as you go through your day. I think it is important not to view women as a victim of men because it would give power to the idea that women are passive and that men act. It is important not to allow men to where the aviator sun glasses.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. London, England, 1972.
Hooks, Bell. In Black Looks; Race and Representation. Boston Massachusetts:
      South End Press, 1992.


  1. After reading your post I understand the connections between the readings and your opinion on the fashion world but I am not sure if I can entirely agree. The fashions made and the runway shows today, I always associated with women and their choices in the clothing they wish to wear. Yes some designers are men and yes some critics are men, but aren't the majority of critics really women? Women choose what they want to wear and wear it because they like it.

  2. I would have to agree with Jessgald, runway models choose that career path because they often want to model for themselves. Models model fashions for other women and women tend to be the harshest critics. Not trying to stick to any stereotypes, but a lot of designers are often gay and the theory of the male gaze doesn't truly apply there.

  3. As a man, i admit that i have played an important role in how a woman im dating dressed. There is no point if hiding what i like, but with fashion and modeling i think there is something else going on rather that visual gratification and attraction. (as a side note, whats wrong with being attracted to ones parter, going in both directions)
    Models, dont think of how others see them as much as how they see themselves. Just think of how anorexic they get, clearly not an appealing look. And as far as the designers, im not ashamed to say it, theyre nuts. They are striving for originality for the sake of originality. If i decide to "create" clothes based on garbage bags and potato sacs, that might be original, but doesnt mean its any good.

  4. I liked how you introduced the male gaze by providing the stanford prison example. It was definitely different. But, I don't agree with you on the model example and how you stated that most men are designers because they want to satisfy their male gaze. Like Wajiha said, a lot of designers are gay and if not they most likely are designers because they want to be not to satisfy their hunger.

  5. I don't think one can discard the male gaze from existing in fashion designed by gay men. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of designers, if not most, do confirm to prevailing notions of dressing. That is, a "sexy" outfit is one that is revealing and/or has an element of sexual suggestion. Designs such as this ARE still shown at major fashion shows. It's how a lot of women want to dress and look like because that's what is ultimately appealing to men. A women's desire to wear a skirt with a high front slit up her leg is rooted in her looking at herself and thinking about how men will view her i.e the male gaze. While gay designers are not the direct purveyors of the gaze, they do have a role in how it appears in society. Their designs meant to make a women appear a certain way to others are often a manifestation of it.

    1. I find it interesting that the female response is to immediately cast designers who are gay.
      Are they in denial?
      I guess it is a need to believe that they are in control. I think this can compare to the black female struggle, how they were put on a lower level because they were black and female. They have put Gay men below straight men just as the black men put the black women in a lower class.

  6. I like the fact that you acknowledge tht women and being black is a double edged sord when it comes to the male gaze and any images of those two dynamics together in society. As far as fashion being a player in the "male gaze" discussion, I think that some women do dress a certain way and purchase clothes just for the male to become seduced by their look.

  7. I find it interesting that you brought up the topic of "fashion runways" and "fashion models". Although it doesn't directly link to the idea of the 'male gaze', I can see where you are trying to go with your analysis.

    I think that in the fashion industry, while it may be true that women make the majority of fashion critics, they are still influenced under the 'male gaze' when they critique others' works and designs. They critique designs as they think about what would be most appealing for a woman's taste in clothing, but still appealing to a man's gaze. A woman chooses clothing not only for herself, but for the gaze and appreciation of other spectators (be it male or female).

    And as for the "gay designers" in the fashion industry, I believe that those designers most definitely design clothing with the concept of the "male gaze" because they have a stronger understanding of the female body/mind and how to bring out the attractiveness in a woman's body.

  8. @Wajiha & Dhruti: I disagree that the male gaze is dependent on sexual orientation. The fact that some men are gay does not diminish his power in the way women see themselves and their reaction to it. When I said , "I guess it is not a surprise that most designers are men; it is a sure way to satisfy the need to get the approval of the male gaze." I did not mean to say that it was the desire of the male designers to administer their male gaze upon women but that there is a tendency for women to prefer the work of men over women when it comes to clothes. Just look at how popular Victoria's Secret is in making women undergarments and lingerie. We all know that Victoria's Secret is that Victoria is actually a man. All the advertisement from the commercials to the store fronts all show the same image. It is always a woman with as little clothing as possible showing other woman what is desirable to men. It is not only a bra or body mist that the consumer is buying, it is the belief that they will move closer to the image.

    Compare the following commercials. Which do you think it more successful?

    Victoria's Secret Commercial:

    Playtex Commercial:

  9. Truly, the male gaze permeates in almost all spheres of lifeand in the process make women an object of view. You are right when you mention fashion designers. Many of them, men but intrestingly on runways, women seem to have the greatest number.....to ignite the male gaze.