Roles for men and women have always been the same: Men hunt, work, provide for the family through physical labor and could indulge in any hobbies they liked that didn’t involve anything “feminine”. Women cook, clean, buy what was needed for the house and stay home to take care of the children and weren’t allowed to do anything else. Any alternatives would be considered a sin and would be punishable by law. Despite the roles, the laws were stricter for women than with men (with the exception of cheating with another man’s wife or being a pederast). It applies not only to the laws but to the art world as well.
The male gaze is described all in its name. The visual hierarchy that the male gaze plays is only intended for men, not women. The reason for that is because depending on the paintings, the nude inside the artwork shows a man and a woman. However, the woman is always the main focus of the painting. It creates something that only men can appreciate and that is the beauty in the disguise the woman wears. Women weren’t allowed to understand the nude because they weren’t the intentional target. The spectator (the man that buys the painting) is the main target audience in a nude painting.
Just look at the painting by Hans Memling:
It clearly shows that the look she gave the artist was meant to target the spectator for him to enjoy when he owns it. The mirror place in her hand symbolizes the word “Vanity” (a great name for the painting). The reason is because she is able to see her naked body and see herself so the artist doesn’t feel guilty of painting her and she becomes more than a naked woman. She is displaced as a person and is seen as an object and so she becomes the nude. That is the true intention of the mirror. “The real function of the mirror was otherwise. It was to make the woman connive in treating herself as, first and foremost, a sight.”
Racism has exists to solely separate those we don’t fully understand, whether it be their culture, the color of their skin, or their nature. As I mentioned before, women were put on the lowest level of society whether it be in art, society and in the media. The oppositional gaze is what centuries of racism and sexism have created for African American women. Due to the amount of “Blackface” and the superiority complex that man put in movies, the oppositional gaze is what women see when they see movies that portray whites as the main characters or above the black and women actors(if they were in them at all) in movies. “By courageously looking we defiantly declared: Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality.”
Men have always been classified as superior to women since the beginning of human history. I believe the bible has played a big part in placing these “guidelines” for dividing men and women. This book has been around for such a long time that no matter how you interpreted it, the roles for men and women were always the same, despite the several translations. So maybe now that society has been pushed away from such social norms, maybe we can progress and create a world where equality IS normal.
Ways of Seeing. London, England. 1972.
In Black Looks: Race Representation. Boston, Massachusetts: South End Press. 1992.