Monday, September 17, 2012

The Male Gaze and the Oppositional Gaze

     History shows how civilization was formed and how man always played a role in every aspect in it. Women had very minimal to no roles at all especially in the much earlier history dating back to ancient Rome and ancient Greece. Women did not have many rights such as men. They were not able to own or inherit property, vote or engage in politics, and women were not allowed to be educated. Basically, being a woman back then did not have many perks because she was either perceived as an object or treated as property. For instance, at the bottom picture where the woman playing a flute-type instrument  is a perfect example of how women were used to simply entertain the men.
A way a man fulfills his power over a woman is through his gaze. The male gaze on to a woman is almost always to seek sexual desire or dominance. When looking back at the European nude paintings of the 15th century, painters painted naked women because it gave them power and it gave them pleasure. Multiple times, the women in the paintings were staring back. John Berger explains that the protagonist is never painted because "he is the spectator in front of the picture and he is presumed to be a man." (p.54). In addition, the spectator usually ended up being a lover who she submitted herself to.Berger also explains that "a man's presence suggest what he is capable of doing to you or for you" (p.46). In the case of the painter, he was in control of the brush and in control of how to paint the naked woman in front of him. Female nude paintings were solely to appeal men's sexuality (p.55). Berger pointed out in the painting, Allegory of Time and Love by Bronzino that Venus's body was arranged in the way it was to display it to the man looking at it and arouse his desires.

Looking at popular culture today, pictures of women in magazines, advertisements, and movies still follow the same techniques of the European nude paintings of the 15th century. Women pose in ways that make themselves appealing since the spectator is always presumed to be male. However, these poses also send out a message to women. If a woman poses herself in a certain way or dresses in a certain way, she will definitely get a man by her side. The male gaze is pervasive because it has always remained a constant since ancient Greece or probably before.

The ability to look was the ability of having power. From a male gaze perspective only white male was allowed of maintaining that power. For if the Black man shared mutual powers of the white man, he, the white man would feel threatened, intimidated. For instance, when a Black man looked at a white woman, it was considered rape because white women were only for the white male to look at. White women "belonged" to white men. Bell Hooks was able to take a step forward and challenge the "phallocentric" gaze by presenting the oppositional gaze.

The oppositional gaze is a kind of rebellious gaze in which the Black women were the spectators. Bell Hooks promoted Black women to resist the trite trends that were being displayed in cinematic screens and TV shows. Black women who were involved in movies or shows were only there to serve to "enhance and maintain white womanhood as object of the male gaze," (p.119). Hooks wanted to change that and challenge the "phallocentric gaze". She defined that by looking, "Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality,"(p.116). 

Works Cited
Girls, Guerrilla. The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art, 1998.
Hooks, Bell. In Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston,Massachusetts: South End Press, 1992.
John, Berger. Ways of Seeing. London, England, 1972.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you talked about the way men looked at women and still sometimes see women as a prize. Simply something to be won and used for sexual desires or just entertainment to their expense.