Monday, September 17, 2012

The Male Gaze. The Oppositional Gaze.

      The ‘male gaze’ defines how women are seen (or in some cases, must be seen) in society by both men and women. It defines the subconscious awareness of how a woman must act and hold herself in public, not only for the gaze of men, but for herself through her own participation in the ‘male gaze. Berger states, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves” (Berger, 46). By creating herself the “surveyed female” (Berger, 46), she becomes able to see herself the way that others see her, and thus acts accordingly—whether for herself or for the public. Essentially, the ‘male gaze’ equates to the reason why women force themselves to become and act a certain way, because it is “expected” of them to possess a certain image, aura, and persona in order to be accepted or seen as a woman. And they conform to that expectation (because in a very twisted way, women desire to be accepted).
     The ‘male gaze’ is pervasive in popular culture and art because through centuries’ worth of artwork and paintings that portrays women to be docile, sensual, and welcoming (with that unbreakable stare in their eyes), the society’s male perception of a woman has become ingrained with those aspects. In modern time, there is the saying that goes "sex sells" when it comes to media and advertisements. And that heavily reflects on the results of what the 'male gaze' over the centuries—nudity, sensuality, beauty—have constructed to the female image of today's time, and how the 'male gaze' essentially becomes the essence of art and popular culture.

Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1538

Scarlett Johansson Vogue Paris April 2009 Magazine Cover

      The two images above illustrates how subjects of the 'male gaze' has changed (or has not changed) over the centuries. Women in popular culture and media are still being portrayed and seen as sensual, languid, and attractively daring as they gaze out to their viewer (or lover). Their body language expresses a confidence that makes their appearance more attractive, which are the results of being recipients the 'male gaze'.

     The 'oppositional gaze' refers to the rebellious response by women (specifically, women of color) due to their inferiority under the 'male gaze'. Cinema and film was the only outlet that allowed women (but at first, not women of color) to challenge the 'male gaze' at all. It was difficult for black women to express themselves publicly, and thus, they silently dealt with their oppression. But "the extent to which black women feel devalued, objectified, dehumanized in this society determines the scope and texture for their looking relations. Those black women whose identities were constructed in resistance, by practices that oppose the dominant order, were most inclined to develop an oppositional gaze" (Hooks, 127). When black women were finally allowed to step into the cinema scene, they were not always portrayed as being a black female. Instead, more often than not, they were more recognized as a white female figure since that would be much more accepting to the public. And when a black female is portrayed as being a black female, she is usually an unsightly character, which results in "many black women spectators [shutting] out the image, [looking] the other way, [and] accorded cinema no importance in their lives" (Hooks, 120).
     The character of "Sapphire" from Amos 'n' Andy is the perfect example of how black women were portrayed as on the big screen, but how many black women despised her; "not [wanting their] construction to be this hated black female thingfoil, backdrop" (Hooks, 120). Although black women were finally given the "opportunity" that they craved to step away from the reasons behind their oppression, it was not one that was acceptable to many. They were still portrayed as black females poorly and unjustly.
     Being a female artist (labeled as an "other") myself, these understandings has helped my perspectives broaden a bit more about the modern art world and media/popular culture, and be able to see how these issues are still being reflected in today's society. Women are still being objectified in media and popular culture. Women are still inferior to men. Women are still victims to "rape" (visually, physically, mentally... you name it). And women are still rebelling against what society constantly claims to be the "right way" or the "only way" women can be seen or portrayed as.

The following links are something that I came across as I was searching Google. I found them to be interesting and relevant to our topic discussions about women thus far.:

Art and Advocacy Collide With “Mean Girls:” February 22-April 28, 2013

Cutting edge curator Jill Larson and SWSG Pittsburgh invite you to join in a community-wide discussion on bullying. Join this dialogue by participating in a community-engagement project starting in February!  In the project Mean Girls, Larson transforms an art exhibition addressing bullying among young women into a community engagement project. She has partnered with Strong Women, Strong Girls to raise awareness in the Pittsburgh community and beyond.

Here is the website to the Art Exhibition and the community of "Strong Women and Strong Girls";

Works Cited 

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

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


  1. I agree with your statement, "'sex sells' when it comes to media and advertisements." Our society nowadays is all about imagery, and if it looks visually appearing or not. While I wasn't thinking about this while writing my blog post, you bring up a very valuable point.

    1. Thank you for commenting.
      And yes, it is sad to say that society nowadays is all about "your image" and "how you look"; it's all about being visually appealing. It reminds me of a conversation I had once about how sometimes (or maybe most of the time now), women are not hired into a company because of their skills, but rather for their looks and their "image" for the company.
      It makes you wonder about where our Society is going now with this 'male gaze', doesn't it?

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  3. First off I would like to say that this post is very, very well written. Second I would like to agree with your statement on the affects of the Male gaze on black women in cinema back in the day. It was a horrific time where women of color were pushed back because of their skin and the harsh stereotypes used against them.

  4. I agree with your view point of how women have to change their presence around men else they will "not" be accepted. It is also sad how women have to change themselves to serve their environment.

  5. I agree with you point that in print media in present times, women have more confidence than in the art provided in Berger's analysis. Previously they were more submissive and docile. Although now women posing in magazine covers are still appealing to the "male" figures however there have a sense of self and are more bold. I think this is shown with their actions, and the make up that they are made to wear.