Monday, September 17, 2012

The Male Gaze: Then and Now

     Most women can understand that great feeling when you are walking down the street one day and you turn a few heads. But sometimes the looks by too many men can feel uncomfortable and you feel like an object. In films and art it is also noticeable that girls are only put in there to be stared down at.  In society we can call this the male gaze which reflects the dominance of men in our creative society. Most movies are made by men and make women their objects, something to be gazed at. This feminist theory  usually shows how women are objectified by all heterosexual males in their paintings, films, and media in general ever since the beginning of time. 
    This is such a pervasive concept in art and media because women are not as equal as men in everyday life even though we assume they are. A woman gets paid an average of 80 cents to a man's dollar. So if a woman is not treated equal in the workplace, painters and filmmakers still assume a male dominance as well. In the middle of the 17th century women were inspirations for nudes. Ever since then it has just been difficult for women to eradicate this concept.  
     The biggest example of the male gaze in today’s popular culture would the infamous Playboy magazines. They are created for the sole purpose of the male gaze and show some similarities to nudes from the past. In this photo of Kim Kardashian is shown naked with a sheet barely covering herself. In the painting on the right by Isidore Pils , a woman is also laying with sheets also not covered. From this painting one can see over 170 years ago women were objectified and painted to be gazed at by men and even in today's media the women pose so men can stare at them all day.    

Photo Credit: 2007 Playboy          Photo Credit: Isidore Pils, 1841

The oppositional gaze is a act of rebellion from women from being the main source of the male gaze. More specifically, this is the opposing views of black women as described in Bell Hooks' work. The typical stereotype of black women was shown in films and the black women opposed this. This is how the oppositional gaze came to be, from rebellion. In the earlier years, "white slave owners punished enslaved black people for looking" and this was thought be completely ridiculous by the blacks, which it is (Hooks 115). The black women critiqued the concept of not being able to look but others can gaze at them. In "Do You Remember Sapphire?" also by Bell Hooks, the black women can identity with Sapphire since it shows the black women being objectified.  

A lot of these structures and various art works really appear more sexist than they appear on the outside. Women have become easily the objects of men's eyes and in today's society women start to objectify themselves because society has made it okay for us to do that. The concept of "male gaze" most definitely exists in the media and things that influence us everyday such as television, magazines and movies. My own identity in society I feel should be kept as a women, not object. A lot of what girls wears allows the male gaze to occur then they go and complain about it. I know that is certainly what I can do different for myself and as a women in society who respects herself. 

A little more on Bell Hooks:

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

Hooks, Bell. In Black Looks; Race and Representation. Boston Massachusetts:

      South End Press, 1992.


  1. After comparing both pictures, I wanted to bring up the question of whether or not the painting by Isidore Pils can be considered a form of action. The woman in this picture is not facing the "owner" of the painting and is in fact showing her back instead of her more appealing front. The woman is also not facing her "lover," thereby not giving the impression of desiring the attention of the viewer. If anything it looks as though she is trying to look away from those who are looking at her.

  2. From my understanding you make it seem like women are asking for the male gaze. Yes, i would agree that women do objectify themselves more in this era because of what society has deemed acceptable but you also have to understand that not all women ask for this type of treatment, but it comes naturally as being a woman. I like your examples and how you were able to explain to us the evolvement of the male gaze.

  3. Jessgald, In my opinion I think just because the woman is not facing the viewer, does not mean she is trying to hide away. She is just exposing another part of her body which I am sure men would gladly gaze at.

    Priscila J, I think you are right that woman can objectify themselves more in this society because of what we can think if as acceptable. And of course not all woman are as brazen as Kim Kardashian and shoot nudes. But men will gaze sometimes no matter what women do.

  4. Wajiha, the Playboy Magazine is the ultimate example! It is made purely from men to look at. I was reading another entry and it can relate to this she spoke about women "video vixens". They all use their bodies to sell things whether it be music or magazines such as Playboy. It makes me think (no offense to any men) are men that simple minded and so much easier to target them women. Like "OO put naked Kim Kardashian on the cover, men will definitely buy it!" Maybe men are the easier target us women need more to look at more of a history and background on exactly what we are looking at and why we are looking at this. Lol

  5. Like Giselle Flo stated above, "Playboy Magazine" is the ultimate example. It shows how in today's society, the 'male gaze' is the most dominating aspect in media and advertisements. It could even be questioned if women today DESIRE the 'male gaze' and the attentions that they get.

    That painting definitely illustrates beauty in the female body, solely FOR the 'male gaze'. She is not looking directly at the viewer because her head is slightly turned away. However, her body language shows that she knows the viewer is there to look AT her.
    You gave very good examples with the imagery you posted.

  6. Wajiha, I agree with your point that the male gaze is prominent in society. After reading Berger's analysis, i was able to see the different aspects of the male gaze, and how the woman featured is being judged. Her main role is to appeal to the spectator , and this still holds true is present day artwork. Also, i agree that based on that women wear, they are judged differently. If a women chooses to dress provocatively, a man can blame her as the reason behind his gaze.