The male gaze is a very powerful concept it ultimately determines how men perceive women. The male gaze as described by Berger is seeing through the eyes of men, or the male point of view. When we go back to the time of European oil paintings, the nude was a very popular subject. The focus was on the woman and she became a sight to the male viewer, the idea of her as an object to be looked at and judged. When women were placed in paintings as nudes they always faced the viewer who was always perceived to be male. According to Berger, “Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own” (p.55).
Majority of oil paintings that were done were always meant to please the viewer. This idea has not changed very much, in fact when we look at popular culture and the way women are looked at, they are still considered a sight. Whether in fashion, photography, or media women fulfill the desire that men crave. Berger states, “Women are depicted in a quite different way from men - not because the feminine is different from masculine - but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him" (p.64). When we look at these two images we see the similarities between them and how they relate to the spectator.
|Francisco de Goya. The Nude Maja. 1800-1803. Oil on Canvas.|
|Victoria Secret Ad. 2012. Photo.|
responding with calculated charm to the man whom she imagines looking at her - although she doesn't know him. She is offering up her femininity as the surveyed" (p.55).
The reason that the male gaze has become pervasive in art and popular culture is because of the way men act towards their needs and women are meant to fulfill their needs. "Men act and women appear" (p.47)
The Oppositional gaze as described by Bell Hooks is a "look that was seen as confrontational, as gestures of resistance, challenges to authority" (p.115). In her book, she describes how suppressed black people came to know of this gaze under white supremacy. Since they were not allowed to and "all the attempts to repress our/black people's rights to gaze had produced in us an overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze" (p.116). The purpose of this look was to state that "not only will I stare, I want my look to change reality." Black female spectators take the important role of viewing media and reacting to it. She explains how black female spectators viewed themselves in the cinema and how white society influenced that appearance. "Looking at films with an oppositional gaze, black women were able to critically assess the cinema's construction of white womanhood as object of the phallocentric gaze and choose not to identify with either the victim or the perpetrator" (122). The oppositional gaze has truly developed according to Bell Hooks. People are now allowed to look at their society and their surroundings with power and no fear of punishment.
From both perspectives of Berger and Hooks I have come to understand the importance of these gazes and how they play a role at how I will forever look at art and media. The male gaze devalues, and objectifies women and I now have a better understanding of who the audience is when women are depicted in art. Also when viewing something we take on the male gaze because of the fact that we are judging something and viewing the object. As a woman, the male gaze becomes very overpowering because of the way I am being looked at and now this is something to be aware of and take into consideration. As for reading the Oppositional gaze I have come to understand the spectators point of view and the history that they have that influences their opinions.
Hooks, Bell. In Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston,Massachusetts: South End Press, 1992.
John, Berger. Ways of Seeing. London, England, 1972.