Monday, September 17, 2012

Ways of Seeing

           The male gaze is defined as the man's perspective in perceiving women. It is the idea that the spectator which is the male audience looks at the woman who knows she is being viewed. As stated by Berger, "Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at" (47). This explains men are the ones actively engaging their eyes on the women while the women are passively receiving the gazes.

          "She turns herself into an object-and most particularly an object of vision: a sight" (47). Berger points out women being used as a mean in pleasing the viewer was a particular trend in European oil paintings. According to Berger, being naked and being nude doesn't constitute as the same thing. "To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to been seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to be nude. Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display" (54). A woman who is naked is simply being how she is. However, a nude woman is no longer a person, she can be looked at simply because shes nude. This is category of paintings began with the idea of depicting Adam and Eve in the nude. By the Renaissance, rather than using a narrative sequence, the themes were directed in depicting figures in "a kind of display" (49). The two examples below of a painting by Tintoretto known as Susannah and the Elders and an Calvin Klein ad for lingerie. These two pieces share the similarities of the woman setting herself for the pleasure of the male viewer. In the oil painting, Susannah is seated comfortably while taking her bath. She is looking at the spectator who is looking at her.  In the Calvin Klein ad, the woman's body language and gazing eyes attracts males to enjoy looking at her. Both pieces, "the subject (a woman) is aware of being seen by a spectator" (49).

Tintoretto. Susannah and the Elder

Calvin Klein Envy. Photograph
        The one who looks at the woman is considered the person she is attached to. Even though a painting may contain a scene where she seems to have a lover already, "she looks out of the picture and towards the one who considers himself her true lover-the spectator-owner" (56). As shown in the example below, even though Ceres is embracing Baccus her eyes are looking out towards the spectator. The male gaze symbolizes the male dominant power where "women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own" (55).

Von Aachen. Baccus, Ceres, and Cupid

       The Oppositional Gaze is referred to as the suppressed black woman's gaze in rebellion to the rights of the time. During the slavery times, black were not allowed to look at whites because they could be punished by their masters. The "attempts to repress our/black peoples' right to gaze had produced in us an overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire, an oppositional gaze. By courageously looking, we defiantly declared: Not only will I stare. I want my look to change reality" (116). Bell Hooks describes the difference in how white and black females are depicted in cinemas. White women was shown as an object for the white man to enjoy. However, blacks were typically viewed performing only specific roles. "Even when representations of black women were present in film, our bodies and being were there to serve--to enhance and maintain white womanhood as object of the phallocentric gaze" (119). Bell Hooks discusses how the society views black women as oppose to how they really exist to be. Living in a world where they have no say or rights, they can only watch and develop an oppositional gaze to it. "Looking at these films with an oppositional gaze, black women were able to critically asses the cinema's construction of white womanhood as object of phallocentric gaze and choose not to identify with either the victim or the perpetrator: (122). 

         Ways of Seeing and the Oppositional Gaze got me to realized the importance of understanding the history that allowed me to be the female I am today. Now that when I look at these same paintings, I won't simply see them as scenes rather a deeper meaning within. The male gaze turns the value of women into objects rather than human beings. On the other hand, depicting black women as what a certain group of people see it as oppose to how they are basically shows them no acknowledgement. 

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

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


  1. I really like the way you used the Calvin Klein picture and the Von Aachen really show how a woman's body is used to sell merchandise.

  2. I agree with you that women are objectified on a constant basis. They are always shown to please the male or the spectator. Your use of the calvin klein image portrays this well. She is dressed in lingerie and her expression shows seduction. Her pose is solely for the spectator, and is somewhat submissive as well. Also in this picture she remains true to being a sight for the male-owner.

  3. Truly, women are objectified. Then brings to my mind whether or not it is the male gaze that make the woman pose for the spectator or the object which in this case is the woman does so herself, knowing that the spectator is looking.Is she just selling an item in the calvin Klein image or she is telling something else in addition. It gets interesting the way you quote Berger and the images you have to support yours.