Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Male Gaze

I don’t know where to start. I think I’ll just talk. In list form? Here goes.

1. I read the article that Jill noted, the essay by Laura Mulvey. As Jill mentioned, part of the essay claims that “as viewers, we are almost always forced to identify with the "male gaze"--the hero.” This is how Mulvey puts it. I find it interesting:

According to the principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man's role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen. The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralise the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle. This is made possible through the processes set in motion by structuring the film around a main controlling figure with whom the spectator can identify. As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look on to that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence.

Hm. Interesting that “man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like,” but females don’t seem to have issue with it. But this is psychoanalysis, so we accordingly learn to do so. ? Also in the essay is the statement, “There are circumstances in which looking itself is a source of pleasure, just as, in the reverse formation, there is pleasure in being looked at.” How very true this is. Perhaps the pleasure of being looked at is what started the whole ordeal. Our society is male dominant and has been from the beginning of time (original sin, woman at fault for the fall) but could this fault be seen as a power? Sure, the power of physicality, sexuality, but is it a bad thing?

2. As Jill brings up at the end of her thoughts, Buber and Levinas “both suggest that as human beings, we are capable of seeing ourselves seeing one another. And that would be a good kind of gazing.” Last year at the new Center for Interdisciplinary Arts there was a displayed project where we walked into a dark, curtained off room/space where a film showing different body parts moving, dancing almost, was projected on a screen. At the front of the room was a camera unseen by the viewers, and outside of the room/space was another screen displaying the room as seen by the camera. So the project was set up to watch people watching people. It was pretty interesting. I spent 15 or so minutes in the room watching the projected film, not knowing that others were watching me. When I left the room I realized the real intent of the project. I watched the viewers for a while, noticing dominantly the blank stare that most of the viewers had. Sometimes the film would expose a body part or movement that made two friends joke with each other, made someone tilt their head a little, or made people smile. Being watched unaware kept their reactions, their gaze, perhaps, very unguarded. Hm..

3. As Colin, the male photographer I originally posted, said, “Who is on top? The one who looks or the one being looked upon?” This makes me think about my own eye contact. When I meet eyes with a male, I usually look away somewhat quickly, feeling odd. If the guy was cute I’ll look at him again, sometimes to be met with a second glance from his direction. And we all know (or know of) the intense TrIpLe TaKe?!? By looking at someone for the second or third time, I am giving him permission to look at me, right? It’s only fair? I’m encouraging the mutual lookage, if you will. By not looking back a second time (or at least not being caught doing so) I don’t give that permission. Am I on top? Do I give him power or take it away by returning a gaze? I think so. In advertising, I suppose the model/photographed woman gives permission to be shot and published, but isn’t she usually representing a group of women? Is the model giving the viewer permission to look upon all women the way he/she is looking at that advertisement?

4. Does talking about this male gaze encourage/feed it? Women might project the male gaze on innocent passersby and feel objectified by simple eye contact. But men might become more aware of it and try to be less a part of it? Jordan might argue that to not talk about it is just another way of denying its presence and that we will never work through it if we ignore it. I personally do not think about the male gaze very often as I go about my daily routine. I don’t assume that passing males are objectifying me. They might be looking at me, but I look at them. I’m just curious. And looking at people is fun. If they Are objectifying me but I assume they are not, does it matter that they are? I know I know, individual denial of the gaze is no way to get rid of it, but I really do feel that we feed the fire by discussing it. Does that opinion make the length of this comment ironic? Yes.

5. Kara Walker was 13 years old when her father moved his family from California to Georgia. “The girl who had tripped through life without any thought of racism now encountered a community carved into black and white. Experiences of racism, both pointed and casual, caused her to begin questioning her identity.” (Thanks Marcia, for turning me onto this article on Kara.) I suppose this resolves my question above. Just because a person isn’t exposed to/aware of the male gaze doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and/or we can’t kill it by ignoring it.

6. So what? Can we expose it for what it is brutally and explicitly as Kara Walker did with racism and slavery? What would that be? Pornography? Pornography is too successful, too widely viewed, to be used as an eye opener. Unless we threw it in somewhere jaw-dropping?

7. Male dominance is built into our society, even our language. “Mankind,” “fireman,” “mailman,” the dominant use of “he” over “she,” and further, words like “master” and “mistress.” He is the dog’s master, she the dog’s …mistress? Hm. Male dominance will not be removed unless we destroy ourselves and start over with a new language and perhaps a female god :)

8. Finally, a small comment on Jill’s statement, “perhaps the real struggle is a psychic one.” Definitely. I don’t regularly think about the male gaze. Then again, I don’t watch television, I don’t read magazines, and I don’t know a thing about Hollywood. I feel that I rightfully demand the respect of men and women alike simply by dressing myself reasonably and by having confidence in the way I carry myself. I don’t walk around flaunting the female form as eye candy, but I certainly don’t walk around with a scowl, threatening all eyes that glance my way. And yes, this is probably a global issue more than anything, but in application to my personal life I simply choose not to assume the worst. Maybe I do so mistakenly, but I generally feel comfortable and safe by doing so.


  1. I really like the way you ended your thoughts! I tend to agree. I feel that the male gaze only has significance if we let it objectify us individually.

  2. I wrote this over on jessica's blog, thought I'd put it here too..

    lots going on here... I like your reference to 'starting over with a female god,' because I contend that this whole patriarchal mess we're in is the result of male power structures passed down (or reflected in) religious and mythological structures. And as far as I'm concerned religion went downhill when it elected a punitive, singular, male god.

    So for me the issue with gaze has a lot to do with the difference between the words 'representation' and 'objectification.' I think it's very hard for a white male person to represent anyone 'other' than himself in art, politics, or really anything. People are good at representing themselves. But we love to communicate as humans too. So I think the best thing is for all of the subalterns (racially, sexually, socioeconomically, and in terms of sexual preference) to continue to produce politicians, artists, and other representatives, for generations and generations, while trying as hard as possible to realize when their view has been co-opted into the dominant paradigm.

    The biggest role a privileged person can play is to include all these different perspectives in their worldview and use their privilege in whatever venue they traffic within to bring equality about. That step's tricky too.