Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Gazes

It is natural that any species with eyes look around in order to take in what is in their environment. Being on the top of the list in terms of brain development, we humans not only see what is surrounding us, but also have the ability to judge in detail what we perceive. In her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey, a film theorist, believes that only men, survey women. In addition, John Berger states in his paper, Ways of Seeing, that women watch the men as they look at them. Bell Hooks, however, argues in her article, The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators, that women can also observe.

The male gaze is the way a male spectator views a woman. As Laura Mulvey stated, women are the figures being observed while the men are the “bearer[s] of the look.” (Mulvey 837) The females play the “passive” role: they do not take physical action; they only “watch themselves being looked at”, (Berger 47) while the males take the “active” role: the ones doing the looking. Mulvey feels that women are here to serve the purpose of “to-be-looked-at-ness,” where the females are responsible to pleasure the desire of the males.

The male gaze is a pervasive form of vision in popular culture because the mass media constantly creates, displays, and maintains this idea. Many movies, television shows, commercials, and books today provide proof of this. The concept of the male gaze was present even as far back as the 1500s. In William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo claims to be “in love” with a woman simply because she is beautiful. However, the woman does not love him back, and Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio, advises Romeo to look at other women to forget about the pain of the heartbreak. Another example is when Paris asks Capulet for permission to marry Juliet, and Capulet answers by requesting Paris to look at other girls first before he sets his mind on Juliet.

The song Beep by The Pussycat Dolls (PCD) featuring Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas further exemplifies this concept. In the song, The PCD represent the women who are being checked out by the men, portrayed by Will.I.Am. Together, they sing about how most men see women, but the women not caring that they are taking pleasure in looking at their body, even though they are more than they appear to be. This shows how the media identifies our behavior to be and reinforces this way of thinking.

Yet another instance is from the movie She’s the Man. Sebastian, who is really Viola pretending to be her twin brother at the time, was sitting at lunch with his guy friends, and when the “hottest girl in the school” came in the cafeteria, s/he exclaimed, “Check out the booty on that blondie!” Viola assumes that looking at girls and making such comments is what boys do, so she does so as a guy. This demonstrates that we have learned that it is the role of the men to look at women, and the society deems this to be the norm for our gender roles.

The oppositional gaze, or the “overwhelming longing to look, a rebellious desire,” (Hooks 116) is the notion that black women can also be spectators. As Bell Hooks wrote, we were told not to stare when we were younger, and slaves were not allowed to stare at their masters. Hooks brings forward the topic that black women are not represented enough as white women are in the media, and that white men do not take as much interest in watching black women in movies. The “desired look at body is white.” (Hooks 118) Because of this unjust conduct, “or the insertion of violating representation,” the oppositional gaze was developed. (Hooks 122)

Sometimes I feel like I do not fully connect with movies that contain mostly black people. It is not that I am being racist. I think I have difficulty associating myself with these movies because I am more accustomed with movies that predominantly control Hollywood, and that is movies played mainly by whites with “white” storylines. However, there are now more movies and television shows that are about blacks, such as Girlfriends, Madea Goes to Jail, and Precious. As I am writing this, I am now realizing that the “black cinema” storylines have the same basic concepts as the “white supremacy,” although there might be some minor differences. With more diverse characters emerging in the media, I feel I am able to interrelate more with what is being put on show. (Asians are still underrepresented though!)

From as far back as I can recall, women always seemed to be the ones that are the objects of appeal; men occasionally were. In mainstream media, whether it is movies, music videos, or magazines, women are the main focus, and they are usually presented in a sexual manner. Sex sells because it is desirable and pleasurable; it is always either what the viewer wants or wants to be. I remember when I was younger and first saw an advertisement of a really thin woman with huge breasts, wearing only a bikini, which was practically next to nothing, I felt uncomfortable. I thought, how do the people who created this know that this is what I want to look at? Do they just assume that the observer is a man (this was before I knew about homosexuality) and finds satisfaction in seeing this? I was offended that they were being unfair like that, that they only show what men wants and likes to see but not what women desire.

However, one thing always appeared to be true for both men and women is that only the beautiful and attractive people were showed off. But how do we describe what “beautiful” is? There is no set rule for what exactly is good looking. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We as individuals dictate who or what has a pleasant appearance, and whatever the majority, the spectators being both women and/or men, believe is pretty will be what beautiful is.

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