Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Male Gaze and the Oppositional Gaze

Women and media have had a love and hate relationship with the representation of women in most main stream media. Women in media continue to be depicted in the male gaze. The theorist that coined the male gaze John Berger does his analysis strictly on Western renaissance art. John Berger’s male gaze is translated to modern media and how women are socialized as well. Although there is counter theory the oppositional gaze, where theorist as Laura Mulvey and Bell Hooks develop a more comprehensive criticism on the male gaze.

John Berger’s male gaze that haunts women in media to this day, the male gaze is simple put that women are objects of pleasure for men. Women are constantly being looked at by men in a sexual nature. “Men look at women; Women watch themselves being looked at.” (Berger, page 47). This simple quote explains exactly how women feel and how women are socialized as well. Women according to Berger are defined by the male gaze. I personally agree because it is how I was socialized definitely and in movies why is it that the women needs saving constantly. Women are socialized to want to be the desire of the male gaze and it all starts even with our fairly tales. My personal favorite Snow White, Snow White lived with seven dwarfs, even though they themselves were helpless they were her keeper. Of course Snow White is beautiful and saved by the prince. Even in my favorite fairytale there is the male gaze in the mere fact that Snow White needed to be saved is depicted as beautiful and very white as well. Another aspect of John Berger’s theory on the male gaze is the guilt that is transferred over to women. As if she is the blame that men look at her. “You painted a naked women because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting vanity, thus morally condemning the women whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure” (Berger, page 51) this citation clearly illustrates how men not only objectify women but also want to blame her for the desire men have in wanting to look at her. I personally identify with this part of Berger’s theory because many times I have been told by my father that I shouldn’t wear anything that might attract attention because then it is my fault. It is the same argument made when women dress in a certain way and men are insulting and then say do you blame me, you asked for my offensive come on by the way you look. In the end of the day the men are the ones that are behaving incorrectly and they should feel guilty for their actions but even in that women become the burned of the male guilt.

Another analysis of the male gaze would be the oppositional gaze. One way to introduce the oppositional gaze would be through the theorist Laura Mulvey. Laura Mulvey analysis is based on Freudian concepts. Laura Mulvey starts with understanding the need for the male gaze in reference to women. The reason according to Laura Mulvey is the unconscious of the men anxiety of castration causes men to objectify women. “Ultimately, the meaning of woman is sexual difference, the absence of the penis as visually ascertainable, the material evidence on which is based the castration complex essential for the organization of entrance to the symbolic order and the law of the father.” (Mulvey, page 840) the quote illustrates how the male gaze is inevitable because of the male unconscious constantly having an anxiety of castration in contrast to women. Women bring this anxiety on according to Laura Mulvey and one way for men to gain control is first being in control of the gaze and the male gaze causes to devalue the object or turning women in fetishes. These concepts for me do not complete the picture to the oppositional gaze. Laura Mulvey has some valid points but then does not offer anything to counteract the male gaze in media. Mulvey is only explaining why it is there to begin with for me that isn’t enough.

Another theorist that completes the theory of the oppositional gaze is Bell Hooks. Bell Hooks adds another dimension to the oppositional gaze which is race. Media rarely represents women in favorable light but black women have almost never had strong and beautiful characterization of their gender and color. “They resented the way these screen images could assault black womanhood, could name us bitches, nags.” (Hooks, page 120) here Bell Hooks illustrates how the main stream media particularly has been degrading to black women. Bell Hooks adds “..much feminist film criticism disallows the possibility of a theoretical dialogue that might include black women’s voices” (Hooks, page 125). According to Bell hooks not only has main stream media have depicted black womanhood in an offensive manner but feminist who are there champion for women have left out black women in the criticism. I personally agree with Bell Hooks here because not only in film critic is this fact but in many other fields black women are not accounted for at all. Bell Hooks continues to state that the way media will be bale to change is if women especially black women continue to be critical of films, books, etc. In turn directors, screen writers, writers, every media maker will eventually and hopefully keep in mind to create more media that is a fully representation of women and black women.

All the theorist I have read have made criticism that media is sexist and racist. The point that there were criticisms on media is a positive sign of moving forward. To me dialogue creates media makers that are more conscientious to women in their media.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Snow White! I like Snow White, too, but I have never noticed that it can be such a good example of the male gaze...beautiful, thin, and white.