The Male Gaze refers to, as explained by Laura Mulvey’s use of a psychoanalytical approach in examining this phenomenon, the asymmetrical relationship between men as observers and women as observed in the context of phallocentric representations in media, specifically film. This asymmetrical relational positioning between males as possessors of the active role of placing the “gaze” and females possessing the passive role as recipients of the gaze results in an inequitable distribution of power skewed towards men. According to Mulvey in this scopophilic interaction, “The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of the man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation, adding a further layer demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order as it is worked out in its favorite cinematic form – illusionistic narrative film.” This relational inequity of the prevailing patriarchal hegemonic standard in media results in the objectification of women depriving them agency.
John Berger in his essay, Ways of Seeing, explains why this is a pervasive form of vision in popular culture through an examination of historical works of the Western artistic category of “The Nude”. He analyzes the artwork with a comparative view of modern forms of media where the prevailing theme is the viewer is always presumed to be male. This presumption of a male viewership dictates the creation of the art and enforces the ideal of men possessing the gaze and women being the recipients of the gaze. As recipients of the gaze women lose autonomous self-perception and their notion of self is contingent on being perceived.
Bell Hooks contextualizes the gaze in a racial framework accounting for the disenfranchisement of African American females resulting in a diametrically opposed gaze that she refers to as the Oppositional Gaze. Bell Hooks asserts that efforts by feminist to resist the exploitative representation of the male gaze have in large part neglected racialized sexual differences resulting in the marginalization of black women. According to Bell Hooks, “Mainstream feminist film criticism in no way acknowledges black female spectatorship. It does not even consider the possibility that women can construct an oppositional gaze.” Hooks calls for an emergence of a new discourse that addresses the oppositional gaze of the black female spectatorship; a discourse that addresses the current desexualization of black women that results in the floccinaucinihilipilification of black women.
I realize that I stand outside the hegemonic standard of masculinity and as such I endure a repressive gaze yet I turn my repressive male gaze onto female representations. I passively consume media where females are representative my concupiscence and are devoid of any inherent value onto themselves. I see the male gaze as a function of a broader patriarchal hegemonic system of ideological apparatuses within a capitalist environment. The male gaze serves a socio-economic purpose and as such has been firmly institutionalized. The male gaze transcends the feminist and racial landscape; therefore, efforts to disrupt the male gaze by psychoanalyzing this phenomenon or taking an oppositional gaze are bound to meet with limited successes. Without addressing the pillar, class distinctions, upon which the problems of sexism and racism rest we cannot hope to make any real inroads to solving inequitable gender and racial representations in media.