The act of looking though may seem usual and harmless, actually possesses great power. It has the ability to punish, yet it has the ability to praise. In Berger’s “Ways of Seeing,” Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure,” and Hook’s “The Oppositional Gaze,” the act of looking is critiqued for its effect on minority groups with relation to women in art, women of color and the media.
The male gaze is an omnipresent phenomenon which is evident in both human sexes. As Mulvey’s essay discusses scopophilia as a significant contributing factor for human sexuality, it is determined that the surveyed will appear as an object no matter how human. With that in mind, it is imperative to include Berger’s theory which state that “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object; particularly an object of vision: a sight” (47). Thus, when men look at women, it instinctively occurs in a voyeuristic way as men must survey a woman before she is treated to exercise his sense of power; for a man’s presence is defined by how powerful he appears.
Similarly, when women look at themselves, they have “to survey everything [they are] and everything [they do]” because their appearance towards a patriarchal society determines their success. Mulvey relates the idea of women being viewed as objects to mainstream film as heterosexual men are assumed to be the target audience; something which can also be seen in art history. Since the ideal spectator was believed to be male, women were illustrated to flatter. The term male gaze sprouted from this realization; essentially it is a behavior found in the masculine that transforms women into objects via sight.
The male gaze has become an invasive form of popular culture due to its internalization as a norm by western societies. Since people’s values are ideas of what is desirable in life, it is only natural for males, especially in a patriarchal society, to yearn women. This desire is expressed through the male gaze with the instinctive intention to procreate. It has survived to dominate popular culture for the simple fact that humans still have that drive.
Bell Hooks further discusses the gaze by including race in the matter. She coins the term oppositional gaze to essentially represent her people’s right to look. The oppositional gaze however, is more than a right to look; it also serves the purpose of reforming how her people are represented. The oppositional gaze was a response to film and television and their lack of black representation, especially black female presence.
Although both of equal importance, I find myself relating more towards the male gaze than the oppositional gaze. I have seen the effects of the male gaze from who I am romantically involved with. The male gaze can cause intense pressure towards women and how they “should” look; it also causes severe insecurity which eventually leads to an unhealthy, dysfunctional life. In terms of media, I have not felt so strongly about diversity in my life; there should be a wide variety of sizes and colors featured in the media today; everyone should rely on their individual desires and not what society sets to be desired. By venturing through the readings, I cannot help but think if future, if not today’s society will turn the tables and give birth to a female gaze; and if they do, would they do to men what men have done to them? Which also applies to advocates of the oppositional gaze; would the people of color misrepresent white if given a chance?