Friday, February 26, 2010

Ways of Seeing

"Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at" (47). This is the epitome of the male gaze. Men are whom women are constantly aiming to please. Women are the depicted as objects to critique, based on the ability to appeal and draw in men. Achieving womanliness is defined by how passive and, therefore, sexy she can be. Everything from the tone of her voice, the expressions on her face, and the clothes on her back define her. As a result women are constantly assessing themselves; checking for flaws and ways that can appeal to men.

This has become accepted and embedded into the foundation of popular culture from as early as European oil paintings, and has managed to remain in today’s media. It is evident that this treatment of the woman as the surveyed, and the male perspective as the surveyor, has become a place of comfort for society. Art and media have intertwined and have used the male gaze by means of advertising and selling a product. Women can sell products to men because the men want to be with that woman. Similarly women can sell products to women because they want to be the woman in the ad, because that is whom men want to be with.

Hooks gives a different perspective of the ‘gaze’ that integrates race into the equation. The gaze for black people has meant something way beyond gender superiority. Gaze has become something that, for black people, has been a conscious action. Many things come into play when talking about black people and race. This has come about from history. A black child grows up with the idea that “ones gaze can be dangerous” and can lead to punishment (115).

This is largely, if not solely, a result of slavery and the oppression of black people. Black men were once lynched and murdered for even looking at white women. Even after the abolition of slavery black people were made fun of and stigmatized in the media. Black men and women were portrayed in negative manners. An example of this is the Amso’n’Andy show where black men were rendered as stupid and were laughed at. Although this representation has become less blunt the stereotypical perception of black males and females still exists in media. This is in essence the oppositional gaze.

As a female and a black person I identify with male gaze and the oppositional gaze. I am the surveyor and the surveyed. From the glimpse in the mirror when I wash my face in the morning and the last look into the mirror when brushing my teeth at night, I am aware of how I should look. Being the surveyor begins, but does not end, with me. I observe other females and compare myself to them. I ask myself how I can be as attractive as the person sitting across from me in the subway, or why the woman sitting next to me has not adequately achieved womanliness. I know I am a woman and I have grown to accept this because regardless of my objection and defiance, I will be judged in relation to my societies structure.

What I have yet to accept and find comfort in is the oppositional gaze. I am a black person. Before I can identify with the mistreatment of women, I identify with the oppression of being black. Being a black woman has its specific downfalls. On television and in movies black women, in my perspective, have a typical behavior. Am I a bitch? Do I nag? Do I have a body that is less desirable? This is what I get from today’s media. I agree with Hooks’ idea that “conventional representations of black women have done violence to [our] image” (120). Black movies and television shows are, for the most part, comical. The cheap jokes and stabs at black stereotypes too have entertained me, but after the movie is over and the money is counted these stereotypes of all kinds are reinforced.

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