The male gaze objectifies the viewed subject; this viewed subject more often than not being female. Within the mainstream media, women are placed on display, as mere objects for male viewing pleasure. Although these images are also being seen by women, the effect that these images (let’s say a Victoria’s Secret ad) has on women, is adversely different. These commercials, magazine ads, and billboards are all on display for the male viewer to enjoy. Although the consumers of the advertised products are women, the target audience is men. A man most probably directed the commercials and photo shoots with the implicit goal of creating something for his fellow male viewer to enjoy. I believe that if women were the ones in charge of these images, the outcome would be a lot less interesting for men, and a lot more informative and in tuned with what women are concerned about when buying these products.
In “Ways Of Seeing” by John Berger, he discusses the differences in meaning behind a man and a woman’s presence. In one section, he talks about the painting, The Allegory of Time and Love, by Bronzino and states that Venus’s body arrangement in the painting is to appeal to the male viewer’s sexuality rather than her own. “…The woman’s sexual passion needs to be minimized so that the spectator may feel that he has the monopoly of such passion. Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own” (Berger, 55).This statement in my opinion is very strong, and speaks to the way that many images and thoughts in the media are conceived. When examining almost any ad in a magazine, commercial on television, and even most film, there is almost always a “sexy” woman present. Selling a car – sexy woman. Selling a burger – sexy woman. Selling shampoo – sexy woman moaning unnecessarily in an airplane bathroom while washing her hair (which seems rather illogical because there isn’t much space and I don’t recall here being a hair dryer present the last time I was on a plane).
However, these recurring images of hyper-sexualized women seem to only appeal to the American white male standard of beautiful or sexy. Although many people (men and women alike) would agree that some of these images are sexy, overall I question whether or not a woman’s idea of sexy is being captured. It is certain that a male view of “sexy” is prevalent within our mainstream media, however, what is a woman’s idea of the word? What is sexy to a woman?
Most women, that I have spoken to define sexy using words, such as confident, strong presence, intelligence, etc. A lot of which comes from within. When I’ve asked girls, there tends to be a name associated with the definition, such as Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, Rihanna, etc. My reasoning for creating the distinction between women and girls, is that the womenI have spoken to, are older and generally a bit less consumed with what is portrayed in the media. Girls, on the other hand seem to be a lot more impressionable and brainwashed into conforming to the White American male view of sexy. Not to say that women do not also internalize these portrayals, I am just stating it seems as though a woman 30+ is less likely to be as emotionally invested and overwhelmed by this oppression than a teenaged girl enveloped by the media. What’s sad is that girls are becoming women with these same socially embedded ideals, and are living life with this constant mission to live up to societal standards of beauty and consistently striving to please the male viewer.
The oppositional gaze challenges the mainstream, white supremacist way of thinking. It originally sought to fight against the stereotypes portrayed in the media. Blacks looked at what was being displayed on television and movie screens though interrogative gazes (Hooks, 117). Although Black men and women were both being racially stereotyped and exploited through inaccurate white representation, the oppositional, interrogating gaze of African Americans (men) was there to challenge the racism and domination by whites. Gender politics were rarely a discussion (Hooks, 118). The oppositional gaze however seems to fuel racism and segregation, rather than deconstruct it.
After reading through these pieces, I have been really enlightened, and in a sense awakened. Although I was aware of the problems of racism and sexism within the media, I don’t particularly analyze or pay attention to just how serious a problem it is until I am put in a position to pay attention. Unfortunately, ridding our society of these culturally embedded toxins would be complex, and is not as simple as I would hope it to be.