Sunday, September 22, 2013


         In film and art, one will find that the gaze is something significant for both the subject and the viewer. When one looks at the female body, there's more than what meets the eye and this could range depending on the race and gender of the viewer. A male isn't the only type of person to feel impact of the female, because it is the female too who's also influenced by a woman's appearance, whether it's another woman or herself. Writers John Berger, Bell Hooks, and Laura Mulvey have contributed their ideas to the topic.
          In John Berger's Way of Seeing, he discusses the contrasts between male and female presence. The male's presence will reflect his excess world, which concerns whether he's macho or has good economic status. As for the female, it's a reflection of who she is to herself ,and it is at times uncontrollable. He writes, " To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space."(Berger, 46) He adds that when a woman is in her own company, she isn't really by herself, because she has her own identity as well as the image of herself that is perceived by others. This is something I could relate to because as a girl, I feel like I always have to keep up appearances, and it's definitely influenced by society's expectations. Often, when I'm at home or by myself, I'll dress down, relax and eat what I desire, but I can't completely let myself go. I have to eventually work out and fix my hair, otherwise it will affect my self esteem. 
          Going back to Berger's book, he talks about the difference between nudity and nakedness. "To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not be recognized for oneself."(Berger, 54) His work includes various nude painting and photographs, as describes each and compares their similarities. In both the Nell Gwynne portrait and the Venus and Cupid painting, the spectator is aware that the female is drawing her attention towards him. Just by the way their bodies are positioned, he can tell that they're aware of his gaze. Male musicians are no stranger to the gaze, as they often direct their lyrics to the opposite sex. In Pitbull's song, I Know You Want Me, he's both speaking to the female spectacle while describing his experience to the listener. He tells the female, "I know you want me, you know I want you." Then he tells the listener, "Mami got an ass like a donkey, with a monkey. Look like King Kong, welcome to the crib 305, That's what it is with a woman down here the shit don't play games." 

          Laura Mulvey's Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema offers a twisted view on the female gaze by using psychoanalysis. The idea of the female being castrated is the appeal of this male gaze. Mulvey writes, "The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of a castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her to desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies." (Mulvey, 833) Sometimes the female body becomes a threat to the man because he is reminded of castration, and there are two ways to avoid the anxiety that comes with that thought. He could turn this castration into a fetish or look into the reenactment of the trauma that punished her, and he could use fetishistic scopophilia. This fetishistic scopophilia "builds up the physical beauty of the object, transforming it into something satisfying in itself." (Mulvey, 840)
          Bell Hooks's Oppositional Gaze analyzes the female body from a black person's perspective. She starts off by talking about how African Americans were not legally allowed to have eye contact with their white owners. Later on, when television first came out, it gave African American men the opportunity to stare at white women without having to face harsh consequences. However, for the black female it was a different story, because she couldn't watch the white female on screen without feeling she couldn't relate to them. When black females were involved in the cinema, the whites would constantly stereotype, as shown in Amos and Andy, where Sapphire was the castrating bitch the audience was supposed to hate. When there was black cinema, it was in its own category and could never cross paths with mainstream cinema. Overall, black woman felt unrelated to mainstream cinema and had to resort to blocking out their identities. "Responding to this assualt, many black women spectators blocked out the image, looked the other way, accorded cinema no importance in their lives." (Hooks, 120) Then there were those females who chose to block out racism and give into the world of the movie. Hooks sums up the experience of a working class woman. "To experience pleasure, Miss Pauline sitting in the dark must imagine to herself transformed, turned into the white woman portrayed on the screen. After watching movies, feeling the pleasure, she says, 'But it made coming home hard.'"(Hooks, 121) Some of these women would have to come back home with the realization that they weren't the women portrayed on the screen. 
         Personally, I feel like the media has come a long way and is still evolving into a culture where different societies are crossing paths. Surely, we see that there are different races starring on our favorite TV shows and movies. However, it's still apparent that there's continuous stereotyping. I've always been familiar with this, but Bell Hook's writing has opened my eyes to how it really must of felt before there was an intermix of blacks and whites in film culture. These black females weren't given a reason to feel part of the mainstream experience  unless they blocked out their identities. If they were to see which direction the media is headed in today, they would be much prouder of our conditions, even though we have a long way to go. In ways I see a lot of stereotyping concerning my race in American TV. Nowadays, Hispanic girls are still perceived as cholas or sultry sex symbols on the television screen, which is fine but sometimes exaggerated. My favorite stereotype is the latin maid or house cleaner supporting a low-income family. Now, my mom was a maid/house cleaner and my aunt is still a house cleaner, but besides the point, it doesn't necessarily apply to all of us. What keeps me positive is that people are aware of mainstreams flaw in perceiving certain cultures, and as viewers they can change what sells to the public. 


  1. I pose this question.

    " When a woman's oppositional gaze is veered towards her perpetrator, will she see him nude or naked, and is this theoretically possible?"

    I am just curious if there is such a true bias towards the male gender.


  2. "To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude. (The sight of it as an object stimulates the use of it as an object.) Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display." (Berger p.54)

    While it is easy to identify women's plight in a patriarchal society, we have to be willing to critical examine the naked/nudeness of men as well. You ask if there is a true bias towards the male gender and I have to say that I do believe that it is; however the framing of these biases are different from those of females.

    When I think of the emotional repression imposed on male bodies, feelings of powerlessness, especially when considering the experiences of men of color, hegemonic masculinity and the pressure to attain the unattainable (very similar to challenges faced by women), even a slogan like "Man Up", what do all these constructs and ideologies say about males and the performance of masculinity? They too reinforce a limited ideology of masculinity and devalue any alternative form.

    On another note, what is there to say for the "Good Girls Love Bad Guys" or "Good Guys Always Finish Last" syndromes? Isn't this the female gaze, or should I say the "patriarchal gaze", at its best. Women are informed by media about what a "man" looks like, how he should behave, what he can provide, similarly to that of women, and what happens often times when the man is incapable of meeting this socially constructed expectation. It this not the objectification of males bodies, the inability to see their nakedness, not realizing that they have don't have a clue as to "how to be a man", the same way women don't have a clue as to "how to be a woman".

    I often wonder have we created a society that is intolerant of the naked male, the vulnerable man. Can a man cry at "Beaches" and his girlfriend comfort him? Why are men expected to know how to perform, yet has never been given instruction and if he asks, risk being ridiculed and his masculinity is challenged for not knowing? Can a man be raped? Is this not an issue that warrants discussion, yet it rarely ever is. And when it does happen, you usually hear "well discourse is limited because men don't report." What message does this send to men and the value of their bodies?

    As we have learned from bell hooks, "patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation." (p. 17) In the end, I think that its critical that we examine the impact of patriarchy on not only the lives of women but men as well. As women, we can not expect to destroy patriarchy without the active involvement of men. We have to be able to find strength in our similarities in order to promote real positive social change. I think anyway.

    (Great question by the way!)