Friday, September 20, 2013

The Unsolicited Gaze

by Evelyn Almonte                   


The male gaze is not only an invasion of privacy but a violation of boundaries.  We have all experienced the unwanted attention of someone we find repulsive.  On the other hand, if we dare to be totally honest with ourselves, we take pleasure in the “gaze” if the unrequested scrutiny originates from the object of our desire.  However, the "desired" may not be just a man it can also be a camera and all the media frenzy this can represent for women.

Inspecting women’s bodies with the passion a cartographer constructs a map, is in itself a cultural factor which plays an important role when men undress women not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.  I believe the initial intention of the “male gaze” is to disarm a woman of all her physical and intellectual prowess thus reducing the female to a mere object to be admired or enjoyed. Mulvey’s reading suggest this intention in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" by stating “The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense; as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle.”   Although the woman’s diegetic sound is a firm warning to the male that he should maintain proper distance, culturally he has been taught to believe he is a hunter and therefore he should pursue the prey; and he will use his eyes to initiate the hunt.

However, the eyes which at first “gaze” the prey will soon find an accomplice to further assist in disabling the victim of his attack; at least this is how it is done in Latin American countries. I have always heard that words have extreme powers that can make or break a person.  It is through the use of words that I first learned about the male gaze.  In my culture it is considered a compliment to gaze at a woman and then exalt her beauty by reciting an infinite amount of compliments with poetic phrases that have been passed down from one generation to another through the oral tradition.  These are called “Piropos.”  Piropos are told to a woman as she is walking down the street but can also be vulgar and offensive in nature.  An example of a Piropo is “If you cook the way you sway your body when walking down the street, I want to lick the pot.”  I will not comment any further on these.  You can look up these traditions on the internet under Piropos but I warn you they can be rather insulting.  Here are a couple of websites on Piropos and 
Following are examples with translations:

So many curves and I have no breaks!
"Walk in the shade the sun melts bombons like you!"

As Bell Hook indicated, women must be aware of how they are being portrayed and how we approach the “male gaze” but also the way we are being exploited by the big screen in Hollywood. We must refrain from participating in the circus which center ring is reserved for women as spectacle.  Hook strongly criticized the feminist whose movement makes no mention of the perils black women go through when represented in the movies.  She proposed in "The Oppositional Gaze" the following question “Why is it that feminist film criticism, which has most claimed the terrain of woman’s identity, representation, and subjectivity as its field of analysis, remains aggressively silent on the subject of blackness and specifically representations of black womanhood?” 

It is not just black women being ignored but all women of color.  There is a persistent theme which has tenaciously berated all women of color; stereotyping.  Labeling, categorizing, classifying women of color by so many standards that we can no longer exist without carrying a bar code which can identify us as human beings with all the inherent rights to exist as other women and men do.

An example of this spectacle is the recent series on television called “Devious Maids” produced by Eva Longoria. So much has been written to either exalt or condemn the show that I would have insufficient space in this blog to write about it.  The women are maids, all Latinas, which I understand was a construction and a strategy to open the way for stories of other Latinas to be told through this particular show.  The fact that all the women are maids and that the show is produced by a Latina is incomprehensible.  We are being portrayed as less than instead of exalting the many virtues and contributions made by Latinas and how far we've travelled.  Women, once again, victims of the male gaze from the other side of the lens; only this time with our consent.  Inexplicable!  

The "male gaze" is not just a man looking at a woman with desire.  It penetrates consciousness and is able to affirm hierarchy and masculine superiority.   When utilized by the media it diminishes women to an object on display.

'Devious Maids': The controversy behind the new Lifetime drama


Women reversing roles to make males realize how they feel.

spot against piropos










  1. It is interesting how some cultures reinforce the stereotypical "gaze" through their traditions and folklore. Coming from Eastern Europe, I can totally relate to it. However, I have never thought about it in this way. Somehow, modern gender discourse focuses mostly on current events and phenomena, forgetting about the "root" of the problem, such as fairy tales and folklore.

  2. I appreciate that you mention it's not just black women but all women of color when referring to bell hooks' oppositional gaze. Devious Maids is a great example of that. I understand that in trying to get a foot in the door to talk about such topics as immigration, but to make a show that is completely the stereotype of Latinas doesn't make any sense. The women in this show are maids, some are illegal and when one speaks correctly, they ask her if she went to college. Is it an outrageous possibility for a Latina to have grown up in this country OR to even have migrated and still be able to speak proper English? I think this show is a perfect example of what bell hooks is talking about when she describes Sapphire in Amos 'n' Andy. The maids are the Latina counterparts of Sapphire and when watching this show we have to be very critical of everything we see. It is impossible as a Latina to watch this type of show without an oppositional gaze because then we are doing ourselves and other Latinas a disservice.