On The Male Gaze...
To gaze is to look with fixed attention upon an object. The male gaze, a term coined by Laura Mulvey, is the idea that the portrayal of women in the media is created for and by men. The voyeuristic tendency of men to abuse the wandering eye using it to objectify any given woman he might encounter. However, the male gaze is not as innocent as being attracted to a women on the street insisting how beautiful her smile is or lovely her hair is done today. The male gaze is premeditated and intentional; everyone is aware of it and everyone exploits it.
Take for instance this 1960's Tiparillo Ciggarette ad "Blow in Her Face and She'll Follow You Anywhere", this ad not only suggests oral sex but the dominance which the male asserts over the women with his intense fixated gaze. This ciggarette advertisement justifies the male gaze by encouraging men that in purchasing these cigarettes the ultimate prize is a woman, and idea explored in Laura Mulvey's work Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, "Women then stand for in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other" (Mulvey,834.) But is this ad appealing to men and women; it's difficult to tell without knowing a brief history. In the 1920's women were used as props of sorts in the background of tobacco campaigns, ladies who admired the strong man who took a pull from his cigarette but had little interest in smoking herself. Some might have believed it controversial to depict a woman smoking in a tobacco advertisement. But soon enough women became a target audience for the tobacco industry, a woman smoking was no longer taboo but stylish and attractive and thus the tobacco industry began the exploitation of women in their advertising. However, how could the male dominated advertising world of the 1950's and 60's ever truly know what appealed to women, when women had no influence over what went in to these advertisements. Again enter the male gaze, the notion that somehow women positively received degrading attention from their male counterparts, and thus this type of advertising could appeal to the masses.
Wandering eyes feast on a woman the second she presents herself in public. The male gaze is uncomfortable and unforgiving subjecting a women to uninvited scrutiny picking her apart, dividing her in to pieces. John Berger's asserts "To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself" (Berger, 54), in his work "Ways of seeing". Society has somehow grown to tolerate this idea and sexually suggestive sexist advertisement is becoming more and more prevalent. Take for instance this ad campaign for a Tom Ford Cologne for Men, the creators and visionaries behind this masterpiece (sarcasm intended) couldn't even dignify the model by giving her calves let alone a face. Once again this presents a women as a commodity intended for male consumption.
Bell Hooks, explores the nature of the gaze through a slightly different lens, through the eyes of oppressed black people. Hooks refers to this as the oppositional gaze, a sort of rebellion for the injustices imposed upon black people throughout the ages. "That all attempts to repress our/black people's right to gaze had produced in us an overwhelming longing to look, a rebllious desire, an oppositional gaze" (Hook 116). Hooks also explores the representation of black womanhood in film and the response from black female film goers, "They resented the way she was mocked. They resented the way these screen images could assault black womanhood... And in opposition they claimed Sapphire as their own" (Hooks, 120.) Black spectators rejected the idea of black womanhood imposed by Amos n' Andy and adopted there own interpretations. Perhaps spectators of all backgrounds can benefit from the oppositional approach and perhaps ads will begin to start look a bit more like this one: