Saturday, September 21, 2013

Who's perspective?

John Berger in his article, “Ways of Seeing” he scrutinizes the history of male gaze the context within European nude paintings. Interestingly, he also suggests the similarity of the principal of the paintings and today’s portrait of women in photograph.  He argues, “One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at (47).” Thus women (or their bodies) become objects within painting.  Berger also points out “But in them all there remains the implication that the subject (a woman) is aware of being seen by a spectator (49).” I found many of commercial photographs correspond to Berger’s argument. Let’s look at those pictures;   

All the women in the photos are looking at spectators that exist outside of pictures; meanwhile each man in the photo is looking at women.  When I see a familiar magazine photograph that juxtaposed with the historical nude paintings, I was amazed by the fact that the root of male gaze/dominate “spectator-ownership” hasn’t changed much throughout time; as Berger asserts it has became more pervasive today via our diffused (mass) media.

Moreover, Berger argues “Women are depicted in a quite different way from men- not because the feminine is different from the masculine- but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him (Berger, 64).” I can’t agree with him more, the paintings and images are portrait for male spectators, even if they are targeting women spectator for today; they are selling women product but still please men.  We as a society has been to are under the practice of male gaze so long, that we take male gaze for granted.

As an extension of the Berger’s idea, Laura Mulvey argues “active/male and passive/female” looking in traditional narrative film. She states, “The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly (837).”  This means women are constantly hiding themselves and their identities and are being watch and be aware of their action, as women are subject to “this gaze”. The concept of “women as an object” is prevalent in advertising; often women are regarded as food, commodities.
For example, Carl's Jr. 2013 Superbowl television commercial
(, it utilized model’s body to stimulate desire of audience and ultimately, desire will be transferred to the product. Women identified with commodities they are selling; because sex appeal and “sex sell”- is a fast, effective and popular tool for advertising today.

As Bell Hooks experienced, I am well aware of the power of gaze. In Korea society and culture, generally gazing who is consider your elder or high authority is consider rude and irrational behavior, especially women has to avoid any eye contact with their parents, husbands, and authority- in order to prove they are subordinate to them. Korean culture has influence and taught me to be like this, and as of today I still feel conscious and difficult to make any eye contact with strangers, or even acquaintance.  I believe that in our unconsciousness we are aware of the power of gaze.

Hooks asserts that historically “the representations of black women in film were to enhance and maintain white womanhood as object of the phallocentric gaze (119).” As she also mentioned, there was no place for black women early era of Hollywood film.  However, the “oppositional gaze” ultimately allowed black women to examine and challenge the racial and gender discrimination. Hooks states “It was the oppositional black gaze that responded to these looking relations by developing independent black cinema (117).” In other words, oppositional gaze transformed movie spectatorship as it made passive viewers-black female- into active viewers.

I admit that I rarely give thought to representations of black women in media; the portrait/character of women in media often consistently recognized as white womanhood (even Asian women). I believe it is necessary to examine diverse female spectatorship; thus, as Hooks argues, we will be able to discover who we are. Consequentially, oppositional gaze will challenge the norms/conventions of mainstream media.  


  1. I never noticed the models attention being directed to the audience until recently and the male examining her. Looking back at some advertisements that seem directed to selling a product with sex appeal, it is always the female being examined, either by a male model and the audience or just the audience themselves.
    I became more aware of the representation of black women in media through Chris Rock's documentary about good hair, I didn't think hair was such a big deal and I was truly shocked by this documentary.

  2. I really like the photos you chose to go with the articles we read. It definitely portarys the sexualized media as well as how women are always looked at or treated as objects.