Saturday, September 21, 2013

Who's Watching?

The male gaze is the power to transform a women into a object with the blink of an eye. "A man's presence is dependent upon the promise of power which he embodies. …The promised power may be moral, physical, temperamental, economic, social, and sexual- but its object is always exterior to the man. A man's presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you." (Berger 45, 46) The male gaze can be visually seen in early works such as the romantic painting, the Grande Odalisque by Ingres. The painting depicts a naked woman staring at the viewer with her back to them. However a closer look reveals that the body proportions and the length of the vertebrae would were not physical possible. The Grande Odalisque was a woman morphed into a man's ideal  of the female body. She has been manipulated and distorted for the pleasure of male viewers. 

"The scopophilic instinct (pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object), and, in contradiction, ego libido (forming identification processes) act as formations, mechanisms, which the cinema has played on." ( Mulvey, 843) In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Mulvey explains that women in film are seen as sexual objects. Female characters are limited to certain roles that exude, purposefully or un-purposefully, a strong sense of sensuality not for herself but for the male protagonist and the intended audience-male viewers. 

The threat of the male gaze extends beyond crowded and dark movie theaters but also in everyday life. The male gaze terrorizes females with unwarranted attention and invasion of space, simply because to these men female bodies are there are them. The fact that a lot of women can't leave their home without at least thinking about if their appearance will garner attention, is a testament to the power of the male gaze.

Bell Hooks takes a different approach with gazing. The oppositional gaze encourages black women to not accept stereotypical representations of themselves in film/tv, but rather actively critique them. "Even when representations of black women were present in film our bodies and being were there to serve-to enhance and maintain white womanhood as object of the phallocentric gaze." (Hooks 119) Black women are limited in the roles they're offered in mainstream media to characters such as "mammies," the tough street girl, or other roles that serve to elevate white womanhood-forbidding black womanhood to exist. The oppositional gaze is a form of resistance against the racism and sexism against black women, giving them the power to view and critique their media representations. 

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