The “male gaze” is the look, the opinion, and the contrived freedom to objectify woman as sexual objects in society. Even with much improvement in female equality, we still live in a male dominated society. Like John Berger’s essay “Ways of Seeing” states, “to be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men” (46). In this kept world, woman are always aware of the “male gaze”, or being watched, “from earliest childrood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually” (46).
Let me tell you, I was surprised when no girls in the class put up their hand admitting to enjoying the occasional cat-call on the street. I myself didn’t put up my hand because no one else did. I was shy to stand-alone. Maybe others felt the same way as me? I know I have friends who agree – we’ve talked about it. But I’ll admit it here; it sometimes makes me feel good to be whistled at on the street. Like when I specifically got dressed up and a group of construction workers holler at me, it gives me an extra bit of sass in my strut. Or when I’m feeling down and sneaking to the store to buy 10 chocolate bars, in my sweat pants and pajama shirt, thinking that no one could ever find me attractive, and across the road some guy yells “hey beautiful”, I feel a little less repulsive. In my mind it’s kind of part of the “charm” of being in a big pedestrian city; it’s more charming than a guy vomiting into a trash can on the corner of 59th St. and Lex at 3pm, or a woman clipping her toe nails on the 6 train. I doesn’t bother me that much because I don’t feel threatened by a guy honking his horn as he drives down the street, as I would by a man actually conversing with me in a more secluded setting like a book store or a bar. I get bothered by unsolicited pick up attempts more than any cat-call or gaze.
From the Bell Hooks article, “Understanding Patriarchy”, I understand that I am spreading patriarchy by having this view, but I also learned where I got it from – my mother, “most of us learned patriarchal attitudes in our family of origin, and they were usually taught to us by our mothers” (23). My parents had followed gender norms, like Hooks’ parents, “had been taught patriarchal thinking through religion” (19), my dad was the breadwinner, my mom the childcare giver, cook, cleaner. My mom was clearly the one in charge of the family, but you needed to pass your idea by her, and then work together to make my dad feel like he was the one okaying it. Once mom signed off, you knew it was fine. My brothers and I, “had to follow a predetermined gendered script” (19). They had lots of “boy” toys and were told to be big and bold and dominant, I was told to stay inside with my mother and be a lady. I like being a “lady” though. I was never really interested in crossing the gender boundary to begin with, and saw no problem wanting to be pretty. It may be sexist thinking, but I really like it when men sees me as pretty. It may mean I’m falling victim to this thinking and I’m accomplishing that predetermined gendered script, but mostly it just makes me feel good.
I think the worse gaze is not from men on the street, but from girls in print. Woman continue to learn that they are on display by almost every form of media they ever see. The interesting part to me is the use of girls in this “male gaze” view in typically female only outlets like Seventeen, or Cosmo Girl. Girls gaze at other girls because they need to see their competition, .
No matter how a male gaze makes me feel, the gaze from a skinny model in a magazine will make me feel like shit.