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defining the female gaze

In response to something I posted recently about “the female gaze,” I got an email from a male reader who appeared to believe that “the female gaze” refers to “movies women like to watch.”

It doesn’t. Not even close.

But his email got my thinking that perhaps I need to explain what “the female gaze” is about, and why it’s become so much more important to me lately.

There’s a lot of detailed information available about the concept of “the gaze” and “the male gaze” — this TV Tropes page will be illuminating to someone with an interest in pop culture — and the obvious retronym of “the female gaze,” and there’s no point in me parroting it. But in extreme brief, the male gaze was coined by Laura Mulvey in a 1970s feminist critique of film, but it has since been retconned into applying to all realms of visual art. The very basic idea is that throughout Western art, from the Renaissance painters through modern film, television, advertising, videogames, and comic books, there is an unspoken assumption underlying the vast majority of the work that the viewer/reader/consumer/player is male and heterosexual, because the creators have been and are, in the vast majority, male and heterosexual. And if a straight woman or a homosexual man wants to appreciate these works, she or he must at least temporarily assume the perspective of a straight man. (We can presume, I think, that the fact that in some instances, a lesbian woman wouldn’t need to adjust her perspective to fully appreciate these works is an entirely accidental matter of circumstance: because the creators were not consciously crafting a work to represent male heterosexual perspective, there seems to be no likelihood that they consciously considered that lesbian women would identify with their work.)

So, when it comes to TV and film and other pop culture, the way the male gaze manifests itself is in such hideous examples as these, all recent, and all of which infuriated me:

= In Marmaduke, ostensibly a children’s movie, male household pets get hot and bothered over human women, and the camera looks at female animals the same way other films look at human woman: gauzy, slo-mo; it makes them (supposedly) sultry and seductive and provocative. A male director and male screenwriters were “naturally” compelled to create a story about a male dog, from the male dog’s perspective, with the perspectives of the two female dogs he romances all but ignored as unimportant: what is important is what Marmaduke wants, what Marmaduke does, what Marmaduke learns.

= The interesting twist of the gay male gaze of director Michael Patrick King turned the normally lovely female stars of Sex and the City 2 into hideous freaks. It’s the terrible flip side of the usual hetero male gaze on beautiful women, which typically fetishizes them, reduces them to body parts. King doesn’t find women sexually attractive, so he makes them ugly and freakish.

= At a very popular gossip site (which I won’t link to), a certain young celebrity (whose name I won’t mention) who may have gained a little weight is discussed in appalling terms that reduce her to less-than-human status. She is

a lump of shit. This little butterball is just nothing but grease and fat and vodka. She’d be a good fuel source. Probably burn for at least a month.

This is meant to be “funny.” But it’s also meant to remind this celeb that she is only useful as long as men want to look at her.

= Playboy gleefully catalogues how “breast shapes” have gone in and out of fashion in the postwar period (as discussed at Jezebel). Women cannot change the shape of their breasts, of course — aside from some very narrow changes that implants can create — so what’s really changing is the appearance of the breast that the male gaze is willing to gaze at.

= Bret Easton Ellis recently insisted that women cannot be successful as film directors because they lack a “male gaze”; the medium, Ellis believes:

really is built for the male gaze and for a male sensibility….

We’re watching, and we’re aroused by looking, whereas I don’t think women respond that way to films, just because of how they’re built.

And therein is one particularly insidious assumption of the male gaze: that women are not aroused by looking at men. You’ll find this idea parroted by lots of people — including lots of women! — who will say things like, “Well, of course there are more female nudes: the female body is simply more beautiful than the male body, which is weird and strange.” The notion is self-perpetuating, because as long as art (in all its many incarnations, from fine art to videogames) fails to look at men as beautiful and worth looking at, viewers will not learn how to appreciate men as beautiful and worth looking at. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s also something we learn. (Look: “Vincent and the Doctor” just demonstrated wonderfully that people had to learn how to find Van Gogh’s paintings beautiful!)

Now, caveats: The male gaze is not necessarily lascivious (though sometimes it is) — women’s bodies are beautiful. And critiquing the male gaze is not to say that there’s anything wrong with straight men finding women beautiful. The problem with the male gaze — and the desperate need for a more prominent female gaze — is its dominance, not just visually but as the provider of the perspective. Because most filmmakers and TV creators are still straight men, we are still bombarded with stories that, even when they are ostensibly about women are still really about women seen from a male perspective. (And I should say, “stories that are about straight women”; mainstream stories about lesbian women are all but nonexistent, from any perspective.) It results in movies such as The Ugly Truth, which appears to give us two sides of a battle-of-the-sexes coin but actually only smacks down the female side while giving the male side a hearty, approving slap on the back. And like Knocked Up, which seems almost ignorant of the stuff of women’s experiences even where it directly impacts on the story (such as the female protagonist, an adult woman, appearing to have never been to a gynecologist prior to her manifesting as a character in a pregnancy comedy).

And even the good and great movies are still overwhelmingly from a hetero-male perspective — why are we limiting our art this way?

It’s when you see a movie that embodies the female gaze that you realize how startling it is to get that new perspective. Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways is all about girls claiming and using their sexuality for their own purposes and their own needs. Jane Campion’s Bright Star looks with desire on Ben Whishaw’s John Keats from the fully engaged perspective of Abbie Cornish’s Fanny Brawne, not only with her eye but with her mind as well. Andrea Arnold’s astonishing movies Fish Tank and Red Road aren’t only female-gazy: they’re actually about women looking at men.

It’s no wonder, perhaps, that in the story linked above, Bret Easton Ellis admits that he is totally stymied by The Runaways and Fish Tank. I imagine that for some men who are so used to having their perspective be considered the “norm,” the “default,” it can be disconcerting to see themselves removed from the center of the universe. If art is meant to be disturbing — and we still think that way, don’t we? that art should be unsettling? — men like Ellis should welcome a new viewpoint. As should anyone who truly cares about film and TV as mediums for telling important stories.


  • Magess

    I’m actually not sure if you’ll want this in the comments or not so I take no umbrage if you delete it, but since you’re talking about the female gaze, and they’re making a magazine specifically trying to satisfy the female gaze, I thought I should mention that Filament Magazine exists in case you hadn’t heard of it.

    One of the early battles in even trying to get the magazine published was the completely shocking idea of putting men on the cover. Because magazines for women cannot have men on the cover! Distributors wouldn’t carry it because it broke a “rule”. And finding anyone willing to print it was a second battle in itself, since the printers could somehow lose customers by printing explicit material containing men (?).

  • http://www.whofic.com/viewuser.php?uid=8687 Weimlady

    Interesting. My brother and I talk films quite a bit, and I’ve noticed that he identifies films (when he can’t remember the title, which happens to us both a lot) by the actresses in them. I much more often will identify the film by the actors in them. He’s often baffled by the names I throw out as I am often baffled by the names he throws out. When we finally realize what film we’re talking about, we’ll both say, “Oh! Was that _____________ (insert unrecognized actor/actress name here)?”

    Seems I have been exercising the female gaze without knowing it wasn’t supposed to exist.

  • MaryAnn

    Your comment is fine, Magess. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the female gaze doesn’t necessarily have to be erotic, just as the male gaze does not. And what I’m talking about in the post above encompasses a perspective that is about more than just sex.

  • MaryAnn

    Seems I have been exercising the female gaze without knowing it wasn’t supposed to exist.

    We females have to force the gaze, sometimes, when the material we’re presented with does not offer it itself.

  • Sonja

    I had actually never heard of the female gaze before — as an English student, I’m interested in how people of certain genders and sexualities (in particular) are portrayed in stories of all mediums. I guess this is my roundabout way of thanking you for writing about such an important subject.

    As for Ellis, it appears he’s still stuck in the Victorian mindset when someone told Charlotte Bronte that “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be.” Except in regards to film, of course, — either way, it’s absolutely awful — I am deeply saddened and angered that people still actually think this way.

  • Knightgee

    Another point about the male gaze is how it relates to conventional standards of beauty. The idea that someone could find a woman of darker skin, or larger size, or of a certain shape and height attractive or eye-catching is also something ignored in favor of more “traditional” modes of female beauty. The idea that there is in fact a large spectrum of what is considered beautiful is apparently unheard of.

  • Lisa

    Marie Claire put David Beckham on the cover in the UK and nobody complained.

    There was a kinda sex mag that everybody in my school used to “read”, that just had completely naked men in it but I do believe it went bust. It was weird though, because legally they couldn’t use pictures of erect penises either because of some stupid law or it would have classified the magazine as porn and no shops would sell it. I always thought that was unfair when you think about the variety of men’s sexual tastes that are catered for and we weren’t even allowed to look at erections! Like it would cause a riot or something!

    Joan Bakewell did a show on pornography, I think it was, on the BBC, a few years ago. She was allowed to show an erect penis but they had to pixelate it! It’s come to that level of ridiculousness!

  • Ide Cyan

    The male gaze is the aesthetical expression of patriarchal ideology. Being in the dominant position in societies arranged hierarchically according to gender gives men a particular outlook on life and perception of life, and it also gives them the means to inscribe that aesthetic throughout society, so that the self-expression of men is privileged at the expense of women’s. The oppressor’s view becomes the default, agency is defined as masculine and passivity and objectification are attributed to women (and conversely, agency becomes a sign of evil in women, and passivity and objectification unman men since they reflect the loss of the oppressor’s prerogatives).

    A female gaze is possible when a woman reject identification with patriarchal ideology and inscribes her own point of view in her works of self-expression, but the position of women as oppressed gender makes it difficult for us to have the means to both reject patriarchal ideology (consciousness-raising is an ever-ongoing process, not a one-time revelation) and express our own aesthetics, and furthermore to engage in and perpetuate a public discourse exchanging ideas from and about the female gaze, because the oppressor’s discourse also divides us, demands that we engage with it, and generally unreciprocically hogs our resources.

  • Adam

    The mull of kintyre rule.

    The people at the BBFC used to define unacceptable penis engorgement by comparing to the mull of kintyre – it the angle of the dangle was more erect, then the penis was unacceptable.

  • Ide Cyan

    That would be the oblong of the region marked as Kintyre on this map, not of the one marked as Mull?

    http://www.seachest.co.uk/acatalog/SC5611_coverage.jpg

  • Isobel

    I’ve never understood this thing about how women are not supposed to look at men and find them beautiful, or that women’s bodies are supposed to be intrinsically more beautiful somehow (have these people never looked at a man with broad shoulders and a muscular back, or a rugby player’s forearms? Sheesh!). Or this whole thing about penises being supposedly ugly – I don’t get that, either.

    Anyway – thanks for this MaryAnn; it’s something I’d come accross before in literature but it is interesting that it’s also something that someone had to email you to question.

  • Magess

    Your comment is fine, Magess. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the female gaze doesn’t necessarily have to be erotic, just as the male gaze does not. And what I’m talking about in the post above encompasses a perspective that is about more than just sex.

    True! Although following up with a shirtless photo of Bradley Cooper… Hee. Though it is a nice photo. ;)

    Seriously though, yes, it is also or perhaps just as much having the *power* to look or have a perspective or opinion without having to justify it.

  • dafydd

    Talk about a perfect combination for this site:

    http://cuteboyswithcats.tumblr.com/

  • Accounting Ninja

    Isobel- weird, isn’t it? I remember sitting in a group of men and women some years ago, and they were ALL saying that tired “women’s bodies are more beautiful and men are repulsive” line. I was the only one arguing the contrary; after all, I’m very attracted to my husband’s body (and no, he’s not a stud and I’m no beauty. We’re normal, reasonably-attractive people, but definitely not in a Hollywood way at all).

    I remember feeling surprised at the women’s assertions that they found penises ugly and male bodies indifferent at best. One of them said it right in front of her husband, and he agreed! O_o. Then, of course, the convo turned to how much more “natural” it is to have naked women in media rather than men, because we are more “beautiful”. That’s when I started feeling that anger/annoyance I often felt at these issues, but since I hadn’t gotten into feminism, I was ill-equipped to debate. I even felt a bit bad for feeling angry; after all, what’s wrong with being “beautiful”?? (I know better now; it is NO complement.)

    Because this was before my getting into feminism, I couldn’t articulate how these women sure had internalized the Male Gaze (and sexism) completely. Also, self-defense: under patriarchy, women who openly lust after male bodies will eventually be called “whores”, or at the very least, “unnatural”. Even within a married couple it’s accepted that MEN will be the ones lusting, while their wives want “emotional connection”. 100% of the time.

    Guys: we straight, red-blooded females LOVE male bodies. I’m crazy about my husband’s body. Of course, it also helps that he’s loving, attentive, brilliant and funny.
    I also find plenty of men viscerally sexy. My heart belongs only to husband, so I look but never think about touching. But I still look! Society tells me I don’t, or that I look for what car he drives (psht, please).

  • MaryAnn

    The male gaze is the aesthetical expression of patriarchal ideology.

    It sounds so obvious when we talk about it now, but it’s strange that it took the articulation of it to make it seem obvious. And still, even today, some people don’t get it.

  • bronxbee

    i think this notion that the male form is “ugly” is fairly modern. if one looks at classical sculpture through the ages, it is mainly male forms that are depicted, quite frequently nude,or partially nude. from egypt through the monumental period of post WWI, it is the male form that is considered the ideal.

    interestingly, notions of what is attractive — or manly –about male bodies has changed. today, it’s pecs and abs, in classical pieces it’s shoulders and buttocks. even male genetalia has had its fashions; until fairly modern times, it was the testicles that were considered the epitome of manliness. their size and heft. the length of a penis was secondary. one need only gaze at michaelangelo’s statue of David to note that.

    also, the idealized form of the young male went through interesting changes. michaelangelo’s david, completed in 1504, is far different from the idealized form of donatello’s david circa 1430.

    i don’t know where or when the notion that women don’t like to look at pleasing male forms (of all shapes and sizes) developed. it’s easy to blame puritans, or the victorians, but perhaps it started when technology and industry made it easier for women to work full days and pay for their own entertainment. no one can tell me a young woman growing up in a rural or agricultural society didn’t let her gaze linger, in a meditative sort of way, over the young men that were around her. and probably saw a good many of them nude or partially nude. once we became less agrarian and more industrial, where most work was done indoors, and women became both more economically independent, and more restrained in their world view, the chance to see men out of their clothes lessened, and the need to control their gaze became more important, perhaps. this is a question worthy of several years research. alas, that researcher is unlikely to be me. although i’m perfectly willing to do the visual research.

  • Cameron

    As a straight guy, I have no problem with women wanting to exercise the female gaze.

    One example of the male-centric perspective from a foreign classic is in Bergmann’s Smiles of a Summer Night. In it, a male character dressed in a ridiculous bedtime getup says (best from memory) “How is it that a woman can love US men?” The answer: “We don’t care about aesthetics, and we can always turn out the light.” Funny, but it does display that mindset.

    I also remember that cartoonist Berkeley Breathed has sort of “repulsed male gaze” of lumpy men in undies that he would trot out from time to time. One example was a “Male swimsuit issue” with repellent-looking men. That and other examples on their own were funny, but collectively it indicated some kind of obsession he seemed to have.

  • Accounting Ninja

    The ever present male gaze allows the commodification of female bodies/sexuality to go unchecked. Women’s bodies become accepted as public property under the guise of being more “beautiful” (and therefore more marketable, more Othered.)

    Then it’s all fucked up further by the Madonna/Whore complex, slut-shaming and extremely narrow female beauty ideals.

  • Ide Cyan

    perhaps it started when technology and industry made it easier for women to work full days and pay for their own entertainment.

    Bronxbee, technology has nothing to do with women’s ability to pay for their own entertainment. Women’s economic independence is a matter of legal rights and politics.

    Think more along the lines of decades of feminist lobbying to change the Married Women’s Property Act (in 1870 and 1882 in England, and in 1965 in France!!), so that women could legally own their income and inherit property, instead of its automatically becoming their husbands’ property, to give you an example.

  • Lisa

    Does anyone care what Bret thinks? Hasn’t he been struggling for relevancy since the 80′s?

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    I wonder how much rejection of the female gaze has to do with male insecurity. Let’s face it, most men (and most women) are too busy/tired from making money to keep in shape. Our lives feel almost structured in ways that ruin our bodies. Sure, when we’re kids we can eat and drink anything and have time to do sports, but take all those eating and drinking habits into our thirties and bam, beer bellies galore, then in our forties the beginnings of heart attacks.

    Then women want to turn their gaze on us and all we can think about is our belly, and women turn their gaze on people whose job it is to stay good looking (actors, professional athletes) and all we can think about is our jealousy. I’m sure women have these insecurities as well, but, yeah, we also own the magazines and studioes so it’s our insecurities and hang ups that mostly get projected instead of yours.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Then women want to turn their gaze on us and all we can think about is our belly, and women turn their gaze on people whose job it is to stay good looking (actors, professional athletes) and all we can think about is our jealousy. I’m sure women have these insecurities as well, but, yeah, we also own the magazines and studioes so it’s our insecurities and hang ups that mostly get projected instead of yours.

    Women live with this every day! Our bodies, boobs and butts don’t look like the constant parade of actress’s or porn stars (women paid to look good as well). Despite men telling women they are fine the way they are, women aren’t stupid; they see how the men focus on these fabricated images of women to get off. (I’m not talking about any particular individual here. btw.)

    But you are right, because men are in power they can deny womens’ sex drives and keep the idealized female images flowing.

  • Lisa

    in fact, women are actively attacked for not looking like Supermodels and getting older. Men don’t have to deal with that.

  • http://cheekandbluster.com Derek

    Ide Cyan:

    The male gaze is the aesthetical expression of patriarchal ideology. Being in the dominant position in societies arranged hierarchically according to gender gives men a particular outlook on life and perception of life, and it also gives them the means to inscribe that aesthetic throughout society, so that the self-expression of men is privileged at the expense of women’s. The oppressor’s view becomes the default, agency is defined as masculine and passivity and objectification are attributed to women (and conversely, agency becomes a sign of evil in women, and passivity and objectification unman men since they reflect the loss of the oppressor’s prerogatives).

    These points are well put, and I agree pretty much down the line. The question that comes to my mind is, couldn’t the male gaze and the female gaze coexist in a film/TV show/work of visual art, etc., at least in theory?

    I’m not disputing the current privileged status of the male gaze. However, consider for example The A-Team. Maybe a flimsy example, since I confess that I have not seen the movie, but I understand from others that it includes several instances of Bradley Cooper going shirtless. I assume – and I trust others will correct me if I’m wrong – that the movie also contains no shortage of male gaze fodder, probably far outweighing the smattering of shirtless Cooper. Nevertheless, his bare torso remains… so does it count?

    …the position of women as oppressed gender makes it difficult for us to have the means to both reject patriarchal ideology (consciousness-raising is an ever-ongoing process, not a one-time revelation) and express our own aesthetics, and furthermore to engage in and perpetuate a public discourse exchanging ideas from and about the female gaze, because the oppressor’s discourse also divides us, demands that we engage with it, and generally unreciprocally hogs our resources.

    Again, I generally agree; I only wonder if the situation is as bleak and intractable as you paint it. Is no progress being made? Anywhere? What of The Runaways and Fish Tank – true, they’re not packing the multiplexes at the moment, but doesn’t their existence and their bafflement of Bret Easton Ellis count for something?

    Don’t mistake me as an apologist for the patriarchical status quo. I share Cameron’s sentiment of welcoming more expression of the female gaze. For one thing, I feel that the ubiquitous male-gaze stuff around us is, with few exceptions, very trite. For another, as a straight man I personally find the very thought of the female gaze to be not only refreshing, but kind of hot.

    I did a good deal of considering before I included that last statement. I fear it may piss you off, which is not my intention – or worse, that it may be perceived as patriarchical condescension. I can only aver that my regard for the female gaze is rooted in awe and respect.

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    The female gaze has been catered to as far back at least as Clark Gable. Captain Kirk had unnecessary shirtless scenes, which they even joked about in Galaxy Quest. And a few years ago an expensive gym’s advertising in Portland, OR, was so balantly designed to appeal to the homosexual gaze I started laughing at the shock of it.

    But these are limited examples compared to feeding the male gaze, and since the power structure favors the straight male, the psychology of it is different, too.

  • Tim1974

    [blathering nonsense deleted by maj]

  • JoshB

    Tim1974! You’re back, and ready to advocate for MOAR OPEN LABIA PLZ!!!11!

  • MaryAnn

    I deleted Tim1974′s comment because he has been warned about his monologing multiple times prior, and also because it’s off-fucking-topic.

    Change the record, Tim1974. Your monologuing is not welcome here. Start your own damn site if you want to try to control the conversation.

  • bree

    The labia is NOT an external organ, plainly visible in natural, everyday nudity. The penis IS an external organ plainly visible in natural, everyday nudity. The comparison of the penis and labia is inane.

  • bree

    oh, that makes no sense after Tim’s comment was deleted!

  • MaryAnn

    The female gaze has been catered to as far back at least as Clark Gable. Captain Kirk had unnecessary shirtless scenes, which they even joked about in Galaxy Quest.

    A few (possible) bones thrown toward the female gaze is nothing more than that. And if the producers of *Trek* had bothered to talk to the female fans who were tuning in to the show, they’d have had Spock shirtless in every other episode. :->

    The question that comes to my mind is, couldn’t the male gaze and the female gaze coexist in a film/TV show/work of visual art, etc., at least in theory?

    In a single work, created by a single artist? Probably not. I don’t think that anyone who critiques the male gaze is suggesting that this could or should happen. What’s needed is more female gazing to counterbalance the male gazing.

    However, consider for example The A-Team. Maybe a flimsy example, since I confess that I have not seen the movie, but I understand from others that it includes several instances of Bradley Cooper going shirtless. I assume – and I trust others will correct me if I’m wrong – that the movie also contains no shortage of male gaze fodder, probably far outweighing the smattering of shirtless Cooper.

    Not really, actually. *A-Team* certainly is an anomaly. Unless we see more movies like this, in gaze terms, I don’t know if we can read anything from it.

    Is no progress being made? Anywhere? What of The Runaways and Fish Tank – true, they’re not packing the multiplexes at the moment, but doesn’t their existence and their bafflement of Bret Easton Ellis count for something?

    In general, I would say no, no real progress has been made. So few women are making movies, and the numbers have actually gotten worse in recent years, that these two films may be coincidental outliers. (I’d like to think that more progress is being made on TV, but while there are more shows than there used to be featuring strong central female characters, those shows are almost universally made by men.)

    For another, as a straight man I personally find the very thought of the female gaze to be not only refreshing, but kind of hot.

    But that’s because you welcome it, Derek. Imagine if you didn’t welcome it but were powerless to stop it. Imagine if you were made to feel less than human merely because of your gender and because of what you look like, and were considered useful only because you arouse something in the gazer. Imagine if you were made to feel even lesser than that if you *didn’t* look the way those in power decreed you should look.

    So you don’t piss me off, Derek, but I wonder if you do understand the power dynamic at work here, and whether you would find it hot if it meant you were powerless before it.

  • MaryAnn

    oh, that makes no sense after Tim’s comment was deleted!

    But it works just fine with JoshB’s. :->

  • Accounting Ninja

    Aw, the Penis Guy returned! He must be having conniptions at being unable to post his screeds here.

    And Derek, this comment isn’t specifically addressed to you, but you got me thinking, so I shall pontificate.

    Lots of times, well-meaning guys will wish that they would be recipients of a female gaze. A woman friend might tell them stories of guys hitting on her (in an UNwelcome way) out in public somewhere and he’ll grouse to himself, “what’s so bad about that? I’d love to have women all over me like that!”

    They imagine a sexy, sexy world where the female gaze exists, and suddenly it’s not taboo for women to express sexual appreciation their way.

    But you guys are missing a very big piece of the picture; the reason women are uncomfortable with/angry at/afraid of the Gaze: rape culture. It’s a “feminism” word, but basically it refers to the cultural attitude that women exist to pleasure men, visually and physically. We women have no say; in fact, protesting this “attention” is not socially condoned. We are judged first and foremost on our appearance, whether “beautiful” (read: appealing to men) or ugly. Our personal boundaries aren’t respected. There’s always the ever-present threat that the “nice guy” being a little too friendly on the bus might rape you.

    So, if you put yourself in these shoes, all of a sudden it doesn’t sound so sexiful, does it?

    I am glad you seem to be an ally, Derek.

  • Isobel

    I ended up coming across an episode of America’s Next Top Model last night (an experience I will not be repeating, and it left me flabbergasted.

    This very beautiful girl with equally beautiful figure:

    click here for the photo

    This girl, is plus sized?

    This is how crazy the expectations on women are getting? That someone who looks this good is labelled so fat that she’s ‘plus sized’?

  • Tim1974

    Well censorship at its finest ! I responded to a comment that was made. Interesting that Lisa’s comment was not deleted or called blathering nonsense. So it is ok for a female to discuss seeing an erection but not for a male to discuss seeing an open labia. What a sexist, male bashing website. You should be ashamed for your double standard actions for deleting a response that stayed on topic of what was presented. And this is what feminism is all about ? What a pathetic joke !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lisa

    I don’t see naked men waving their genitalia in the air everywhere. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places – help me out here Tim. I want names, dates and photos. Video footage!

    I guess I was trying to make a point about access/control/availability/power. Images of naked women are constantly pushed at us and scrutinised. Images of naked men are not. In my country, we have naked women on page 3 of national newspapers. How would you like to open your newspaper in the morning and see 2 naked men embracing? You seem pretty offended by a naked Bart Simpson, so I’ve a feeling it might put you off your cornflkes.

    Welcome back!

  • Isobel

    I’m going to get my snob on and say ‘newspaper’ in inverted commas if we’re talking about The Sun here, Lisa! But I get your point entirely re: page 3 girls.

    Tim, I’d imagine that you’ve not had to sit next to a girl on the train on a daily basis who is perusing pictures of naked men? This is what happens to me almost every morning on the train to work – I end up sitting next to a random man spending an inordinate amount of time looking at page 3 of The Sun. I’ve read your complaints regarding male nudity on this site before and I have to say I don’t think you’ve a leg to stand on.

  • MaryAnn

    Please don’t feed the trolls, and please don’t engage Tim1974: he’s interested only in dominating the conversation.

    Tim1974: I am not censoring you. You are free to post whatever you like on your own Web site. Your freedom of speech has not been impeded in any way.

  • Tim1974

    Lisa, the fact that you don’t understand is the problem. You will never learn about the reality of the situation in this website. I was trying to enlighten you to what is really taking place in the world and how males are victims of a nudity double standard that people here do not want to either acknowledge or discuss. With that said, I realize that females face double standards in other areas too and I am supportive of change to bring about equality for all. If you are interested, do some research in regards to male nudity in films, etc. and you will see what I was pointing out to you is accurate.

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    I remember one show that did try to satisfy the male and female gaze at the same time: Enterprise. The pilot included a shower scene, explained by the need to de-contamiate after visiting an alien world or something, in which a hot actor and actress scrubbed off.

    I didn’t see it the first time around, so when I logged onto a group discussion I just read all these women complaining about the shower scene objectifying the woman (no mention of the man in the scene) so I pointed out that since women, evolutionary speaking, respond to power more than appearance (but appearance can suggest power) it makes sence for men to be shown in uniform, because the uniform itself is a turn on for many women. Well, that argument got ugly until the moderator put an end to it.

    Then I saw the episode a few months later, and there was the guy and those naked muscles right next to the woman as they showered off, and had myself a good old laugh.

    As for Nimoy shirtless, MA, I think you’re overestimating how good a shape the actor was in at the time. It might have been disappointing. But you are right about the fan preferance; at one point 90% of the Spock fan club was women.

  • http://toniokruger.blogspot.com Tonio Kruger

    Tim1974:

    Ever notice the number of magazines featuring naked pictures of people and how the ones which exclusively feature pictures of naked women way outnumber the ones which exclusively feature pictures of naked men?

    Ever notice the number of clubs which use naked people as a form of entertainment and how the number of such clubs which use naked female entertainers outnumber the clubs which use naked male entertainers?

    Ever notice the number of female celebrities who often pose either nude or semi-nude and the comparatively small number of male celebrities who do the same?

    The large number of female celebrities who have posed in Playboy at some point in their career and the small number of male celebrities who have posed in Playgirl?

    As for your request for more female frontal nudity, well, you did see the Harrison Ford film Crossing Over which came out a few years ago, right?

  • Lisa

    Fair point, Isobel – the Sun isn’t really a “newspaper”!

  • dl ny

    Instead of giving attention to the endless lists of male gaze films and artists made by companies owned by ancient white males…… Why not lift up the opposite? Check out Artemis Eternal and director J Stover for instance.

  • Petey Wheatstraw

    Really excellent post. You asked “And even the good and great movies are still overwhelmingly from a hetero-male perspective — why are we limiting our art this way?” –I think the answer is, yes, most of the cinema I have enjoyed has been from a very exclusively heterosexual male point of view, I would love to see the same issues explored from a different point of view.

  • bree

    Perhaps one could argue that TRUE BLOOD employs both the male and female gaze to a successful degree in the same production, but of course that’s TV rather than cinema.

  • Muzz

    Easton Ellis’ thing is interesting and points out that there’s a double whammy in putting the ‘female gaze’, as it were, on film. In Fish Tank the heroine is attracted to her mum’s boyfriend (See also Somersault). If the audience is to identify with the heroine on a base level they should too, according to typical filmmaking rules of thumb. However the male audience is going to have trouble with this and probably actively resist it; The actor might not appear attractive to men in the audience (I think this is just the way it works) and/or if they did, putting yourself is her shoes is decidedly gay and to be avoided at all costs.

    I’m not suggesting this is a good thing, but just that, culturally, it’s not been something men have a lot of practice at dealing with. And, as we can see, plenty of people are going to be opposed to having to do it. The collision of assumed male-centrism and homophobia makes things more difficult than even outright misogeny would by itself, I think sometimes anyway.

    Anyway…It’s a laff riot how this stuff always gets some response from precious, outraged blokes. Every single time. They must counter any vaguely feminist PR on principle.
    In the last week or two in the game-o-sphere a throw away, irritation venting, joke game about a woman shooting men who incessantly proposition her (called ‘Hey Baby’) got the most hysterical response. Hysterical in all senses of the word; Some men were calling it hate speech, which is some stratospheric level of ironic amusement (“what if it was a game about shooting Arabs!!?!”).
    It was a tsunami of preciousness and equivocation. I swear some guys think because equality and equivocation have the same root they must be the same thing. Equality is also a mathmatical/legal concept completely divorced from history and culture. Oh, and of course any bloke taking the females’ side is just White Knighting to try and get some of that hot feminist action.

    Most of the men involved seem quite rational and sensible until this topic comes up too. Extraordinary.

    Point is, clearly this stuff has a ways to go yet. I applaud MAJ’s direction to filling this particular niche, even if it makes me feel like I’ve walked though the wrong door on occasion.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Paul, I saw that shower scene, and I rewatched it on YouTube to clarify my memory. There was a lot more camera-lingering on T’Pol, the female Vulcan officer. Fingers inching under her panties and longer shots on her belly and legs and butt. The male officer had a little bit of lingering, but one of the striking things about that scene was that the camera kept on his face when he was talking most of the time. Whereas during her lines, the camera refused to sit still. Sure, he was there and shirtless and buff, but THE CONTEXT, people! The mood and where the camera lingers is the whole thing. Yay for giving us some Trip, but it was still predominantly written (the scene, that is) to show us T-Pol’s scantily clad body and perky nipples.

    Well, at least they didn’t stuff her into a latex body suit like Jeri Ryan.

    And please don’t start the whole “women are attracted to power CUZ EVOLUTION” Evo-Psych BS. Ever occur to you guys that for centuries, it may have SEEMED that women were attracted to “power” simply because women were severely curtailed in their own power and money-making ventures?? Women had no choice, if they didn’t want to spend the rest of their lives in poverty of course they chose the richer suitor!

    Women like attractive men! Hard to believe? Geez Louise. Get rid of sexism and you’ll see a lot more women exercising their natural, physical preferences. Oh, wait, now we are, and women have more earning power today than in times past and we still get told what we like isn’t what we REALLY like.

    Tonio and everyone: Troll’s not gonna get it. We’ve all had this long-ass conversation with him. In fact, he revealed his contempt for women some time ago and now he’s a joke to me and he should be so to everyone else.

  • ben cho

    can’t speak for the lesbian women, but as a gay (asian) male, there’s absolutely no adjustment needed for your female gazing at all. thank you for doing this, and please keep them coming.

  • Accounting Ninja

    @Muzz, misogyny is the CAUSE of male-centrism and homophobia. When the feminine is seen as less-than and inferior, you get this. Males (the superior) are shunted to the forefront and gay males, who have dared take on the “feminine role”, get vilified. If women were fully human and not considered “inferior”, then straight men wouldn’t hate gay men the way they do in pop culture and macho attitudes would make no sense.

    Putting themselves in a woman’s shoes is hard for men? I can’t say I’m sympathetic; I’ve been asked to put myself in male shoes all my life. It hasn’t made me any less heterosexual, as far as I can tell. Sometimes I wish.

    Those gamers, gah…What about fucking Adult Swim games like Zombie Hooker Nightmare and that stripper-pole one?? But, oh, if a woman complained, she’d be a lambasted as a humorless feminist bitch who needs to get laid.

    It really shows just how much privelege these precious boys have and how rarely said privelege is ever questioned or examined.

  • Muzz

    Accounting Ninja:
    I’d say you’re right traditionally speaking. But past misogyny doesn’t neccesarily tell us about the way people (men) think now. A good portion of them anyway.

    It’s like racism in a way (lengthy explanation coming up). The conservative, anti- ‘PC’ position is popular and gets a boost when people cry racism at seemingly innocuous things. And it’s because many unsohpisticated folks have been well instructed that racism is bad. Very bad. They look in their heart of hearts and don’t find themselves to be racist “I’m a live and let live sort of person. I harbour no desire to herd people into camps and gas them. I’m not a racist”. I think they’re correct too. But this doesn’t make them immune from implicit racism that arises from prejudice and oblique, taken for granted, cultural aspects that they’re not even aware of (and may not be inclined to give credence to either, but that’s another matter). Illustrating this to people is often difficult and slow.

    Now hopefully bringing up racism isn’t too distracting to folks. Like that example, I think most men generally don’t consider themselves misogynists and they’re correct. There’s no content of their mind that peculiarly wishes women ill, considers them inferior, thinks they shouldn’t have equal pay and so on. Obviously this varies a lot, but I think there’s enough well meaning males who can’t get with the female gaze for reasons that might stem from misogyny in the past, but do not involve any particular misogyny on their part right now.

    Hence my distinction that identifying with a female protagonist can run into the ‘don’t be gay’ wall and be alienating (and the ‘don’t be gay’ wall is something posessed by men who aren’t all that homophobic too).

    This is dumb, of course, but something I think can be undone with time. It’s just evolved as a more particular hurdle than “the patriarchy”, broadly speaking, and worth considering on its own.

    Hopefully that makes some sort of sense.

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    @Accounting Ninja: Oh, I know women can be attracted to the male’s appearance. It’s why I jog.

  • Accounting Ninja

    @Muzz, I think we’re in agreement. It’s not so much individual misogyny of individual men, but a cultural attitude of misogyny. And just because a man might discover some underlying, wrong assumption about women that he thought doesn’t make him a bad person. People take examining their prejudices (or being told to) very personally, but it really isn’t meant like that. We ALL have these thoughts, because we are all soaking in our culture and much of it is so subtle and ingrained that’s it’s hard to parse out.

    The racism parallel is very apt. People tend to have this cartoonish mental image of the misogynist, or the racist, so that they vehemently deny even possibly maybe harboring some racist or misogynist thoughts. It’s like my alcoholic mother-in-law getting angry and denying being an alcoholic, because to her, an “alcoholic” is a stereotypical wino with a bottle in a paper bag so she COULDN’T be an alcoholic. She wasn’t one of THOSE people. (Yes, she really thinks this.)

    And most regular people go through life with this stuff unexamined. I know I did, before I really got feminism (and with feminism, there are “intersectionalities”, a lot of feminists I like also tackle racism and other -isms.)

    And that’s how patriarchy or racism remains so entrenched; because good people perpetuate it unknowingly (sometimes knowingly, of course!). They might not question their attitudes about things or think about what they say about certain people.

    @Paul, ha! Touche. I was feeling pretty prickly last night, I realize I came off a little “attack-y”, but I assure you I was only ranting at the ideas in your post and not at you personally.

  • Matt C

    I think we could just boil this idea down to this: everyone likes to ogle attractive/eye-catching people. Women like to ogle too, it’s just people just don’t bring it up often. Or when they do, it’s grossly overemphasized in some inane chick flick like “The Wedding Date” or “Sex and the City 2″ for comedy.

    And it’s a horrible double-standard to be trashing a young female celebrity for gaining weight when there’s clearly male celebrities doing the same thing. The guys might get a brief mention or dubbed “Fatty”, but they trash the girls because they no longer fit their predetermined sense of beauty. Ugh.

  • MaryAnn

    I think we could just boil this idea down to this: everyone likes to ogle attractive/eye-catching people.

    But there are still power differentials at work that make it more than just that. A man ogling a woman can have *very* different meanings and contexts than the other way around.

    And thank you, accounting ninja, for saying what I would have said about male privilege and evo-psych.

    One more thing: I know many straight men whom I would not consider to be misogynist in any way. They are lovely guys who, I think, would be horrified to do or say anything that might be seen as misogynist. And yet, because our culture is still misogynist, they retain and benefit from a privilege that they probably don’t even see — this is seperate from what they themselves do and say, and inherent in how the world treats them.

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    I was writing a posting about how male privilege for most men amounted to being a better greased cog in the de-humanizing capitalist machine blah, blah, blah, but then it hit me, I remember what it was like to live in a female privileged society.

    I went to a small, liberal arts college. Lots of women in positions of power, even the president of the college was a woman (and former math professor) and slightly more women in the student body. All that was fine and good; I received a great education.

    But socially, every man I knew was constantly dealing with a double standard. Instead of a virgin/whore complex, we had a feminist male/Max Tucker complex. Feminist men were approved of, Max Tucker men were popular. The college encouraged women to be all they could be and to experiment socially and sexually, but this required men to be feminists in the class room and Max Tuckers on the weekend, because when women want to experiment sexually, they like Max Tuckers. She wouldn’t have to worry about hurting a Max Tucker’s feelings, or keeping a Max around; he’s a disposable man. But a female privilege society only works if most of the men buy into feminism.

    Some men dealt with it by paying lip service to feminism but acting like Max, others bought into feminism and waited for the women to decide they were ready to settle down in a real relationship, and others just served out our time and tried to preserve our sanity.

    I shudder at the idea of going back, and it’s occurred to me that after that miserable experience and a worse marriage, that if I had to spend my entire life in a female privilege society, I’d do my job, buy my supplies, then hide out at home reading books and watching DVDs.

  • MaryAnn

    because when women want to experiment sexually, they like Max Tuckers.

    Maybe some women do, but not all. But thanks for generalizing.

  • Lisa
  • BIPA

    Ms. Johanson, I’ve been reading your Doctor Who reviews religiously all this season/series, and I recently began peeking at your other posts. I don’t even WATCH movies, or any new TV shows except Doctor Who, but I still like your site and your writing. Thank you especially for this post. I think you are my girl crush.

  • Accounting Ninja

    @Lisa, that’s too bad. I’ve never read Scarlet, but some of the self-described “old feminists” in the comments weren’t too impressed with it, saying it was the same brand of “empowerful” “feminism” you see everywhere. I’ll have to check it out.

    @Paul, repeat after me: High school/college is not the real world. I mean, hell, my teenage self would have been all down with what you’re preachin’, only she’d be quick to inform you that all guys ever want is skanky, skinny, blonde ‘hos. But it’s wrong and not an accurate reflection of real life. Maybe the women at your college did that, but I’m sure if you’d talked to some of the women, they’d have related that the men were just as predatory and shallow. But hey, you were all idiots, like everyone else was back in college and high school.

    Long story short, I always get suspicious of quasi-Nice Guys’ tales of high school/college woe as cautionary tale that women have taken things too far. Especially if said guys might be in their 30s or older at this point.

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    I actually wasn’t intending to say that college was like the real world, or even like high school. I was saying that college (a small, liberal arts college, not a big university) was a period in my life in which I lived in a female-privileged society, a bubble in a male-privileged world, if you will.

    When one flips the privilege, one flips the power dynamic. Ideologically, they mirrored each other. Since I didn’t enjoy living in a female privileged society, it helps me to imagine how you do not enjoy living in a male privileged society.

    Please note I’m being careful in this post to not equate female-privilege with feminism, and I probably shouldn’t have used “feminism” in the previous post either, since feminism is a very broad term and female-privilege more specific or even arguably different.

    As I’ve aged, I’ve found myself finding it more and more useful to ask, which kind of feminism, socialism, capitalism, Christianity, are you talking about?

  • Lisa

    I’m glad you don’t equate feminism with female privilege and that it helps you to understand the female experience but I’m sure you’d agree that it doesn’t really compare!

  • Accounting Ninja

    Right, Lisa, especially since one of the myths perpetuated by anti-feminists is that Feminism seeks to make matriarchies and a world with absolute female privelege, where men are the inferior. Most feminists I’ve read are interested in abolishing heirarchies and oppressive power structures altogether, not enshrining themselves as New Oppressor. Such a myth would be laughable to this feminist if it weren’t so widely believed.

    Paul, thanks for clarifying. :)

  • http://www.ferdyonfilms.com Marilyn Ferdinand

    As a straight guy, I have no problem with women wanting to exercise the female gaze.

    This and other comments that equate the female gaze with sexual response kind of miss the point. Maybe it would be helpful to call it point of view instead of gaze, because the latter equates with ogling among the male-centric commenters of both sexes in this thread. Which kind of makes the point. Men are supposed to ogle women as an exercise of their right over our bodies and as a signifier to other men than they are dominant (hetero) males. Actually, the male gaze/point of view is a worldview that our films reflect, and a lot of it is more subtle than sexual attraction. Who is generally behind the wheel of the family car? Who is saving people from a burning building. How many men to women are there in superhero movies and what roles do they play? Etc.

  • LaSargenta

    As a result of this thread coupled with some thoughts prompted by personal lovers’ relationship drama in my life, I’ve come to realize that I hold one helluva double standard: I have always thought that women can and should come in all different shapes, sizes et cetera. But, for me to find someone appealing, men are supposed to be athletic and muscular and a dab vain so that they take care of their personal appearance. This goes for men of any age.

    I suspect that in this at least I am not a feminist but a female chauvanist.

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t think that’s a “double standard.” We can’t help what we personally find sexually attractive, and we probably can’t change that any more than we can change whether we’re gay or straight.

    But you’re not saying that women in movies should come in all shapes and sizes but men shouldn’t. (That *would* be a double standard! And it’s pretty much what we have now, in the opposite: we see men of lots of shapes and sizes, but only a very narrow range of the shapes women come in.) And if you were to make a movie, I would fully expect that you’d probably reveal (perhaps inadvertently) your own personal tastes in attractive men. And that would be fine!

    As I’ve said before, critiquing the male gaze isn’t to say that men shouldn’t find women sexually attractive. It’s about widening the perspective films (and TV) give us. And that’s not to say that any single film must offer *all* possible perspectives, either. That would be bizarre, in fact, if we’re to take a film as a way of seeing the world through one filmmaker’s perspective. We simply need many more different perspectives.

  • Orangutan

    I suspect that in this at least I am not a feminist but a female chauvanist.

    Nah. A female chauvinist is that type of woman who says stuff like ‘I can do anything a man can, only better, because I have a vagina!’.

    Yes, I’ve actually seen that said. I wish I was making it up or exaggerating. :p

    Anyway, LaSargenta, you’ve got your tastes and likes and there’s nothing wrong with that. And you’ve never, that I’ve seen, insisted that all men MUST find women of all shapes and sizes attractive. Therefore, no double-standard.

    As I’ve said before, critiquing the male gaze isn’t to say that men shouldn’t find women sexually attractive.

    I am not saying this has happened here (in fact, I wouldn’t even post these thoughts anywhere BUT here, that’s how safe/comfortable I feel with the crowd here), but there are times when it feels like if a man doesn’t find ALL women attractive, regardless of personal preference, and dares to state this, then he is condemned as a worthless, sexist pig.

  • LaSargenta

    But you’re not saying that women in movies should come in all shapes and sizes but men shouldn’t. (That *would* be a double standard! And it’s pretty much what we have now, in the opposite: we see men of lots of shapes and sizes, but only a very narrow range of the shapes women come in.)

    Well, I dunno about film, but I realized that I definately treat guys who look good (in my eyes) differently than ones who don’t — and I don’t only mean that in my personal life. I often supervise groups of men for work. I try to treat everyone equally, but, seriously, I’ve been noticing some stuff lately where I don’t think I am.

    And @ Orangutan, I do actually think I am more capable in lots of ways by virtue of not having a large amount of blood lodged between my legs first thing in the a.m.! On the other hand, I’m old enough to realize that ALL of us suffer from something eventually that means that nobody (of either sex) is ever playing at 100%.

  • Accounting Ninja

    Orangutan, I’ve never noticed anyone here pouncing on a guy for just saying what you said.

    On the internet, from my dusty and dangerous travels, what you said is usually framed like: “Men will always like Megan Fox and the sooner you dried up old hags realize this blah blah you feminists just can’t get laid blah blah” and for bonus points they may even throw in a “BECAUSE EVOLUTION Megan Fox blah blah childbearing”…

    So, not only are they framing it as ALL MEN, and speaking for all of you (rather than keeping it confined to the level of mere personal taste), they speak disrespectfully and may even throw in some junk science to justify their preferences.

    And yeah, I tear these choads a new one if I can. :)

    But what you said is perfectly reasonable. It’s not that we want every man to find every type of woman attractive. Like MAJ said, we merely want to widen the standards of “hot” that are so narrow now. Look at all the different kinds of men MAJ has so far featured on the Female Gaze. They are not all blandly perfect, cardboard cutouts of each other. But most actresses, with few exceptions, are.

    Any deviation meets with scorn. Remember the perfectly attractive girlfriend on Paranormal Activity? She was very pretty, but just not AS conventionally cookie-cutter as all other actresses and she got dumped on big time.

    LaSargenta, don’t worry, I have a thing for short hipster types in dark-rimmed glasses and I simply SIMPER in their presence. It’s disgusting, really. :)

  • Orangutan

    You see, this is why I don’t talk much, I’m not very good at it.

    Orangutan, I’ve never noticed anyone here pouncing on a guy for just saying what you said.

    Of course not, which is why I said “I am not saying this has happened here”. :)

    And I hate those guys just as much as you do. Giving the rest of us a bad name. Which I suppose is what the style of female chauvinist I talked about, and the ones that go off on guys for having a preference, do for your side of the equation.

    I guess what I’m trying to get across is that I have frequently seen the notion (not here) that women are allowed to have many and varied tastes, but men MUST find ALL women attractive. Which is bull, because as we all know, only Sith deal in absolutes. ;)

    I think this is coming down to ‘the vocal minority’ on both sides. The ones that make the most noise are the ones that stick in your head.

  • MaryAnn

    there are times when it feels like if a man doesn’t find ALL women attractive, regardless of personal preference, and dares to state this, then he is condemned as a worthless, sexist pig.

    As Ninja said, it depends on how this idea is being presented. Sometimes it does appear that *some* men are saying that women they don’t find sexually attractive are entirely worthless in all ways, instead of just saying, “Eh, I don’t personally find her attractive, but to each his own.” That implied worthlessness is sorta inherent in the dominance of the male gaze in our pop culture (and that IS what we’re talking about when we talk about The Male Gaze: not individual men looking at individual women but the monolithicness of the dominance of The Male Gaze in film, TV, advertising, videogames, etc.). Because we so rarely see women who deviate from certain narrow ideals in any situation, it ends up sounding like: “Only women who fit this particularly idea of sexual attractiveness are worth looking at just as people, or telling stories about,” and so on.

    Which is just another way of saying that women are *only* valuable in any capacity in our society if they fit a certain narrow definition of sexual attractiveness. Which is clearly bullshit. But some men — usually immature ones — do appear to have internalized this notion, that the only use for a woman is as a sex toy for a man. It’s sad to think that these men must have no interesting women in their lives — sisters, cousins, friends, mothers, aunts, teachers, etc. — who would counter that notion by their example.

  • MaryAnn

    You see, this is why I don’t talk much, I’m not very good at it.

    No, you are good at it, Orangutan. You’re fine. I think it’s a good thing that we’re all trying to be very clear in what we’re talking about, because especially when it comes to this topic, there are so many preconceived notions that many people don’t even realize they hold that it is important to make sure we’re getting our points across.

  • MaryAnn

    I guess what I’m trying to get across is that I have frequently seen the notion (not here) that women are allowed to have many and varied tastes, but men MUST find ALL women attractive.

    In this case, for instance, I think it’s important to note that it’s possible that when you’ve come across such statements, it *may* be that whoever is saying that means that men should at least treat women as valuable human beings, even the women they don’t find attractive.

    And it’s possible, too, that whoever said such a thing is deranged. :->

  • Accounting Ninja

    Yes, “implied worthlessness!” THAT’S the concept I was rolling around in my head but finding it difficult to articulate.

    Orangutan, I tend to be more sympathetic to those females you talked about, the ones who pounce on men for not liking “all” women. I think these women are really bothered by all the messages of implied worthlessness aimed at them. But because they don’t have the tools to really dig down to the whys of it all, they lash out and it comes out in “extremes”. They have not done the feminist readings about the male gaze, patriarchy, etc. All they know is they are made to feel worthless every day for things they cannot help, even by men who are supposed to love them, and they are just tired of it.

    Anecdote time!

    I remember a convo that happened in my family. I was a teenage girl at the time. My aunt (father’s sister, but quite a bit younger than him; she was like my older sister), single and fat, decided to give dating a try again and joined a dating service. One day, me, her and my father were sitting at a table and she began lamenting about the men she was dating, saying that they mostly reject her because of her weight. Now, because she was insecure, she didn’t exactly tell them her weight before finally meeting them in person, BUT, Auntie is not even that fat. Plus, she is quite pretty, in my opinion, with long dark hair, blue eyes and nice skin. She was perhaps a size 16. (I only specify, because it’s important to know that it’s not as if she was “horrendously ugly” or so big so as to be far outside the societal “norm”.) Also, her headshot pic didn’t reveal that she carried extra weight below.

    She said that so often these men, on the phone or through letters, would really click with her, and it was amazing and intimate UNTIL….they met her. Then, all that amazing intimacy was gone. She was so frustrated, and started getting really neurotic about her weight, because she really thought she had made a human connection and always hoped that maybe, by virtue of her being an awesome, intelligent, funny woman, that MAYBE just once a guy wouldn’t turn cold on the face-to-face and never call her again.

    It was my FATHER’S reaction to her complaints that made it worse, though. He bascially said kind of the same thing you did, lol. “Oh, I guess we men have to find ALL women attractive, huh? You women and your double standards, you women want to be able to look like anything and have men all over you! Besides you LIED about your weight…” And so on.

    I remember feeling angry with dad and sorry for my aunt, even though she DID hide her fat. But I empathized, because as a female I TOO had received the messages of implied worthlessness. I too was not conventionally attractive, and I started to wonder if any man anywhere would ever love me. Because it seemed, to my teenage self, that it didn’t matter how well you and a guy clicked sight-unseen, you would ultimately be judged on your looks. And TV said that if you don’t look like XYZ, you are not desirable and therefore are worthless.

    Now, that being said, there are MANY men who don’t let society influence their preferences. I am married to a great guy, and Auntie did go on to have relationships and get married herself. And now I know that it’s our sexist, patriarchal society that is to blame, so it doesn’t make me angry the same way it used to when a troll goes on about Megan Fox’s hotness and how feminists are ugly.

    I don’t connect my worth as a person to the way I look anymore**, thanks to feminism, but I used to, and lots of women still do. So when you attack their looks, it feels as though you are attacking THEM as people.

    **Although, it’s a struggle! Thanks to messages I have absorbed since birth, I still find myself feeling insecure about my worth once and a while, but now I can recognize it for what it is.

  • Victor Plenty

    Thanks for this, MaryAnn. The male gaze has been explained to me before, but your explanation here has given me a better understanding of it than any other I’ve seen.

    Your implication that it would be difficult or impossible for any single work of art to embrace both the female gaze and the male gaze is a bit perplexing to me. This may just be a sign that my recently improved understanding remains far from complete comprehension. Still, I’d appreciate it if you, or anyone else here, would be willing to say more about the reasons for that. Is it an artifact of the current male privileged culture? Or is there something inherent to the basic definitions of “male gaze” and “female gaze” that prevents any single work from enabling both?

  • http://paulliver.livejournal.com/ Paul

    Victor, when I read your post I instantly thought of the covers of historical romance novels. There’s definitely a lot there to appeal to the eyes of both men and women, but I’ve noticed that they’re drawn, not photographed.

    And a lot of the paranormal romance novels, novels written for women, have covers with women on them (and they all seem to shop at the same Goth store and tattoo parlor), but the man is left out. It occurs to me that some paranormal romance novels don’t quite dare put the male love interest on the cover, because he’s supposed to be magically handsome (usually a vampire or elf or something like that) and thus better left to the reader’s imagination.

  • MaryAnn

    Your implication that it would be difficult or impossible for any single work of art to embrace both the female gaze and the male gaze is a bit perplexing to me…. Is it an artifact of the current male privileged culture? Or is there something inherent to the basic definitions of “male gaze” and “female gaze” that prevents any single work from enabling both?

    Nothing so complicated! If a work of art — even a work of low art such as a silly action movie — is going to succeed in the best way that it can, it probably does need to embody a certain point of view… that is, the point of view of the filmmaker. I mean: The way I look at the world is the way *I* look at the world, and it’s valuable because it embodies a certain definite perspective. My perspective will share some aspects with others, but not all, and it’s in looking at the samenesses and noticing the differences that learning to appreciate another perspective comes about. Like, a viewer, in response to even a silly action movie, might say, “Hey, I feel the same way about ABC as this movie does, but I never would have thought about XYZ in that way.” (And that doesn’t need to be a conscious thing, either. But that’s where surprise in a work of art comes in: in the things you weren’t expecting.)

    So I would expect that a straight, 40ish man making a movie will have a certain perspective on things, such as being unable to prevent his camera from lingering on pretty half-naked young women who might happen to come into frame (or who might deliberately be placed in frame). I wouldn’t expect that that same filmmaker would look the same way upon men. Or upon older women. Or upon anyone he might not find sexually attractive.

    It just seems obvious to me that a straight 50ish female filmmaker would see the world in somewhat different terms than a 25ish gay male filmmaker, or a 45ish lesbian filmmaker, or a 60ish straight male filmmaker, and so on. And the barrage of, say, silly action movies made by straight men we are bombarded with — which tend to feature silly young pretty women behaving in certain ways and in certain degrees of nakedness — wouldn’t be anywhere near as offensive if we also got to chance to see silly action movies made by 40ish straight women — which would, in a world that didn’t insist upon the male gaze, conceivably feature silly young pretty men behaving in certain silly ways and in certain degrees of nakedness.

    Do you see what I mean? I don’t want to make all films cater to some bland universal perspective. Such movies would be boring! I just want more varied perspectives catered to across a wider range of different kinds of movies.

    And it would be nice if men could learn how to appreciate a movie told from a female-gaze perspective in the same way that women have to appreciate movies from a male-gaze perspective.

  • Victor Plenty

    Do you see what I mean? I don’t want to make all films cater to some bland universal perspective. Such movies would be boring! I just want more varied perspectives catered to across a wider range of different kinds of movies.

    Yes, thanks for the clarifications, MaryAnn. We’re in agreement that a bland universal perspective, or any other overly dominant “gaze,” would not improve things for those of us wanting to see a wider variety of perspectives in movies.

    It makes sense that, in most storytelling styles with any mass appeal, the filmmaker has to choose one perspective at a time. Perspectives can shift from one movie to another (or even from one scene to another) but it’s tough to get more than one perspective into the camera’s frame at any single point in time.

    And yet, I’m still intrigued by this challenging notion that it might be possible to embrace more than one at a time. Not a bland universal blended one, but a genuinely intersubjective gaze that might help us perceive the world in new ways. I’ll be keeping an eye out for movies that might come close to achieving this.

  • MaryAnn

    the filmmaker has to choose one perspective at a time

    The thing is, though, that filmmakers don’t choose. Most filmmakers are straight white men, so a straight white male perspective dominates. That’s not to say that all straight white men see things all in the same way. But it’s a much, much narrower range of perspectives than we might have.

  • Victor Plenty

    It’s one thing to say that most filmmakers today don’t choose. You’re spot on with that observation, and only willful blindness lets anyone deny it.

    What I’m trying to suggest is the possibility that it doesn’t have to stay that way forever. Today’s filmmakers mostly don’t choose, but that may not necessarily prove that all filmmakers can’t choose.

    For example, female media critics and analysts have learned to spot the markers of the male gaze (some more consciously, others intuitively) and it seems to me that they do very well at replicating its effects when they want to, such as in the arena of fashion design and advertising. And so, if we had more female filmmakers, we might get more films where both the female characters and the male characters had a fully developed “gaze,” each one visible on the screen as it became appropriate to the unfolding of their respective stories.

    I’m not disagreeing with anything you’ve said about the present situation, only seeking to explore some dimensions of where filmmaking might go from here.

  • Victor Plenty

    Looking back over this discussion again, I owe sincere thanks to all the participants, yet thus far have only managed to thank MaryAnn. My comments in the thread might leave the impression that I care about this issue only for its impact on certain technical aspects of filmmaking and art, but that is far from the truth.

    In fact I’ve re-read this entire discussion more than once, finding new insights each time that have expanded my perceptions of the world. This is in addition to the extensive reading opportunities at the other sites linked by other commenters.

    I’m especially indebted to Accounting Ninja for links that cast harsh light into the dark alleys of “rape culture” – and illuminate the heroic efforts of both women and men – to combat the threats it poses to human bodies and human psyches, and to heal the deep wounds it inflicts on both.

    Also valuable beyond measure have been the anecdotes several have shared, about incidents that cannot have been pleasant to recall, but that illustrated the ideas in ways more powerful than the most refined technical descriptions ever could.

    Thank you.

  • Victor Plenty

    In regard to the street harassment women face as a result of the hostile sense of entitlement too many men feel in a patriarchal culture, some of the readers and commenters here might find something useful in the movement started by a group called HollaBackNYC. Their site includes stories from a wide variety of women seeking new ways to counteract, and ultimately eliminate the problem of street harassment.

    They also have a YouTube channel where they lay out their mission and goals (and where they’ve had to disable comments, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has read more than a handful of YouTube comments).

  • amanohyo

    Here are two more examples that pissed me off recently from cnn via their partner, In Style. The first article is called 10 Hottest Movie Swimsuits. Surely, I thought, they’ll toss in a token male swimsuit, even Borat for laughs. Nope, the article assumes a heterosexual male perspective. Okay, no biggie, men’s bathing suits are kind of boring anyway.

    Then I see this article:10 Sexiest on Screen Spies. There’s no way they could all be women right? Right? Nope, once again, the heterosexual male gaze is the default. There’s not even a decent attempt to explain the omission of any men. I understand the context of the recent “sexy” Russian femme fatale, and I know InStyle is a women’s fashion magazine, but it still pisses me off.

    I’m a straight guy, but how can you have a top ten sexiest movie spies and not even mention Bond? I wouldn’t have an issue if they were titled “Top 10 hottest women’s swimsuits” and “Top 10 movie Femme Fatales,” it just bugs me that the default body for physical objectification is a woman’s body. And then they throw in a desperate marketing tie-in for Salt, a movie that isn’t even released yet? Pathetic. I’ve almost given up on CNN’s site. It’s 80% sexist, sensationalist fluff.

  • Nate

    Not that it excuses the sexism, but just about all wide-release films do their marketing before they’ve been released. This “Top 10 Femme Fatales” list is obviously just product placement, though.

  • Nate

    I completely screwed up that post. Let me try again:

    Not that it excuses the sexism, but just about all wide-release films do their marketing before they’ve been released. This “10 Sexiest On Screen Spies” list is obviously just product placement.

  • Accounting Ninja

    You’re welcome, Victor. :)
    It’s nice to know someone appreciates all my linking hard work. (Seriously, I hate linking, I always mess it up. Thank dog for “preview”.)

    Yup, I’m all about Hollaback! If you liked that, check this out!

  • Victor Plenty

    Accounting Ninja, thanks for the extra link. Not that I really like reading these narratives. In fact I absolutely hate the fact that there is a need for places where women can share their stories to help each other feel less isolated and alone after being the targets of so much harassment. But since they ARE so desperately needed, I’m glad to know such places exist.

    They also motivate me to educate myself about life experiences rarely seen firsthand by men who try to treat women with respect. I can’t claim to be perfect in that regard, as I’ve too often been clueless in my interactions with women, but I honestly had no idea of the depths of intentionally calculated cruelty and intimidation so many women face on a daily basis.

  • JoshB

    Yup, I’m all about Hollaback! If you liked that, check this out!

    Such enthusiasm for something so disturbing. There are some really ugly stories there, and not just from middle schools, frat boys, or internet trolling.

    Posted by Bev:

    At a church sponsored event, an older gentleman walked up to me and gave me a big hug… and then told me his friend bet him that he couldn’t get his arms all the way around me.

    Fucking seriously? Honest question: Is this the sort of shit that women have to put up with in the supposedly adult world on any sort of regular basis?

  • LaSargenta

    Fucking seriously? Honest question: Is this the sort of shit that women have to put up with in the supposedly adult world on any sort of regular basis?

    Yup.

    And we get told from a young age that we are supposed to like it.

  • Nanalew

    Translation: women should never complain about anything ever.. It’s hard not to discuss these things when we’re being bombarded with it everywhere we look. Particularly if there is no alternative. And none of us happen to have the means to produce movies. Man you really hate us having a say, don’t you? What’s wrong? Are you scared everyone will stop coddling and catering to white straight men or something? Not saying anything against that group. But I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon. So you can stop fretting for now at least.

  • Nanalew

    I’ll tell Jill Meagher… (look it up)

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Don’t do that. Tell us why you think this is important.

  • Samantha Eyler

    That insecurity you’re talking about? That’s the world women live in, until we consciously try to find some liberation to “un-train” our own internal male gaze and be nicer to ourselves, validate our own sense of perspective. I can understand why men find it uncomfortable. It IS uncomfortable.