The male gaze is a topic I don’t see a lot of women speaking about, but I think it’s one we need to face head on and understand its implications and consequences in our daily lives. The male gaze is described as the act of depicting women from a male, heterosexual point of view, it really is what is sounds like. So how does that affect women and what does it mean?
One of the most common ways that the male gaze affects women, has to do with our body image and self-esteem. When you think about it, the male gaze has changed how women view their own bodies, and the way that women think they are beautiful or worthy. This involves the “sexual politics” of what a man desires from women, the way we are objectified and seen as no more than an object meant to be enjoyed by men.
A good way to understand the male gaze is to look at Hollywood films directed by straight men and the way that women are sexualized and objectified within those films. This is because they are made from this perspective which is created by and for the man. But it doesn’t stop there; the male gaze has been present in all areas of society. Women are overtly objectified on the street, within their workplaces and in any situation in our society. The patriarchal view that is the male gaze contributes to silencing women on issues we face collectively and is a way for men to “keep women in their place.”
The male gaze directly opposes female empowerment, and sees feminism as a huge threat, but there are even issues within feminism and the male gaze. Something I’ve had to think long and hard about recently is the fact that women have no idea what it’s truly like to be free from the male gaze. This westernized idea has been around since the patriarchy has, and it has greatly affected women’s movements. The idea that women have procedures done in order for them to feel confident is oftentimes a result of the male gaze and how it has shaped our current ideas of what is beautiful, sexy and appealing. When I’m too afraid to speak my mind, or take up space in a male dominated place, I can understand that those feelings are directly related to the way that men have shaped our own perceptions of ourselves as women. The idea that women should sit and be silent stems from this gaze as well.
There requires a deep critical thinking of the way women go about their daily lives, and the way that we unknowingly are affected by men and the patriarchy. For women of colour, there are even harsher implications that the male gaze has which again serve as a way to silence and oppress women. The hyper sexualization of Black women and fetishization of Asian and Indigenous women is not only just harmful, but detrimental to the safety of these women in general. The male gaze is not just harmful in the way that it can hurt women’s feelings, it can cost women their lives, and it does just about every single day. White men contribute to this huge issue each day that they are complicit and are comfortable in their place of oppression within the patriarchy. So, although women all over the world fight every day for equality and justice, white men have a huge role to play in being advocates and allies when it comes to taking down this system of oppression.
To be fully free from the male gaze, we must dismantle the patriarchy, we must practice feminism as intersectional, and we must educate ourselves about how this gaze affects us. We need to understand the truth, that unfortunately some of the decisions we make as women are directly from this male gaze, and we all have a part in contributing to ending this societal issue. Feminists also need to understand that not all actions that we make are as empowering and as liberating as we think they are, and to really think about the meanings of our actions within society and how they are really shaped.