Ensuring the Male Gaze.

E. Ann Kaplan gives some insight to why sexism (or in this case, the representations of sexism) is not a zero sum game.

…two further elements enter in: to begin with, men do not simply look; their gaze carries with it the power of action and of possession that is lacking in the female gaze. Women receive and return a gaze, but cannot act on it. Second, the sexualization and objectification of women is not simply for the purposes of eroticism; from a psychoanalytic point of view, it is designed to annihilate the threat that women (as castrated, and possessing a sinister genital organ) poses.(emphasis mine)

Furthermore,

But psychoanalysts agree that, for whatever reason–the fear of castration (Freud), or the attempt to deny existence of the sinister female genital (Horney)–men endeavor to find the penis in women. Feminist film critics have seen this phenomenon (clinically known as fetishism) operating in the cinema; the camera (unconsciously) fetishizes the female form, rendering it phallus-like so as to mitigate woman’s threat. Men, that is, turn the represented figure itself into a fetish that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous.”(emphasis mine)

Simply put, when women are portrayed as sexist on camera they have not escaped the male gaze as that their representation of sexism turns into a parody of the male position. By creating a parody of the male position they are given a false power that further trivializes them; this only serves to further ensure the male gaze.

There are many examples to show this in cinema. However, staying within the growing theme of this blog the ad below gives a quick concise example.

Steve Grimes is a graduate student at Brooklyn College and engrossed in cultural studies. He blogs at TimelyDonut.

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12 comments to Ensuring the Male Gaze.

  • Scipio Africanus

    I can’t see the clips here, but based on what you’re saying and what you’ve quoted, the message seems to be that women simply aping/caricaturing stereotypes of “male behavior” is not inherently empowering. No wonder.

  • The Specimen

    There’s only so far one can go with all this abstraction. At some point it becomes just too much. Maybe the author of that quote is trying to find a penis on the women he gazes at, but for me it’s much simpler. I see an attractive member of the opposite sex, and I’m like,”Ooga booga, me like woman.” You know, kind of like I’m naturally wired to. Just like how women like looking at buff dudes with their shirts off. Just cause Freud wanted to boff his mom doesn’t mean that I want to.

    • distance88

      I see an attractive member of the opposite sex, and I’m like,”Ooga booga, me like woman.” You know, kind of like I’m naturally wired to. Just like how women like looking at buff dudes with their shirts off.

      With all due respect, this comment is an embarrassment to both men and women.

      • MH8D

        @ distance88… what exactly is embarrassing about Specimen’s comment? all he did was describe (in his own way) the natural attraction between men and women? what part did I miss?

        • hugh s.

          Feminist theorists (and me) might argue that there’s nothing “natural” about why or how we’re attracted to other people, and more specifically the way we gaze at them. The way we embody sexual desires and yearnings starts young and continues to affect challday errday.

        • distance88

          Alright, ‘embarrassment’ wasn’t the word I was looking for, perhaps ‘disservice’ fits better. And I agree that the OP could be seen as overly abstract–but I see an attractive member of the opposite sex, and I’m like,”Ooga booga, me like woman”…just like how women like looking at buff dudes with their shirts off is overly reductionist to men, women, their interactions with each other, and what they are attracted to. Plus it’s hard to argue that women ogle men in the same way that men ogle women (see the gaze+power equation in the OP).

          • Scipio Africanus

            The reductionism was intentional. That’s how humor works, alot of the time.

            “Plus it’s hard to argue that women ogle men in the same way that men ogle women (see the gaze+power equation in the OP).”

            Correct. Men ogle physical stuff, women ogle behavioral stuff (alpha male traits and behaviors). The former involves actual eyeballs and visual lasers, the latter can be done in secret, without much eye contact, and is free from anyone else’s scrutiny or condemnation.

          • The Speciman

            Sexism is about social status. It’s about people jockying for position in the great American rat race and always wanting to feel that better than someone. Looking at a woman and thinking she’s sexy has nothing more to do with annihlating a threat anymore than a young college co-ed thinks her TA is hot does. Call is reductionalist, but in both men and women attraction all boils down to a very primal, fundamental desire to pass on your genes, hence the “ooga booga”.

            In terms of the whole gaze+power equation, let me see if I’ve got this straight, at the risk of further embarrassing myself. Basically, a woman’s gaze is weaker (less powerful) than a man’s because the woman can’t act on her attraction. And I’m supposed to be the sexist one?

            I call BS. Women can and do act on their feelings of attraction all the time, and they have throughout history. Do they do it in exactly the same way as men? No, women have their own ways. But they’re definitely not passive players in the mating game. In fact, it can be argued that a woman’s gaze is more powerful than a man’s as for her just the act of gazing in itself can be enough to start a courtship with someone she likes, or, under different circumstances, start a fight between two people she doesn’t. Both gazes carry power, just in different ways.

    • ACLS

      I agree that this much abstraction makes the issue totally opaque rather than transparent and seems more concerned with mythologizing the problem than coming up with helpful analysis. Is every lewd jackass on the street actually motivated by a fear of vaginas? Really?

      It makes much more sense to me to see sexism as first a vestigial holdout from what used to be an excellent social strategy for passing on your genes (control the women!) and secondly as a mechanism for men–and women–who feel insecure in their place in their world to establish a sense of control (similar to how poor whites in the Antebellum South still benefited from slavery).

      I don’t think Freud has much to say about this, and I don’t think sexism deserves a “I can’t help it, it’s science!” escape valve, even one that would seek to humiliate it.

      • -k-

        “…this much abstraction makes the issue totally opaque rather than transparent…”

        Steve is a grad student. This is pretty much exactly what he’s being trained to do.

        My favorite things about this article:
        1) the phrase “sinister female genital”, which never fails to call up a parade of hilarious images (chief among them an (at least) R-rated remake of Little Shop of Horrors which must exist somewhere besides in my head)
        2) the fact that a person called Horney is cited in reference to said genitals
        3) the phrase “men endeavor to find the penis in women” (cue Quagmire)

        My 5-year-oldness aside, with the understanding that the clip was chosen for efficiency as much as anything, I think that particular video was kind of a softball–lines up a little too neatly with the argument, and in doing so, weakens it. I’d like it better complicated by an example where the sexism isn’t caricature.

  • Dos Pesos

    Having worked the bar at a club that featured male dancers one night per week, I can definitely tell you that the female gaze is anything but weak or passive.

  • Bryan

    “two further elements enter in: to begin with, men do not simply look; their gaze carries with it the power of action and of possession that is lacking in the female gaze. Women receive and return a gaze, but cannot act on it. Second, the sexualization and objectification of women is not simply for the purposes of eroticism; from a psychoanalytic point of view, it is designed to annihilate the threat that women (as castrated, and possessing a sinister genital organ) poses.”

    Explain to me how a man’s gaze carries power of action and possession? How is it different from a woman’s gaze? You are perceiving an act made by man as being inherently sinister and dominant, rather than equal, simply because it comes from men. You are arguing, as far as I can tell, in favor of treating men and women differently rather than treating them the same.

    If you accept that an identical act committed by both men and women is not equal, you inherently reject that equality between men and women is even possible. If men did not perform any act which is “inoffensive” when women do it, but “offensive” when men do it, we would not be equal. You can only achieve equality by treating everyone the same.

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