Oh the Male Gaze

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Recent emails between myself and another blogger pal over the relationship between porn and (hetero) male’s attitudes toward women, led us to the inevitable consideration of the male gaze, and how we internalize it.

I have often thought that it should be possible to appreciate the aesthetics of human beauty without denying personhood or changing the value of non-visible traits, I just don’t know how one knows if that is what one is doing or not, and how one would go about changing it.

Obviously there are plenty of women who perform femininity in part because of the attention it garners from ‘the male gaze’ (whether the gazer is male or not, women notice each others appearance, too), and can enjoy said attention. Of course, then you get into a discussion of power – that the women with sex appeal supposedly have the power, but really the gazer does because they can withdraw that power by withdrawing their approval.

We’re (people in Western/developed nations) surrounded by messages that tell us we have to care about the way we look and our aim should be to look/smell/feel ‘good’ (the definition of good depends on the context and the advertiser), to consider ourselves not just as an individual but as an object of outside attention, and therefore exert control over the message our appearance/aroma/skin sends. I think everyone is trained to look at themselves with that kind of evaluation in mind – whether they choose to reject it or not depends.

So can an ‘equal’ (hetero) sexual relationship – where men and women entering a relationship with no preexisting imbalance in power or agency – exist when we have internalized this kind of evaluation, and where porn is an exhibition of the same? The argument against porn and prostitution suggests that in the presence of a culture in which one can view and/or purchase a female body for sexual purposes and it is considered normal, a woman entering into a relationship with a male is already in a situation where the sexual side of their interaction can be purchased by him elsewhere (less easily or acceptably for her), so to speak, and the availability of such alters the interpretation of its use and value.

It’s true that sex is a very ego-centric activity, but I don’t know that I would say it’s all inevitably objectification; I see sex more as a conversation, where concern and awareness of the each other’s thoughts and feelings are a critical part of the experience. But that’s within a relationship (however one wants to define it), porn and prostitution would of course fall outside of this consideration as they are exclusively about self-gratification and ignorance of the true personality and feelings of the other party.

We’re complicated. Can we do both?

1 Response to “Oh the Male Gaze”

  1. 1 tzhang71 April 14, 2010 at 10:42 am

    great work – you bring up very interesting points about how society views sex. Reminded me of a site called Make Love Not Porn, you might find that interesting.


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