Looks wider than a man’s gaze

The “masculine gaze” has always been the norm in the arts. We have learned to look like a man. And what is this man looking at? For a beautiful woman, of course. With a look that sexualizes women and confirms the image that men and women look at. In short, that men are active, and women are passive.

Basie Boyer

What is attractive about a passive woman? The passive woman, who has nothing to do but be beautiful, is Snow White in her coffin, or Sleeping Beauty in a deep sleep. It’s Shakespeare’s Ophelia, floating in a stream with flowers between her fingers. Ophelia may be over four hundred years old, but in the videos she still dies her silent death, reincarnated as Lana Del Rey, Kylie Minogue, or Britney Spears. Negativity can also be found in fashion magazines, where the silence of beautiful women lifts it from everyday life. It is their lack of talk, their passivity, that makes them unapproachable.

And then there’s women’s fashion itself, which — everything tight and tight, long nails and high heels — has been creating obstacles for women for centuries. Because how can you be active if your clothes are holding you back? Of course, beauty can also be easy, unadorned, and a pair of jeans. But glamor, in fact the amplification of beauty, the kind of beauty that we glorify and sexualize, is very much about negativity—and it has everything to do with what we call the male gaze.

The male gaze was interpreted in the early 1970s by two British intellectuals: film historian Laura Mulvey, who coined the term, and art historian John Berger, who contextualized the male gaze in art and advertising. In short, the idea of ​​the male gaze is this: men make art, and thus we are forced to look with their gaze.

In the case of film, this also involves the accumulation of male gaze: not only the looks of the director, screenwriter, and cameraman, but also those of the male protagonist. We look like a man in a man looking. And what is this man looking at? For a beautiful woman, of course. Thus we learn to look at women through the eyes of the straight man, with a view that sexualizes women and reduces them to things—to something to look at, as Berger described it. But the look also does something else. He confirms again and again an idea that we have come to see as true, that men are watching and women are observers. In short, that men are active, and women are passive.

Persistent stereotypes

Women, more than when Mulvey and Berger wrote about the male gaze, are an active part of society. They work, pledge and lead. They pick the men, split the bill, and then decide what happens in bed. Their independence is praised, and sometimes claimed. Yet many of our ideas about sex, about how a “real” man should act and what makes a woman “feminine” seem to be rooted in old, persistent stereotypes.

The idea, for example, that men lead and women follow. The idea that women rule the home and men own the world. Women arrange, look after, furnish. Men innovate, push boundaries, and imagine the future. She is small in size, is the vision.

I see those stereotypes, which are based on the cliches of active masculinity versus passive femininity, in heterosexual relationships. As free as we think we are in our love lives, they seem to be governed by unwritten rules. Women are free to work, show ambition and achieve success, and share care of the home and children with their husbands. But there still seems to be a taboo against women who work longer hours than their husbands, have a higher status, or care less about children. The woman soon becomes “Shark Bay”, and the man is “under the stick”.

The waiter asks Victor what he’s looking for in a relationship on a TV show First dates to its candidates. He always replies, “She must be shorter than me,” as she always replies that he must be taller than her. Stubborn thoughts about sex also creep into our preferences. Within the straight couple, we love to see the man not only taller, but also broader, more muscular, and of course, older. “What else?” the waiter asks Victor. Well, she’s independent, one straight man after another replies First dates. She is “herself” and has her “own little thing”. But at the end of the date, this same guy insisted on paying the bill, and that can’t be argued.

We live in a society where women don’t have to be passive. Nothing is imposed on them or against them. But this society is rooted in what we see, consciously or not, as the natural order: that man has the upper hand over woman.


Gil Hespin statue

femme fatale

In Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s, along with film noir, one of the most famous female archetypes was born: the femme fatale. The femme fatale, who still appears in films and series, is neither Madonna nor a prostitute. She’s evil, but she’s awesome. She is not as passive as Sleeping Beauty or Ophelia, but she acts, desires and temptations. It does not detract from its attractiveness, but rather increases it. But her independence also makes her dangerous, because in addition to being strong and interesting, the femme fatale is a liar and unreliable. She’s not just a femme fatale, she’s a femme fatale because she’s a woman.

In film noir, men are passive. They are lured down the wrong path, with their backs to the wall or trapped by their own greed. In this sense, film noir is a reflection of our so-called natural order: it is active (and therefore fatal) and passive (therefore imbecile). The fact that these films are so dark is because they heighten our fear: not the male gaze, but the male panic. Because this is the negative aspect of the male gaze that links femininity with negativity, that is, a man may not be negative. They should not be soft, indecisive, or shy, but firm, confident, and decisive.

The woman is watched – but there is also an advantage in this. Those being watched may take positions. For women, there is room to play with their looks, to choose between jeans or dresses. There is scope to take on a different role, that of the girl or the vamp, and sometimes that of the guy. But if a man wears clothes that tend to be feminine, if he paints his nails or wears mascara, he will face disdain or even aggression. And the game that women play, in the spotlight directed at them, extends even further.

Women (always traditionally petite and attractive) are openly exploring their sexuality, including in podcasts, television shows, stage solo shows, documentaries, books, and columns. And, of course, the matter is not without controversy. But imagine straight men expressing themselves about sexuality in this way, writing books and columns about their sexuality, and talking about it on podcasts. Imagine that VPro next to sex sisters It will also broadcast a program called Sex Brothers. Do we want to hear those stories?

We never knew exactly what women wanted in bed, and we didn’t even ask them. This is why they are now free to search for an answer, whereas men are stuck and can only choose whether they are a man with a butt or boobs.

#I also

How do we get rid of the male gaze? How do we free not only women but men as well from all the expectations that come with their gender? during the MTV Video Music Awards In 2014, Beyoncé danced to the word “feminine” with her hair flowing, and from one moment to the next the next feminist was sexy instead of academic, powerful instead of dusty. It wasn’t about hating men, it was about self love. Suddenly, the stars rushed to get behind Beyoncé. And suddenly there were girl bosses and petite feminists. Was she, along with #MeToo, part of fourth wave feminism? Was this our response to the male gaze?

It’s 2022, more than fifty years after Laura Mulvey coined the term “masculine look,” it’s ahead of us. We measure films by a feminist scale and the “strong female characters” are the new femme fatales. Female characters can be energetic, superheroes, and entrepreneurs, but they have to be fun to watch. The viewing conditions are set by women themselves, but the search still took place. How do we free not only women from surveillance, but also ourselves from watching?

The British Film Review is written once every ten years Sight and sound his famous poll. Film critics, academics, and programmers around the world compile top ten lists of their favorite films, which then form a ranked list of the greatest films of all time. stood in 2012 vertigo (1958) still ranks first, as Alfred Hitchcock simultaneously debunks and glorifies the male gaze. But in the canonical update, which was announced two weeks ago by Sight and sounda very different film takes first place: the feminist masterpiece Jeanne Dillmann, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) by the Belgian Chantal Ackermann.

In Jane Dillmann, we see a single mother who runs her home for three and a half hours. We see her peeling potatoes and polishing shoes. We see her doing the shopping and paying the bills. In short, we see how monotonous and miserable her existence is, as she has sex against her will to earn extra money.

Delphine Seyrig, who plays the main character, can be seen in almost every shot of Jeanne Dillmann. Beautiful and elegant, Cérig is clearly a movie star. But the fact that we love to look at her is exactly what’s going on. Women like Serig have filled the silver screen since the very first movies. We are used to looking at women like her. But we usually don’t see the chores she does, this star in the apron. They remain hidden from our view. In this way, Ackerman plays a game with being visible and invisible, with what we like to look at and what we don’t like to see.

With long, steady shots, Ackerman expands our understanding of the film to its fullest. The result was the Sight and sound-Paul “woke” as some claim? Was it the result of affirmative action? Or could Jane Dillmann’s first spot be the beginning of a true answer to the male gaze? Ackerman’s gaze is not a feminine look, but rather an anti-gaze. It’s a look that questions itself.

Can we get rid of the male gaze by simply not looking and not standing anymore? I believe we need to broaden our gaze, not just to the female, but beyond the boundaries of gender, to myriad forms, myriad sounds, myriad points of view. And I think we shouldn’t focus on one model — Ophelia, Beyoncé, Jane Dillman — but celebrate diversity. Yes, we can pretend, and we can role-play. Not because we go along with looks, but because it’s a game we love to play. Yes we can watch. Not because the look is being imposed on us, but out of curiosity.

Van Passe Boer appeared in Nijgh & Van Ditmar: Pose – about how we look and who we play.

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