Friday, October 23, 2009

Gazed and Confused

I found Berger's musings on "the male gaze" very interesting and enlightening in many ways, although I find myself disagreeing (surprised?) with some of his assertions. My disagreement, however, is in regard to the application of these assertions to today's reality and not so much in regard to the reality of history collectively.

Berger draws a fairly rigid distinction between the way men view women and the way women view men. Basically, he assigns the role of men to that of surveyor (of women) and the role of women as the surveyed (while also self-surveying). The basic thesis of "the male gaze", then, is that women are objects, scrutinized by men, and not so much the other way around. He references nudity in art quite heavily to illustrate this point and he makes a very strong case, I must say. Women are/were often displayed in the nude, more than men. Moreover, they were displayed, at least in western art, as being vulnerable and reserved. He asserts that this was intended almost soley for the male viewer as it gave to men a sense of possessing the woman.

I know there's a lot of truth to Berger's claims, and I can't help but wonder if this is a result of biological differences, cultural/societal influences, or a combination of the two (I lean toward the latter). In a historical sense, I can definitely see where Berger is coming from. Women and Men were, in no uncertain terms, separated by their roles and status in society. Sexism was open and "normal" by most accounts. Women were expected to be more reserved and less openly opinionated. These sentiments ring very clearly in the Judeo-Christian bible, for example. It makes perfect sense, then, to acknowledge that women were literally viewed differently by men. So Berger's assesment seems very accurate when considering the full timeline of human history.

Women also seem to objectify themselves. But, as Berger's article alludes to, this may be misleading, however, as they might simply be reacting to societal pressures that ultimately orignated from the collective male surveyor. In other words, objectifying women may be so engrained into our society (ultimately, by men) that women, themselves, do it to eachother and to their own selves.

My biggest disagreement with Berger (and, really, the only one I have any real conviction of) is that men are not surveyed by women. He never stated this explicitly but it was quite implicitely stated. Even in a historical sense, I find it to be untrue. I've read writings from women across different time periods that certainly express the surveying of men. But I'm much more of an authority on the time period I live within. I feel it's obvious that women scrutinize men both in terms of physical presence and behavior. They may be using a different set of standards than men use for women, but that's really beside the point, and in some cases they do use the same standards, I think.

Men also survey other men. This could be a result of a new shift in culture where we are now becoming more feminized due to strong cultural feminist movemements and, therefor, men are assuming female roles as the line between the two roles becomes blurred (as females also assume male roles). The objectification of the male is not exactly an original occurance, though. In fact, Greek and Roman societies seemed to objectify men moreso than women. The "ideal" male body was the ideal body...Today, the ideal female body is the ideal body in terms of visual appeal (that of course, is debatable but it's my personal stance).

I find it intersting that this was written in the time period that it was. America, at least, was in a cultural revolution. Women were publicly burning their bras in public. They were demanding equal pay and equality in general and had already won such battles as like when they gained the right to vote just half a century previous to this article. Perhaps this social climate was what inspired Berger to reflect on the significance of the female's position in society and to realize that they were owed an acknowledgment for where they were coming from and what they were up against.

Finally, I'll conclude with what I think is an interesting twist on all of this: In modern times we see, with nude magazines, such as Playboy, what could be described as the woman possessing the male with her nudity.. In the case of a Playboy centerfold, the female has, in reality, much more power over the male who is, in fact, captivated BY the woman as he gazes upon her...and this is her intention as she quite literally profits from it (although that is a case of the individual woman versus the collective woman).

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