Feminist film theory describes the male gaze as the act of depicting women in the visual arts and in literature from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. And even though “male gaze” was a term initially used in film theory, the concept exists very much in real life and the consequences go much further than you may realise.
Why You NEED To Feel Pretty, Even When You're Alone
People tend to think they have a say in what they consider beautiful, as if it’s simply a matter of personal taste or preference. However, there are outside influences we don’t often think about. What you consider beautiful may be an image someone else put in your head. We internalise this image to the point where we think it’s our own. But in reality, when looking at ourselves, we’re looking through the eyes of others. Other women, but even more so men.
As Margeret Atwood puts it in her novel The Robber Bride: “Even pretending you aren't catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you're unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
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In Ways of Seeing, John Berger describes a similar phenomenon: “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
Most women are constantly thinking about how they appear to men, even when no man is present. This internalised male gaze brings us to constantly perform for a nonexistent male audience. As women, we are hyper-aware of how we look and act. Not only when we’re actually being watched, but even when we are the only one in the room. A disturbing thought most of us don’t like to pay attention to, because once again it portrays women as the victim and puts men in a position of power.
The Male Gaze Sets Beauty Standards… For Men
The male gaze is not only toxic for women, but also for men. Men are conditioned into thinking that the broad-shouldered, strong-chinned, "manly" man is the one that gets the girls. But a large portion of women - and almost all of my female friends - aren't attracted to that type of guy at all. They have a sweet spot for more feminine men like Harry Styles, Timothée Chalamet and Maneskin’s Damiano David.
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Therefore, men often don’t understand what the fuss over these “feminine guys” is about. Think about the time Harry Styles was wearing a skirt on the cover of Vogue. Women were swooning, while men were appalled. The male gaze puts unnecessary pressure on men to look and act a certain way, for the purpose of attracting women. So when it turns out women are more interested in these “feminine” guys who paint their nails and wear eyeliner, they struggle to understand the reasons behind this.
It’s because they themselves have also internalised the male gaze. The same way female standards centre around what men think is attractive, male beauty standards centre around what men find attractive in other men. Male beauty standards are based on what men find desirable. They work their butts off in the gym to get ripped so that women will find them attractive. Oddly enough, not a lot of women value masculinity that much, but other men do.
Imagine the frustration when men are trying to impress women, but instead end up only impressing each other. The patriarchy does not only victimise women, it victimises men and all those that don’t identify as either which is why it should be dismantled because we are all victims of the male gaze.
Illustrated by Carolina Diaz