The term ‘gaze’ is often used to describe how viewers interact with visual media. It refers to how one might interact with visual culture such as in advertisement, film and television. The male gaze, in feminist philosophy, is the concept that the world is depicted in such a way as to cater to the (predominantly heterosexual) male view. This term was first coined by Lara Mulvey in her 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema1. In this essay, Mulvey looks deeply into the pleasure derived from viewing things and how, in most Hollywood movies, the male audience was the fundamental target of this perceived pleasure. Because (in this case, heterosexual) men’s pleasure was at the forefront, women became seen as an object of desire.
In most types of visual media, the response to this masculine voyeurism is to hypersexualise women. Even in advertisements targeted to women, the female body is often described as an object of men’s desire. So is there any wonder that the expression of female sexuality as an expression of self is so fraught with complications. Women are so often portrayed as sexual objects to cater to the male gaze, but when actual women express their sexuality there is an insidious double standard. Women can be seen as sexual objects, but cannot express sexuality – they must only have sexuality projected onto them for the purpose of encouraging male based consumerism.
In terms of material culture and psychology, the term ‘self’ is a concept used to describe the way in which a person thinks about, values and generally perceives themselves. The Self is responsible for one’s thoughts, feelings and actions. The notion of being aware of oneself – understanding that one is an individual with separate beliefs, goals and ideologies – is an important concept when it comes to answering the question posed by this essay.
The concept of gender in relation to self also carries significance in this essay. Unlike the concept of self, gendered self most likely stems from an unconscious desire to fit societal norms. The behaviour of the gendered self is reinforced early, in some cases even before birth. For example, a girl is not born inherently loving the colour pink, a gender stereotype which had been stringently forced upon many the unsuspecting female child, but from an early age, the world around her is constantly conditioning her to think that pink is a girl’s colour and as a girl, she should conform. This societal conditioning of people by subcategorising objects, clothing and colours by gender may be disrupting an individual’s sense of self in order to fuel gender based consumerism. This is an example of how the Self can become distorted by Others.
Figure 1: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
The concept of Other is that everything is different to one’s own self. As an individual one is unique, and while there are things that may link one to another person there are also things that are different. Self and Other are dualities of a person which are constantly being expressed. For example, by expressing Self as someone who wears the colour orange you are also being the Other to people who do not find orange to be an expression of their Self.
The concept of Self and Other in this context relates to the top three tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy (figure 1). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a pyramid which visualises the theory of motivational needs. The pyramid represents the concept that once we have satisfied one set of needs the next tier motivates us to achieve more. In a social context, the upper aspects of this pyramid relate both to self and other. We are driven to achieve these levels both out of a desire to be accepted by society and out of a want to be an individual. At the same time, we are being drawn to homogeneity in order to fulfil the need to ‘fit in’ and also towards heterogeneity in order for us to affirm out sense of Self. However, often self actualization is inhibited by the concept of Other as in order to reach one’s full potential there needs to be the space for free will. On the other hand, Other can have positive impact on the Self as it can make people more considerate, caring and friendly.
This pyramid of consumption in relation to Self and Other in the context of the male gaze and empowerment of female sexuality indicates that these theories are natural in progression of the fulfilment of societies basic human needs. All of the top three tiers have a part to play in each of these theories.
In relation to the expression of female sexuality the tier of belonging is relevant both in a sexual context and with finding one’s place in society In Female Sexualisation: A Collective work of memory by Frigg Haug states that to avoid being deemed ‘unliberated’ for not having an outlet to express their sexuality, women would try to live up to the ideals of the sexual revolution and would struggle with the moral conflict it created within themselves2. This brings into question the validity of claiming that all expression of female sexualisation is empowering. If there is a pressure to express sexuality in a form one is not comfortable with, just to fit in with society, then the act of the expression is not empowering. So where do we draw the line at equating sexual expression to empowerment?
As society has become more openly sexual and sexualising towards women there is a sense of pressure to fit in. The bombardment of sexualised advertisement can lead women to believe that if they conform to the hypersexualised version of the perceived ‘ideal women’ they will be accepted by everyone in society thus fulfilling their need for love and belonging on a broad level. Consumerism also influences issues of self and other by marketing gendered products to women in order to make them feel individual. This search for exclusivity actually serves as a way in which to divide women into different ‘categories’. For example (REFERENCE AUTHOR AND JOURNAL/BOOK HERE).
In relation to esteem, expressing one’s sexuality as a woman can draw praise – from both an empowering and sexualised viewpoint. This validation in either form could be seen as fulfilment of the second tier of psychological needs. The concept of esteem is closely linked to the need for belonging and perhaps in achieving the sense of belonging it also realises the feeling of accomplishment and esteem. (REFERENCE QUOTE FROM JOURNAL OR ARTICLE HERE)
Self-actualisation, the top tier of Maslow’s hierarchy, is perhaps not as closely linked to the expression of female sexuality as the two psychological tiers. However, the ability to express one’s true self (including sexuality) would be the realisation of self-actualisation. The relevance of sexuality in this tier of needs would play only a small part in achieving satisfaction.
The male gaze as a driving point for consumption has a direct influence in gendered consumption, but for both genders. This division of genders actually draws the two together. Advertising that shows the sexualisation of women actually projects two different messages. One to men, that the sexualisation of women is not only fine, but that it is in fact done for male pleasure. On the other hand, women receive the message that this is the new standard for women to want to attain and aspire towards.
Figure 2: Advertisement for Lynx deodorant
This advertisement made by Lynx in 2011, shows a woman (Lucy Pindar)
TALK ABOUT POST MODERN IRONY IN RELATION TO THESE TYPE OF ADVERTISEMENTS – GETTING AWAY WITH OBJECTIFYING WOMEN BECAUSE IT’S FUNNY AND IRONIC
COMPARE THIS TO A LYNX ADVERT IN 2017
In one of the biggest fashion statements of the 2000’s, celebrities Amber Rose and Blac Chyna wore these dresses (figure 4) to the 2015 VMA’s (video music awards). By wearing these outfits, adorned in
1 MULVEY, L. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema
2 HAUG, F. Female sexualisation: A collective work of memory