Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fashion and the male gaze

Go read this wonderful Web Essay on the Male Gaze, Fashion Advertising, and the Pose. The images really say it all (would be curious about your reaction), but here's a sample of the conclusion:

But the omnipresence of images like the preceding in our culture for a century now almost certainly helps cultivate "the craving to attract and captivate" among women, and to the extent that women get caught up in that craving, they are less likely to seek satisfaction and rewards in their own accomplishments, and in mutually respectful, supportive relationships with men and others around them.
The whole article is more image than words, but it ought to give you an idea of how women are conditioned to always be looked at--essentially, posing for the male gaze. (It also couldn't have come at a more appropriate time given the recent critique to one of my posts.)

(Via Bitch PhD.)

7 Comments:

At 12:06 AM, Blogger Henri-V said...

The early images of the web-essay had me laughing -- hard. Seeing men mimic the touchy-feely poses of women was funny at first. Then I wondered why men can't show (publicly) the sensitive, emotional vulnerability/latitude that women have. That was not the point of the essay, but it made me think of the expectations men labor under as well.

The points about women being aware of being gazed upon were ones I had heard previously. I do concur that women (in Western, American culture for sure) are raised with the knowledge that they will be observed and appraised. If not through direct parent instruction, then through media and cultural seepage, it will become an element of a girl's psyche. I do think that women can come to crave it and manipulate others with it -- we all know those women, and I do think it is a self-defeating game they play. That's why I hate so much of the fake-coy imagery in advertising, magazines, and in entertainment. It's like, enough already! A demure look from a powerful, beautiful model or actress in an editorial shoot is just that, A POSE! I get the message loud and clear. I can appreciate the lighting, the art direction, and the symmetry of a face, but I tend to go blank beyond that. I expect that I am going to be bandied about and made to respond in a pre-programmed fashion -- someone is always selling me something and I'm nothing but a potential customer.

This leaves me muddled on how to interpret the feminist/social context in contemporary media; I always impose my market capitalist/salesmanship grid on a situation before I move in for other analysis. There are not many women posed in advertisements that allow me some kind of kinship; I generally feel like "gazer", and often an envious gazer at that. I do not identify with the "gazed upon", even though I know that I will be gazed upon and appraised during the day. I try to block those thoughts and pursue my appearance without letting others dictate the standards of beauty. (challenging to do, and I'm not always successful)

I also think the "childlike, non-threatening" poses are only used by/forced upon sitters who are typically pretty or non-confrontational to begin with. I can't imagine anyone posing Janet Reno with her hands clasped under her chin. She, Condi, Hillary, Oprah, etc. don't need to tilt their heads or curl into submissive reclining positions. It's another instance where you wonder if a woman must make the decision to be "attractive" or "accomplished", to the exclusion of the other. Even if there are examples where a woman is both attractive and accomplished (and knows it), I wonder how she balances and thinks about both spheres. Or what she teaches her daughters.

Sorry I am late with my response -- still catching up on posts. :-)

 
At 7:51 AM, Blogger Scarpediem said...

Great comment, and it leaves a lot to think about.

Just one little thing for now: you say that the "childlike, non-threatening" poses are only used by/forced upon sitters who are typically pretty or non-confrontational to begin with" and strong, intelligent, powerful women would not "pose" like that. However, they wouldn't DESPITE OF the media images we're surrounded with; one of the points of the article is that the general consensus about how women should look, act, etc. comes from this kind of images (fashion, advertising, etc.) rather than from women like Hilary or Janet Reno (who many regard as aberrations).

That's what we're confronting: the idea that strong, confident, powerful, intelligent, independent, etc. women of these world are the exception rather than the norm. In other words, it's not about the artistry of the photo, it's about the pervasiveness of a certain type of image. And yes, we need many more strong female models in this world, at least to the point where the proportion of 1 such woman to 100 models, actresses, bachelorettes and other reality TV stars, is, if not reversed, at least balanced. Not to say that actresses can't be great role models (they can, and some are), but they do get a disproportionate amount of media, indicative of, what else, our fascination with the Image.

 
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