On Feminist Theory: The Male Gaze

Past Patriarchy, into Masculinity

Masculinity is of course a byproduct of patriarchy, and feeds off of this self-identification for men to be praised and women to be shunned. It is not right, in patriarchy, for women to exhibit masculine traits, in that it labels them as alien to the concept of what a woman is. They may co-exist with men, but women who are “masculine” are an oddity to be viewed as an anomaly, not as a rule. As such, the “male gaze” is not with regards to “masculinity” but rather what are the things that profit sentiments of masculinity. What are things that generate sentiments of masculinity and what makes masculinity so good for those who wish to self-identify as masculine individuals?

In my previous article, I mentioned that although men and women both suffer the rigid structure of a patriarchal state, I have not mentioned specifically through what mechanisms. I did mention the male gaze, and that is what I will be going into now.

Viewing the benefits of society through a masculine lens

What does this mean? It means that the patriarchy, in order to make sense, must view the ins and outs of society through a bird’s eye view that belongs to the man. Things are shaped around the needs of  the man and thus, everything must support a man’s view of the world. If the society is heteronormative (that is, it normalizes and systemizes heterosexual couples as the norm), it will push a definite divide between things that profit men and things that profit women, both on a cultural and economic sense. The male gaze also dictates how women should behave, based on a male point of view. So, if the man is dominant, women should be submissive, wear feminizing clothing, speak a certain way, keep quiet when men are discussing serious matters that escape their scope.

Via the male gaze, women also absorb a psycho-social perspective of how other women should behave. The idea being that women who are successful are women who appeal to men. Now, women who will defy this convention are going to defy the male gaze. If the society is patriarchal, other women who have been used to this psycho-social perception of themselves will react negatively to the one that ceases to cooperate.

For example, if women in patriarchal societies are meant to be seen as pure, innocent and dedicated wives, a wife that would cheat on her husband or otherwise have pre-marital sexual relationships with men she has no intention of remaining with, loses marital value with men, but she does have a certain amount of power that other women don’t. She defies the male gaze and begins to stride out of scope for the male-centric society. In western culture, women like this have been dubbed “femme fatales”, who tempt men into sinful relationships. Not unlike the biblical Succubus, the femme fatale can sometimes use her wiles to lure men and kill them when they least suspect it.

As such, sexual ability in a man is comforted, as men are wise, in control and virile. They must dominate. Women who dominate, being anomalies, must have a specific desire to destroy men, and the male gaze should suggest that straying from the natural disposition of submission to the patriarch is done with the specific aim of hurting male dominance. After all, in a patriarchal society, there is no ethical justification for women to stray from men’s care-taking and masculine protection. Deciding to live without a man and be independent thus removes the dominating aspect of a man’s relationship toward women.

It may be that a woman does not feel attracted to a man, but in patriarchy, she will always express herself in that regard via modest refusal, bordering on making herself only temporarily unavailable, until the man tries again. The male gaze thus puts women who are single at the forefront of masculine accomplishment. A man who is of age, alike a woman, must marry, with the aim of having someone at home who will take care of things. Women, similarly, should seek a man who is self-dependent and can protect them against outside invasion. Thus, a woman should only seek a man who is “alpha”, that is a man who is strong in all senses of the word: Emotionally stable, physically strong, intellectual and if need be, wealthy.

The pressure exists on both sides, to this end: Men must ensure that they are viewed as the alpha by their ideal woman and women must ensure that the man they marry is “safe”: that is, financially and mentally stable, physically strong and aiming for prestigious promotions in the company he works in. Because in the male gaze, women and men’s value are mutually enhanced by the job that the man has and the devotion and skill the women has with taking care of family matters.

In the end, that we prioritize men’s desires seems to create a mutually beneficent circumstance that promotes stability: Men must be dominating, women must be submissive; the woman’s submission helps the man’s desire to dominate and increases his status; the man’s domination shows the woman that she has great taste in men. However, any divergence from this route may be seen as a potentially unstable situation and must be corrected when such is found.

Causes of instability with male gaze

As in the previous article, one of the failings of the male gaze is that while it forces values and traditions based on a male-centric organization of society, it is based almost entirely on superstitious naturalistic fallacies. The presumption being that men are always fit to be dominant and women always fit to be submissive. History has shown us otherwise, and particularly recent history, once feminism went into the mechanisms of patriarchy to try to change it. When women begin to dream and seek regions yet unexplored, that defies the idea of their inherent submission to men, whose society decides what their dream is: To have children and serve their husband. Once alterations are brought to this system, the entirety of it can now be called into question, and the patriarchal society ceases to be rationally justified through intellectual means.

The only way for men to retain this patriarchal organization is through force or obstruction against women who would seek to change things. Such a reaction may be logical, however, given that men believe themselves to be dominating and when women step out of line, it should be their duty to force them back into place. It still raises the question: Why should men have to force women back into submissive roles, if women don’t always feel like they should be submissive and likewise, men don’t always feel like they should be dominant?

Questioning this new variable brings into light the fragility of the patriarchal enterprise: That by forcing the view of society through a masculine and patriarchal lens, we constrain ourselves from other worldviews and when they challenge our perspective, as a patriarchy we have no choice but to react in “masculine” fashion, that is violence. Therefore, a man who would lose control of his wife, should use force to put her back in her place. The masculine man must however concede that if his woman was insubordinate, then it was because he was not directive enough with her or certain limits had not been adequately identified for her not to cross. It does not have to bring into question his masculinity.

Yet, were it that women are naturally subservient and men naturally assertive, the woman would never have felt the need to test the man’s masculinity, based on the male gaze. So, inherently, the patriarchy, if doubted, and sufficiently trounced, loses all legitimacy on a societal level. As I said in my previous article: Nothing keeps certain individuals to live based on a patriarchal understanding of family, but that view should not be forced upon women as a whole or men as a whole.

Essentially, then, the male gaze must be applied specifically on an individual sense. A man who seeks to dominate women should seek a woman who seeks dominating men, but this does not have to be normative. Otherwise, those who do not subscribe to this view will find themselves ostracized for no other good reason than not playing by the rules. It isn’t my intent, with these articles, to tell people that being patriarchal is always bad, but it should not be expected that society is shaped to fit a patriarchal lens or indeed a matriarchal lens either. Neither views would be acceptable, because the inverse situation would be broken by men not wanting to submit to women.

Male Gaze in consumption

I have spoken briefly about how products are tailored to fit men’s needs, but I thought I’d give a few examples in every day life, so we can be on the same page. Video games are dear to my heart. I have played them for as long as I can remember, but while I do enjoy games that would appeal to this male gaze, I must also acknowledge that they portray a rather toxic view of masculinity. In the game series Tekken, for example, there is a definite shift across the games in how the male and female characters are displayed.

In the first few Tekken games, the women, although slender, were not depicted too sexually. In later games, like the 4th and later titles, the Tekken series has taken to a much more visually stimulating portrayal of women characters. The male characters are however not designed to attract a female audience. Their visual design is meant to make them appear bad-ass first and foremost. Comparing the two does not produce an equalizing portrayal of genders. Rather, while the men are portrayed with a minimum amount of body fat, the women have jiggling breasts, curvy and smooth-looking bodies, and in most cases, highly feminizing outfits. Take with that the addition of accessories and secondary outfits who almost always feature less and less clothing or more and more fetishized perspectives on the characters; Anna Williams has a nurse outfit, while Nina has a high-heeled skin-tight outfit with the chest opened to reveal her voluptuous breasts and the thickness of her hips, both outfits complete with breast jiggle physics.

The male characters in the Tekken series have boasting entrances, where they make show of their martial prowess, where the female characters mostly just show off their bodies or have a passive position, where they appear to be waiting for the opponent to attack them. Examples being Asuka Kazama, who either simply knocks her hands together, or walks away from the camera (showing off her butt in the meantime, if you use her main outfit) before turning around to wait for her opponent, taking position; Julia Chang is seen arranging her pony tail, then patting her face, as if she’s just gotten done getting ready to leave the house; Anna Williams makes a salacious dance, while egging the opponent to “come over here, let me talk to ya real close…”, whilst wearing femme fatale outfits…

Conversely, Heihachi Mishima is sitting down meditating, and then quickly gets into position or he stands ready and powerful, electricity rousing from his body; Jin Kazama stands quietly, then utters “Don’t get in my way!” at his opponent, his gaze aggressive; Kazuya stands with his arms crossed, a mocking gaze toward the opponent “So you’ve come…”; Feng Wei arrives at the scene and does a series of katas to present himself to his opponent; Hwoarang tells his opponent to shut up or arrives at the scene already ready to fight, throwing kicks in the air; Craig Marduk makes a show of strength before aggressively taunting his opponent…

While the series has gone lengths in recent titles to try to give more representations of women in the roster, the female characters keep following a strict design pattern: Slender and short, curvy and short or curvy and all. Personality wise, they are always standing in three archetypes: Angelic, innocent, suggestive and evil, emotionally manipulated by a male character in the series to participate in the fight.

Now in the end, what attracts people to Tekken isn’t SOLELY its attractive female roster, but the gameplay. Tekken games are very good games in themselves, and I question myself whether they need such hyper masculine representation of men and such hyper sexualized representations of women? Sales figures would indicate perhaps that is correct, but why do men need to be motivated by titillating female figures in video games in order to buy them?

The idea behind the male gaze is of course to perpetuate this ideation of women with a specific body type and a very libertine type of clothing. However, despite being dressed quite lightly, these characters will most always have no sex life whatsoever, no boyfriend to speak of. Similar to the men, in this case. There is still a rather virginal aspect given to their personality, which gives them this sort of oblivious reaction (again, in general) with regards to sex, but there will be no in between: The female characters are either virginal or balls to the wall seductive.

In the end, the male gaze is well present in the Tekken series, as the characters are all designed with a heteronormative male gaze.

Why feminists don’t like the male gaze

Feminists tend to live and let live when it comes to video games, even if we give Anita Sarkeesian shit for even mentioning the male gaze in her reviews of video games. The male gaze is bad not because it makes women appear attractive to men, but because it tailors the content of the game for a specific type of player, mostly the men and women who buy into patriarchal society and heteronormative behavior in men and women. You can think of how male homosexuality is less popular than female homosexuality in the pornographic industry. That is because porn producers know that it is men that watch porn mostly and most of these men are at least heterosexual. The idea behind lesbian pornos usually is that the women are enjoying themselves for the male watching them, not of their own volition.

So, aside from hetero-normativity, one of the reasons why feminists don’t like the male gaze, is that it makes the consumer-based economy mostly geared toward male desires, making their desires secondary, and making them buy “male-oriented” products when none exist for them. Easy solution to that is of course to buy male products or to make “female equivalents” to these products, right? Wrong.

The solution would be simply to not create products with a specific gender in mind, but perhaps a conglomeration of both, so that it can be appealing to either gender. Now therein lies another issue: If men are used to male-centric products and are then brought to buy “gender equal” products, will they be turned away? It is possible, but that is only because of the existence of a patriarchal society.

If we truly seek to get rid of patriarchy or to not be a patriarchy anymore, we must look for these discrepancies and find ways to either mitigate or eliminate them altogether.

 

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