I’ve been thinking about my last post, about falling in love with complete strangers just because you’ve seen their ridiculous six (twelve)-pack-of-abs work it out on stage, and you liked it enough to see that same show two more times and then stalk them on Facebook…all in the same week. The more I ponder this and my dying need to be the one lusted after (minus the abs), the more I question if this is all just proof that the male-gaze is alive and well…and unavoidable? – and then I wonder how sick and twisted this natural pattern of behavior actually is.
Dumbledore tweeted this article (then read this article in The New York Times about the competition circuit…some interesting points as well), and it made me think about my entire existence as a dancer (oh the drama of it all) – starting with my studio days.
I remember being 12 years old, dancing to “I Gotcha,” Fosse style, being asked to gyrate my hips and make a CFM (come *bad word* me) face…but don’t worry, because I was the youngest performer in the group I wore a pleather leotard and fishnet tights rather than a midriff bearing costume (age appropriate attire, people). We were the award-winning routine throughout all of our regional competitions, and then again at nationals that summer. And that’s what really mattered, right? I’m sure my father thought so too…
Also, how many times have I daydreamed (from the time I was 9 years old to I don’t know, yesterday) about BEING Britney Spears…yellow snake and all? I had my first world tour completely planned out at 12 years of age – I had not only drawn my set design (in specific detail) on construction paper, but I had all of my sequinny barely-there costumes sketched out and ready for construction. I would practice my hair and makeup in the mirror (taking photos of Britney’s videos and trying to recreate the looks with my Wet-n-Wild collection) but would then quickly wash it off before my parents could see the inches of makeup and hairspray layered on. I fantasized about being the person everyone else was fantasizing about, and essentially, this delusion translated into my current fantasy about being the modern dancer that everyone wants to work with. Dance Magazine’s top 25 to watch…anyone?
The sick thing is, I daydream through the lens of the gaze…
Sure I spend hours in the studio working on my technique and efficiency, but deep down, I want to perform. I want praise. I want you to fall in love. I want you to gaze, and I always have. Does this really mean I essentially want to be objectified? I can’t tell. Maybe?
Part of me thinks I’m insecure and just need lots of attention.
Gaze at me, bitches…all day.
But the other part of me doesn’t necessarily want you judging. I’m a smart girl, and YOU DON’T EVEN CARE.
I can’t quite figure out if I want to be gazed at because that’s what Britney taught me?—OR if Britney flashing her body with confidence actually empowered my own self-assurance? As much as one can claim they perform for their own pleasure, can it really go unnoticed that they’re essentially putting themselves on display for the benefit of other people? And the people in the audience, they come to fall in love…with you! It’s a cyclic pattern of love, sure, but also a heteronormative gaze-fest that society tells us to not only expect, but also to accept.
At the time, I thought my Fosse moves were merely a means to a successful end at competition, the thing I cared about most. What I didn’t realize however, and I’m positive it wasn’t intentional, was that I was being taught that positive accolades were simply achieved by exploiting my body and even further, my sexuality. Yes, it was adorable to watch 12-year-old me try on her CFM face in the mirror.
Now 25-year old me can’t help but think about how the gaze has literally taken over just about every facet of her existence. I realized this morning that I not only have wrinkles on my forehead, but I have them on my chest as well (WEAR SUNSCREEN, FRIENDS!!!)…AND my hair is starting to turn gray. Does this mean I’m not beautiful anymore? What’s going to happen when I have a full head of gray hair and face full of fine lines?
WHO’S GOING TO GAZE AT ME??? (Relax, I’ll dye my hair and get Botox…just kidding…sort of…)
So much conflict here. I’m pursuing a career that basically revolves around me making a spectacle of myself (I mean, addressing the human condition through abstract movement…of course.), but at the same time, it doesn’t actually matter if I’m on the stage or off, society has made it pretty clear that I have a role to fill.
I’m not quite sure how to fix this situation, I might even agree with Bowen when she argues, “…that the prevalence of the male gaze makes it an inescapable part of our culture and psyches.” Sure I play my part in all of this, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, or even agree with it.
So why do I impose the gaze onto others?—at this point, it’s so ingrained, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. From crushing on beautiful men that I see perform on stage, to telling my little cousin that I love her dress even before anything else get’s mentioned, am I any better off than having a porn-watching marathon just for funsies on a Tuesday. I mean, right?
The more I think and write about how our society has integrated the male gaze into our everyday, the more fired up I become – but really, deep down I know that I’m not going all of a sudden break free and destroy the gaze forever – I engage with it almost daily, and I suppose it’s this exact complacency that allows it to persist.
So I sent a draft of this post to my boyfriend to proofread, like I do with most others…and was so shocked at how passionate he became in response via G-chat. It was like a flood of opinions being thrown at me, until I finally asked him to just write a supplemental post. So I share with you, his take – the privileged (self-aware) perspective of my educated, white, heterosexual boyfriend, Paul.
When my girlfriend sent me a draft of her blog post, I immediately had two thoughts. The first was, Why does she keep talking about my incredible abs? The second thought was about how the male gaze (I just air quoted it, FYI) permeates every aspect of our culture. If you try and consider the male gaze as the center of a wheel, then one can envision a lot of the related (or even tangential) issues as spokes off the wheel. I should state that these spokes are sharp as shit and cause me to wonder whether or not I should ever have children. These male gaze-y wheels aren’t exactly comfortable. Buckle up kids, as this is going to be a bumpy ride.
The commodification of sexuality is something that is inextricably bound with Nicole’s post about the male gaze. She speaks about making her best CFM face as a pre-teen, before she even knew what that meant. Sure, the 12-year old is having a great time dancing around, even if she doesn’t understand the latent sexuality of the choreography. Unfortunately, this is something that is the exception, and not the norm:
There are egregious examples of this, like a routine at a California competition in 2010 in which preadolescent girls performed highly sexualized moves to the Beyoncé hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” But even in less lurid numbers there is often the disquieting sense of children being made to ape pop-culture stereotypes of adult behavior: boys as macho men, girls as sassy flirts. (NYT Piece)
This is not – I repeat, NOT – exclusive to perhaps clueless Dance Moms.
Victoria’s Secret came under fire this year with their Bright Young Things line, which many parents claimed were marketed towards tweens. Yes, your little 12-year old cousin wants to wear pants with suggestive words emblazoned on the bottom. Victoria’s Secret claims this is marketed towards college aged girls in time for Spring Break. Camel said the same thing about their cartoon mascot hawking cigarettes. Obviously not for the kids, right?
I understand that it’s hard for some women to read what I am writing, because my nature precludes me from experiencing this first-hand. I am, by the definition of some, the exact person who benefits from the white privileged, heteronormative male gaze. (The Feministing post elucidates that there is an element of white privilege in the male gaze, as the writer identifies herself as someone who is outside of the thin, light-skinned “ideal” that is presented in every fashion magazine and billboard everywhere ever.)
When we talk about hypersexualization, violence against women, or even the college culture of hooking up*, it’s not a game. If it were one, it would be a skewed one. The house always wins, and this house is most definitely a house of patriarchy. Except in this game, everybody loses. (I am hiding behind a garbage can while the ladies of Jezebel arm themselves with tomatoes to throw in my direction.)
Check out this recent NYT article, and a counterpoint by Slate.
In our private conversation, Nicole said to me that “…even my gaze is essentially from the viewpoint of a heterosexual male.” Is she incorrect? I don’t think so. While we have seen great progress vis-a-vis the end of DOMA and the slow realization that gay isn’t just a trendy thing for Hollyweirdos (sorry, Michelle Bachmann), Primetime television can still seem recalcitrant when it comes to displaying these relationships – especially a gay male couple. America watches TV, and not just men. But men don’t want to see men kissing – they want to see women.
In the 1990s, you saw Ellen kiss Joely Fisher. You saw Neve Campbell kiss her professor in 1999. You saw Calista Flockhart kiss Lucy Liu for 21 seconds in 1999. But in 1994 on Melrose Place, when Doug Savant was going to kiss another dude… well, pressure from an advertiser caused Fox to cut away.
When I think of a music video, I think of women being paid next to nothing in order to twerk on camera in next to nothing while the rapper/singer (usually, a man) is there fully clothed. In her new single, Miley Cyrus sings (or warbles, if you ask me) about how we own the night, and how we aren’t going to stop partying no matter what. Except while she does this, she writhes about and makes her own distorted CFM face as she makes out with a Barbie doll. Hell, Robin Thicke even sings about tearing that ass up in his newest #1 single that your 9-year old cousin sings in the car on the way to church. Here’s Mr. Thicke, himself:
We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, “We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.” People say, “Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?” I’m like, “Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.” So we just wanted to turn it over on its head and make people go, “Women and their bodies are beautiful. Men are always gonna want to follow them around.”
Because, ladies, the message here is that apparently we can’t help it. It’s not our fault that women come to our parties and drink our alcohol and wear short dresses. (This is sarcasm. A vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend) But then the question remains, whose fault is it? How did we get to this point? It’s easy to blame the multi-million dollar porn industry for turning our hearts and minds into depraved, Tiger Woods-style sex fiends who want nothing more than to “choke a bitch” and then produce our own live action “money shots” from within the confines of our own bedrooms. The problem is that there is no way we can pin this down on a particular issue. It is a confluence of commonplace misogyny that is tolerated, if not celebrated. After all, it’s just a song/movie/rap lyric/29 minute porn film involving powertools – if you don’t like it, then you don’t have to watch it, and it won’t affect you… right?
We live in the most progressive country in the WORLD – and yet, even here we have this notion that women do not know what’s best for their own bodies. We let legislative bodies of old white men – here’s looking at you, Rick Perry, Todd Akin, and the legion of other members of Government who fucking sit in committees dedicated to health and SCIENCE – pass laws that they think will best serve young women.
We live in a culture where sexting is a thing. It’s an actual term that people use. Isn’t that embarrassing? (The term and not the actual notion of sending racy messages) Our grandparents used to send each other love letters during World Wars, and we choose to send photos of our genitals with a self destruct time limit. In the event a woman feels empowered by taking nude photos and sending them to a romantic interest, there is the risk (or perhaps inevitability) he will share it – be it with his dorm mates, his frat brothers, or the internet. Snapchat is wonderful because it lets you know that someone just took a screencap of your picture. Except the second someone takes that screenshot, you’ve lost whatever illusion of power you had. It is (literally) stripped from a woman when the picture she sent in confidence is displayed on the internet in perpetuity – and embarrassment. The revenge porn apologist will rationalize his actions, usually by claiming the person who sent the photo knew or, perhaps more brazenly, wanted others to see the photo. The person whom sent the photo is denied their autonomy as these decisions are made for them. (See: The legislative branch, etc.)
The male gaze dominates every arena of our daily lives. It saturates, if not dominates, both public and private spheres. It is the monsoon that does not concern itself with waves of Feminism. The old adage is, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” Another one is “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”
Well, ladies and gentlemen: The wheel is broken. It doesn’t need to be fixed.
It needs to be burned to ashes and rebuilt from scratch.
Its me again, KapDaddy. So as you can see, the male gaze has the potential to elicit some pretty passionate arguments– what are your thoughts?
To gaze or not to gaze, that is the question.