We all know that every day individuals (not just women, not just men) are subjected to numerous images, suggestions, and ideas that show women in sexualized poses, suggestive situations, and compromising ideals of where self-worth and value should lie. And while it should be noted that men are also subject to these situations, this post will focus on women and what we go through on a daily basis.
Before you run off because you’re scared of the word “feminist” hear me out. Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” So if you believe that women should have equal rights and opportunities as men, then guess what, you’re already a feminist! Glad we cleared that up.
Lately people have noticed that more attention is being given to botched Photoshop jobs and how absolutely ridiculous some of the photo-editing is when it comes to women in the media. I’m not going to beat a dead horse over all of that again. It’s important but I want to focus more on the day-to-day little things that most people don’t even notice that play a HUGE (if not even bigger) role in how society views women and how we all treat them and each other.
For those of you that didn’t minor in sociology, the male gaze refers to the bias of presenting films to a male only audience, more or less the assumption that the typical viewer of a film would be a male, and therefore to cater that film and it’s visual stimuli to the male demographic. The male gaze has since crossed over into most media faucets. It’s apparent not only at your local movie theater but also in advertising, on TV, and on the internet. Everywhere you go and look, you will see women displayed in ways that are attractive and enticing to men. But if you look at the definition of “gaze” you’ll note that it has to do with “how an audience views the people presented.” You can read more about this in a great blog post over at Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog.
The issue with the male gaze is that women watch movies and view stuff, too (obviously). The ideals and assumptions of people decades ago still spills over into today’s world. When you think about how the majority of women view themselves, it’s not always through their own eyes, it’s through the eyes of men. It’s thoughts and Google entries like:
I wonder if HE would think this is sexy.
Do men like it when women…
How to tell if a guy loves you.
Outfits your boyfriend loves.
The lipstick shades men find most attractive.
I wonder if HE thinks I look fat in this.
Does my boyfriend think I’m attractive?
Will guys think I’m a slut/nerd or smart/funny/attractive/dumb if I wear this?
I don’t want this to turn into all the reasons why men have it easier and are evil, because you guys aren’t! In fact, I see more and more men, especially in younger generations, fighting back against all of this nonsense. This isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s an everyone issue.
So what is it like to in every day life for women when it comes to all of this?
- Turn on YouTube and tons of videos you’ll come across will have screen shots of women on them to get viewers to watch. It’s a woman in a bikni, in a sexual pose, it’s just cleavage, just a butt, just a thigh gap, just lips, I could go on…. But rarely do you ever see men displayed the same way, and WHY would we want that, either? It would be just as offensive and objective to do that to men.
- Constant comments. For every woman that takes care of herself and walks by somewhere, there’s a man starring inappropriately, making comments to another man, or unfortunately, yelling something inappropriate at that woman herself. This effects more than just her. It effects every woman that sees it AND every man. It tells everyone “hey! if you didn’t notice, I think this woman is attractive and feel that it’s appropriate to voice this publicly even at the risk of making her or anyone else feel uncomfortable.” It takes power away from women and subjects them to a vulnerable situation whether they choose to engage or not. And for every person that also participates (or doesn’t say anything about it being inappropriate), they are stating the same thing. That it’s OK for women to be gawked at and judged purely based on their appearance. Now, there’s a difference between noticing a woman’s beauty and admiring it. But every day in the workplace and surrounded by friends, even family, women listen to men making comments about other women. Women listen to men idolizing celebrities they find most attractive, about other women in the office that are attractive or who aren’t attractive and why. Every moment that a woman is surrounded by people who participate in this behavior she is consciously aware that she is possibly being judged, rated, or scrutinized because of her body or because of something her body may or may not have.
- Friends. Some of the worst feelings in the world are when guy friends or friends of friends say things like the following. As a woman to hear this, it further shows that the value of women is mostly based on our appearance, how attractive we are in comparison to others, and can only aid in cycle of constantly comparing ourselves to others and trying to measure our own self-worth.
Do you have any cute/hot/attractive friends?
Will there be cute/hot/attractive girls there?
Ugh as long as I don’t have to talk to her. She is NOT attractive.
I really wish _____ was single. I’d love to get with that.
_____ is so overweight.
You’re WAY better looking than ______
- What men choose to buy/watch/participate in. I want to make it clear that it’s not just the man’s responsibility to cater to a woman’s feelings. Women also have to be accountable for the way they feel and what they choose to let bother them. However, when men participate in certain behaviors, their actions send louder messages than anything they might say or speak to. When men go to strip clubs they are saying more with that action than words ever could. While I’m not saying strip clubs shouldn’t exist and that most are probably innocent fun, for the women knowing that the men in their lives are choosing to go there, it’s a completely different feeling entirely. And again, we are told to “just let it go”, “ignore it”, “get over it”, “not let it bother us”. “it’s you they REALLY want at the end of the day.” But that still doesn’t take away the message it sends. The message that I’m okay viewing women this way even at the cost of the feelings of my partner. Whether men are in a relationship or not, these kinds of actions say a lot. When men buy posters of half-naked or sexually provocative women, it’s not that we’re completely jealous, it’s that it’s disrespectful. To bring something into a house, hang it on a wall, and showcase something says “THIS is what I find attractive. THIS is what is hot/sexy/fun/flirty to me.” If women did similar things and bought pictures of Chippendale dancers and hung them up or displayed tons of sex toys in shapes and sizes they deemed favorable, men might start to get the picture.
- The message we get growing up. As a young girl, I watched my father make comments about women. Take note of who is attractive, and even see images of women that my father had that I knew were idolized in some way/shape/form. When men bring things into a home, it does a lot more than provide visually pleasing stimuli for their own amusement. It sends the message that THIS is what is attractive and as a young girl, it SHOUTS “THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE.” In the movie, What Dreams May Come, (warning: spoiler alert) when Robin Williams is in heaven, he meets a young Asian woman and later finds out it is his daughter in a new form. When he asks her why she decided to look different than the young Caucasian girl she grew up as she simply stated “you always said Asian women were beautiful.” Women grow up wanting to be what their fathers, what the men in their life find attractive. Can women fight against that? Sure. But men can also make sure to not showcase things that are unattainable or unrealistic to the women in their life.
- True beauty vs. fantasy. I’ll be the first to admit that yes, lots of the Photoshopped and manipulated images of women and cartoon characters and drawings ARE attractive (some really are just gross) but yeah, I get why men fantasize about them. The problem? The more you look at that stuff, idolize that stuff, and find yourself desiring those images, the more you’re pouring in to the entire societal issue. It’s the same issue with watching too much porn. When we focus on something that isn’t realistic, our expectations become flawed. Suddenly there’s a standard deep within our minds that we subconsciously aren’t even aware of. It’s why you might find that anytime you’ve gotten a Big Mac you’re a little let down. It’s because we grew up with perfect (and fake) modified images of what that burger would look like when we took it out of the box and guess what, it’s NEVER like that. The same thing goes for women. Be realistic with your desire for the opposite sex. Doing any differently only puts pressure on who ever you are with and does nothing positive for yourself.
- Women are expected to ignore all of these things. If you want to be that “cool” and “supportive” and “uber confident” girlfriend or wife, what do you do? You ignore all of these things. You’re expected to act like it doesn’t matter that your boyfriend has bikini posters in the garage where they play beer pong, or that the commercials where women are sexualized doesn’t offend you. It’s not real, you say, it’s just the media. You may even participate and try to be “one of the guys” and not care. The problem with this is that it DOES matter and women shouldn’t have to sacrifice their own feelings, their own self-worth, and their own confidence to let all of this slide. The problem is that the minute women do stand up or do say “hey, I don’t like this and here’s why…” we’re shot down. We’re suddenly “over-reacting”, “insecure”, “not confident enough”, or even “needy”, “clingy”, or “annoying.” There’s not a single woman out there that wants to be labeled that way but her significant other or any of his/her friends.
So what does this giant rant mean? It means that there are a LOT of choices that we all make every day, mostly unaware, that only perpetuate the very issues we are fighting to end. We KNOW men love all shapes, sizes, and colors of women. Let’s just all work together more to prove that.