The Male Gaze & Berger’s Closing Remarks
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NOTES: Before participating in this discussion, you should: 1) look over this week’s lecture notes on the male gaze and Second-Wave Feminism; and 2) read the article by John Berger, “Ways of Seeing.” Both are in this week’s module, along with some interesting links.
There will be two discussions this week, starting with this one. The second discussion, ungraded, will focus on The Stepford Wives (1972 — be sure to screen the original, not the remake!).
In this week’s reading, John Berger gives us an art historical sense for how women have come to be looked upon (and thus objectified) in visual media by an assumed male viewer. Berger provocatively ends this piece with an interesting question. Here’s the passage:
But the essential way of seeing women, the essential use to which their images are put, has not changed. Women are depicted in a quite different way from men — not because the feminine is different from the masculine — but because the “ideal” spectator is always assumed to be male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him. If you have any doubt that this is so, make the following experiment. Choose from the book an image of a traditional nude. Transform the woman into a man…. Then notice the violence which that transformation does. Not to the image, but to the assumptions of a likely viewer. (Berger, Ways of Seeing, 64)
Look closely at the fairly typical nude below. Now follow through with Berger’s suggested experiment. What do you think happens if we replace the nude woman with a nude man lying in roughly the same position? How do we perceive differently the man vs. the woman? Does the painting and/or its message change? And what does that tell us about the ways we’ve been conditioned to look at women vs. men?