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Thoughts on oppression, masculinity, power, the male gaze, street harassment, and slavery.

July 23, 2009

The other day, I posted on my Facebook page a funny clip  from The Daily Show (click here to view clip), mocking Nicholas Sarkozy’s plan to ban burqas in France. A few people made comments on it, one in particular that caught my attention: there were questions raised of oppression and the male gaze by a straight male acquaintance of mine. I copied the comments below:

Me: [original post]: Are burqas more oppressive than the male gaze? Great clip from the Daily Show (see clip by clicking here)


******* ******: I can oppress people with a look?
Me: I hope you’re joking
******* ******:I was just curious if I had the ability to oppress someone, even an eensy weensy amount, with a gaze.
Me: Well any human being has the ability to oppress another human being. The male gaze can be explained through various websites:

and all of the articles under:Read More

Let me know if you have any questions.

******* ******: yes, a question is raised. how are you defining oppression? I really have no idea how my own subjective and internal feelings about aesthetics ‘oppresses’ an individual in the same manner as, say, a slave master oppresses someone. do I, through some unknown superpower I possess, have the ability to force people think or feel certain ways just by thinking. the idea sounds a little…silly.

Hmmph. Where do I start? First of all, while people may have different definitions of “oppression,” I’m going to use a definition from the good ol’ dictionary Merriam-Webster:
oppression: unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power

Besides explaining the male gaze with a few links (see above), these comments also remind me of those remarks that people give in response to why street harassment happens to women, “It’s because he thinks you’re cute,” or “It was a compliment.”

Street sexual harassment is one of the many examples of how the male gaze plays out in day-to-day life (others include: the burqa in Islam, why women’s bodies are constantly put on display in the media and culture, etc.). I would agree with this anonymous commenter that I, too, would be very scared to discover if I possessed an unknowing superpower. But yes, you do have the ability to oppress someone—whether or not you may be aware of it is probably as a result of what you’ve been taught through behavior, culture, and society about what it means to “be a man.” Note that sex (male/female) is not the same as gender (man/woman/transgender/etc.). Many people don’t grasp this difference, and use them interchangeably. Sex=biological differences; gender=learned cultural differences.

In regards to the male gaze and gender, a man is “taught” to look at women. Is it a compliment when a man whistles at a woman walking by on the street? No, it’s just another example of men exerting their power over women. Why? Jessica Valenti, executive editor of, said in her book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut…and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know (2008):

While I’ve heard the argument that street harassment is actually a compliment – you know, because we’re supposed to be flattered that strange men are screaming at us about our asses – it’s really a super-insidious form of sexism. Because not only do perfect strangers think that it’s appropriate to be sexual toward any woman they want, but street harassment is also predicated on the idea that you’re allowed to say anything to women that you want – anytime, anywhere.

This is about power—not aesthetics or how one feels about outer beauty (people experience sexual harassment no matter their age, sex, gender, what they’re wearing, their weight, hair color, skin color, etc.).

And about anonymous’ comparing the male gaze oppression with a slave master and his slave (I could write a blog post about this alone), I would prefer not to compare men with “slave masters” and women as “slaves,” but in talking about oppression, let me put it this way: is the slave master completely aware of oppressing the slave? While I cannot answer that, I do know that less than two centuries ago slavery was still thriving in the U.S., where it was acceptable to own slaves through manifestations of culture. Through awareness or not, the oppression of slaves still happened (until it was abolished in 1865).

So in answer to anonymous’ question: yes, men do oppress women with the male gaze. Does it happen every single time you look at a woman? Nope.

For more info about this, I suggest looking at Hollaback NYC, a photoblog and grassroots initiative to raise awareness about and combat street harassment by posting photographs and narrative accounts of individuals’ encounters with offenders.

  1. July 23, 2009 12:48 pm

    Great post! I think this is the summation of why strangers shouting and men staring isn’t fun, isn’t cool, and leaves you disempowered. I’m going to reblog/retweet it immediately…

    So glad I found this blog! Keep it up!

  2. Erik permalink
    July 23, 2009 1:55 pm

    Oh dear. Well, here I go commenting again.

    First, as for the whole Gaze theory in general – and people are going to disagree with me here – but I call bullshit. Quite frankly, all of these so-called post-modern, deconstructionist Foucault-ian Derrida-ian blah blah blah – ian theories of social mores are pretty bull-shitty, generally, though they are in some cases based upon interesting concepts. Its really hard to read these theories today without them seeming rather antiquated and trapped in a pretty vicious hermeneutic circle.

    Supposedly the argument goes, as I understand it, that the male ‘gaze’ can be oppressive because it ‘denies women human agency.’ Well 1) even if human agency exists (dubious), the male ‘gaze’ can not possibly affect it anymore than any other external (or for that matter internal) factor acting upon your person , and 2) a major, major point has been lost here, which is, it really makes no sense to speak of the male ‘gaze’ as this grand general thing separate from many other issues, not the least of which are context and biology.

    Do not discount, Emily, the aesthetic component of this issue – because its central to it, albeit compounded with power. After all, it was our good friend Kant who pointed out that, when it comes to perception and the aesthetic, the human body is the greatest thing to gaze upon (and this coming from a celibate man with very little interest in sex or power or anything besides reasoning, really). The problem here is much more complex than any of the above admits to. There is a tendency in feminist theory in general, I think, to reduce every issue to a struggle of power (i.e. rape is an act of power not desire, et al). And of course there is great insight and truth there – buts its an egregious over-simplification.

    Now, I consider myself a pretty outspoken feminist, in the general sense of the word; however, I’d like to take a rare opportunity to stick up for my own gender. It’s really quite difficult, as a heterosexual man, to look at a woman without, to some degree, seeing them in a sexual light. I’m of the opinion that sexual orientation is pretty rooted in your DNA, and that the degree of aggression with which you pursue your sexual desires is also pretty material dependent, i.e. dependent mostly upon testosterone, some lesser hormones etc. So, yes, I’ making the whole ‘we’re animals trying to spread our seed’ argument – which, btw, is not at all an invalid one, in fact, its at the heart of this whole debate. ‘Gazing’ at a woman is not always a conscious or even free choice. Many men will know what I mean when I say that thinking about women sexually is very, very frequently a burden that is very hard to quiet. It quite literally is a sort of cognitive enslavement which, though difficult to demonstrate externally, is in itself I suppose might be considered a form of ‘oppression’ (no I am not saying that women oppress men because we want to have sex with them and they won’t let us. Don’t get all snark snark). This is about evolution, and it would not be entirely obtuse to say that exotic male birds dance to attract a mate, male apes fight each other and dance about and yell to attract a mate, and male humans give women the eye. It’s not cool to say the gaze is fine when its coming from an attractive, professional, nice young man across the bar or it’s fine when its the subject of the colloquial ‘no, he likes you, I’ve seen the way he looks at you,’ but the gaze is not ok when its just someone on the street, someone ‘street’ looking or whatever. I mean, come on, that’s a bit akin to racial profiling (ok ok, I prevaricate, but you see what I’m saying).

    THAT SAID, there is a GINORMOUS difference between looking at a woman and sexually assaulting a woman – but, in certain instances, the line is very fuzzy (hold on I’m getting to my pragmatic legal point soon). Inappropriate cat calls at a woman while she’s walking down the street…yeah, harassment. Gawking at a woman’s breasts as if she is some sort of statue…yeah, obviously harassment. But in recent years, there has become such a stigma around the, yes, sexual appreciation of a woman, that more often than not men are now guilty until proven innocent, that it is assumed that, if you are a man, you are probably a creep. I’m not single, but I can imagine that if I were, and if I were out, say, having a drink and saw a woman I found to be beautiful, I would be very wary of approaching her and telling her I thought so. Why? Because it would seem weird – or could be taken as such. It would seem creepy – or could be taken as such, even if I genuinely just meant it as a compliment – even if I had no sexual intentions. There is a certain sense, I think, in which the institution of sexual harassment has perpetuated the problem – its very difficult now for many men to know how to approach a woman, to know what he can and can’t say, where he can and can’t look, what he can and can’t do, that its turned a good chunk of the male population into the lurkers that have caused the ‘gaze’ to become an instrument of oppression.

    I enjoy looking at beautiful women. So does my girlfriend. We go to strip clubs where at least half the audience is women. Everyone gazes at the nude women and at the others in the bar. There is a general sense of aesthetic appreciation, as there should be.

    In any case, this is a really interesting debate – and I agree with you Emily, there are lots of men who abuse the freedom of their retinas, but I just wanted to add more the story. Ok, let the snark snark grr grr begin.

    • Emily permalink*
      July 24, 2009 12:39 pm

      @Erik: First of all, I’d like to address this part of your comment first:
      “THAT SAID, there is a GINORMOUS difference between looking at a woman and sexually assaulting a woman – but, in certain instances, the line is very fuzzy (hold on I’m getting to my pragmatic legal point soon). Inappropriate cat calls at a woman while she’s walking down the street…yeah, harassment. Gawking at a woman’s breasts as if she is some sort of statue…yeah, obviously harassment.”
      First of all, I think it’s really important to be clear about what terms that you’re using, i.e. “sexual assault” which I never used in my article. I don’t know if you grasp what “sexual assault” is, because many people use “sexual assault” and “sexual rape” interchangeably. Rape is a type of sexual assault, and therefore there can be many ways to describe sexual assault. Let’s run down a few definitions:

      Sexual harassment is “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature in which submission to or rejection of such conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s work or school performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or school environment”—as defined by the National Sexual Assault Hotline
      Sexual assault is “unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling. (But, be aware: Some states use this term interchangeably with rape.)”—as defined by the National Sexual Assault Hotline
      Rape is ” any kind of sexual intercourse (vaginal, oral, or anal) that is committed against a person’s will or is committed with physical force or with a threat to hurt the victim or another person. It is also considered rape if the victim is intoxicated or unconscious and unable to give consent. Rape and sexual assault are not about sexual desire–they are about power and control.”—as defined by Brown University’s Health Education

      In saying that, in some cases, I don’t think that there’s a difference between sexually harassing a woman and looking at her. Do you think that every woman walking down the street, enjoys, wants, a guy to stare at her ass or breasts? If the answer is “yes,” then it’s not sexual harassment. Heck, I don’t think it’s sexual harassment when my boyfriend looks at me sexually. But that’s because I want it. Walking down the street, however, and having a stranger stare at my ass or breasts is a different story. That is sexual harassment. I didn’t want it.

      And another quote from Erik’s comment: But in recent years, there has become such a stigma around the, yes, sexual appreciation of a woman, that more often than not men are now guilty until proven innocent, that it is assumed that, if you are a man, you are probably a creep….There is a certain sense, I think, in which the institution of sexual harassment has perpetuated the problem – its very difficult now for many men to know how to approach a woman, to know what he can and can’t say, where he can and can’t look, what he can and can’t do, that its turned a good chunk of the male population into the lurkers that have caused the ‘gaze’ to become an instrument of oppression.

      I do not recall a time in human history when there was only sexual appreciation for women without the assault, rape, harassment, and the male gaze. The reason why there has been a stigma around sexual appreciation for women is because (broadly speaking), men have abused that appreciation.

      I agree with “it is very difficult for men to approach women” because of the institution of sexual harassment. But is this a hindrance, a bad thing? I’m not sure. Maybe men find it more difficult to approach women now as opposed to twenty, thirty, forty years ago (when it was acceptable to ogle at woman and make [now what would be considered innapropriate] comments) because they’re not sure what to say—the only things that they can think to say are inappropriate. I don’t think that this hindrance has oppressed men; some men just don’t know what to say.

      (again, from Erik’s comment): Do not discount, Emily, the aesthetic component of this issue – because its central to it, albeit compounded with power.

      I believe that aesthetics is about outer beauty, without or with very little sexual attractiveness involved. Sexual attractiveness is somewhat about power—which is what I refer to when I’m talking about the male gaze, oppression, sexual harassment, assault, etc.

      There is a tendency in feminist theory in general, I think, to reduce every issue to a struggle of power (i.e. rape is an act of power not desire, et al). And of course there is great insight and truth there – buts its an egregious over-simplification.

      I would love to have a deeper discussion about feminist theory in power, but I would rather address your specific point as to “rape being an act of power is over-simplified” right now. Rape (and I’m referring to the definition that I gave above) is an act of power—it is an expression of violence but also an act of violence in and of itself. Rape is not only used by individuals to control her/his victim; it is also used by soldiers as an act of war and by gangs as an act of terror. Wouldn’t you say that violence is about exerting power?

  3. Amy Boland permalink
    July 23, 2009 2:36 pm

    Wow, at the risk of being “snark snark grr grr,” thanks for trivializing any dissent anyone might make as “snark snark grr grr.” Very Margaret Sanger of you. Nicely done.

  4. Erik permalink
    July 23, 2009 3:13 pm

    Thanks Amy!! We could all use a little more Sanger I think.

  5. Jackson permalink
    July 25, 2009 2:12 pm

    I’ll post my response here as well. this is not proof-read and was written as I was immobile due to a hangover. it meanders, but there are some points in there – less about the post and more about the idea of the male gaze.

    and I care little for anonymity. I don’t say things that I’m ashamed of and I don’t care who knows where I stand on issues. but thanks for the ethical blogging nonetheless.

    //a few things. if we are going to define oppression as an unjust or cruel use of authority and power, we need to be able to differentiate between what is just and unjust. I hold the position that the only unjust action one can take is the initiation of violence (or the use of the threat of violence) against the body or property of another individual. if one is to take this line of argument, then a gaze (or any other internal belief) is unable to oppress another person. the claim is made that men view women a certain way, which in turn forces women to view themselves under the same light. it seems to me that there is a humongous leap in logic here.

    first off, let us assume that a man looks at a woman and is not impressed with what he sees. the woman, who values the man’s affection, seeks a means to achieve her ends – changing how she acts or dresses in order to get the man’s attention. there is no force present, there is no oppression. the man does not threaten to beat her if she does not comply. he does not coerce her in any way. he simply chooses to not associate with her because of qualities she lacks. it is the woman’s internal desires and values that compel her to conform to an image that is more suited to her goal (‘internal’ is a bit redundant, but I want to touch upon the fact that all actions taken without the threat of coercion come from within). if this individual woman conforms because it enables her to achieve a thing she values, then is this oppression? one can either respect the sovereignty of one’s decisions and say ‘no’, or one can superimpose their own subjective values onto that woman’s values and say ‘well, I wouldn’t act that way in that situation so it doesn’t make sense that anyone else could possibly want such a thing: it must be oppression’.

    the situation is similar to a man who does not like bologna. he sees another man eating a bologna sandwich and thinks ‘YUK. does he not know bologna is disgusting? I would never eat a bologna sandwich and there is no good reason any man should. if he’s doing such a thing he must be either insane or coerced into doing it in some fashion – possibly the oscar mayer gaze.’ and I think this is one of the largest failures of what is colloquially known as ‘feminism’ – ignoring the subjective nature of value.

    the second problem with this idea is one that runs rampant through the social “sciences” (particularly sociology): the horrendously sloppy collectivization of action. ‘men’ as a whole do nothing just as ‘women’ as a whole do nothing. the only entities which can act or hold opinions are individuals. How I approach collectives:

    claiming that there is an entity, this male gaze, which is conjured up by the mere existence of humans with y chromosomes sounds similar to some shamanistic fairy tale used to explain phenomena beyond primitive man. do all men, by virtue of being men, possess this gaze? would the homosexual, the asexual, the crossdresser, and the post-op transvestite still possess this oppressive gaze? or are we going to operationally define masculinity by how these individuals visualize femininity? and what of these women? are all women so helpless as to be unable to decide which lifestyle is for them which has them turn to the collective male conscious (if such a thing existed) for guidance? if this is the case, then the male gaze is horribly ineffective as women, despite our best efforts to control their lives with our minds and eyes, choose a variety of lifestyles that exist outside of the parameters of what feminist would say men find ‘acceptable’.

    the domanatrix to the bbw and the bull dyke are all instances of women seeing normative roles and for whatever reason saying ‘nope, not for me’. additionally, if one were to look at lifestyles feminists would traditionally chalk up to brainwashing by the all-powerful penisocracy, one would see a vast dynamic of individuality. if the male gaze existed, it would exist as a singular concept of feminine beauty and grace, would it not (granted it might be broad)? this would also mean that there was a singular concept that women were striving for. is this the case? no. what race is the ideal woman? neither the collectives of men or women could agree to this. you have men creating idols out of asians or latinos and women straightening their hair or cooking themselves in tanning booths to appear less like the race they are. people rush towards beauty with all the uniformity of an easter egg hunt. and how does this male gaze dictate that women dress? does it say women should wear miniskirts and halter tops? does it say they should adapt the garb of the hipster? should they be seen in only sun dresses and heels? and inevitably there will be much quarreling between the question of thongs or boy shorts (the ongoing debate between thongs/boy shorts absolutely destroys the notion of a unified male front). and how do women react to this supposed male gaze? well, go outside and look around. some women dress to impress (men). others do not. again, this tyrant, the male gaze, is ineffective. in reality we have nothing but a swarm of individual actors each chasing their own subjective ends. for a large majority of these people, finding a mate (be it long-term or short-term) is a high priority. as such, individuals (not ‘men’ or ‘women’) go about whatever means they feel will be the most successful. now it should not come as a surprise that individuals can sometimes value very similar things and such a phenomena can give the sociologist tingly and warm sensations, but each of these theories of societies and groups crumble when they are brought to the level of the individual. such theories are like trying to understand sickness without recognizing the existence of individual tissues and cells. In the end, I certainly do have a gaze – an ideal woman. it is not the same as anyone else. the way she moves, the way she looks, the manner in which she speaks, her intelligence, her fieriness/submission, her hobbies, etc. – this concept is unique to me.

    but we all have paradigms for everything, the perfect woman/man, the perfect child, the perfect parent, the perfect teacher, the perfect student, the perfect waiter, and so on. anyone wishing to gain our approval as any of these roles would be doing so in an identical manner that ‘women’ supposedly submit to the male gaze. are they oppressed? of course not. the whole thing is similar to advertising. someone puts out a product, another someone feels they could gain something through the use of that product. the two associate with one another freely. in the case of the most ‘oppressive’ male gaze: a man desires a woman with certain qualities. the woman feels that she would gain something through accentuating those qualities and being attractive to that man. there is no unjust coercion, just two people fulfilling their mutual goals. but we do not operate on perfect knowledge, we have to strike with the greatest common divisor. if I shave, it is because I guess that shaving will be more likely to gain the attention of a female than if I do not. is this an oppression of the female illuminati against those with neck beards? no. am I a slave to the female gaze? no. I just think I have a better chance as achieving a certain ends by employing this means. as such, I willingly (can’t emphasize willingly enough) act in such a manner. and I fail to see how an act I commit of my own volition with no threat of violence looming over me could ever be seen as caused by an ‘oppression’.

    “But yes, you do have the ability to oppress someone—whether or not you may be aware of it is probably as a result of what you’ve been taught through behavior, culture, and society about what it means to “be a man.””

    there are as many different thoughts on what it is to ‘be a man’ as there are men. ‘society’ cannot teach us these things as ‘society’ does not exist. the only thing that can influence my concept of what a man is is the thoughts of other individuals. and even if I take my cues from someone else – be it the fabulous men on queer eye for the straight guy or john wayne, ultimately I am deciding between a vast number of ideas and taking the one that suits my particular tastes. that is to say, it is not something forced upon me by culture or society but something I willingly choose – just as my love of fried food was not forced upon me (or anyone else) by my society or culture but something I experienced and subjectively liked (unlike sushi, which my ‘culture’ and ‘society’ tried to get me to like but I hated it).

    another problem that stems from the musty depths of a sociologists skull is the idea that society can perpetuate such beliefs. this is to say that all thoughts about gender or aesthetics are conditioned. if one were to take this as a logical statement, it would fall flat on its face. let’s take the extreme (which many people take), all thoughts about aesthetics or gender or whatever else are conditioned by ‘society’. if this is the case, then who had the first thought that allowed for such a system to exist? if one takes an amalgamation of ‘cultural conditioning’ and individual choice, then we have individuals either generating their own preferences (whether they be in opposition to what is considered ‘tradition’ or completely unrelated to tradition) or choosing to buy into the traditional idea. and again, the ultimate result is an individual willingly buying into an image – no matter where it originated. which precludes any claims of oppression of those who buy into certain ideas.

    “Note that sex (male/female) is not the same as gender”

    oh I know. gender is a worthless concept. there are as many genders as there are people and a concept that means that much ends up meaning very little.

    “Is it a compliment when a man whistles at a woman walking by on the street? No, it’s just another example of men exerting their power over women. ”

    do you think that it can be a compliment if a man whistles at a woman walking by on the street? it seems to me that whether or not such an action is a compliment or an insult depends upon the individual. I would never say that such an act is always a compliment, just as I would never say it is always an insult. and on the other side of the coin, if a woman makes a positive remark about a man’s appearance, is that too an example of ‘women’ exerting power over ‘men’. I think the accepted feminist response is that she is emulating power by trying to assume a ‘male’ role or some such nonsense. but for argument’s sake, let us say the whistle is offensive. how is one man doing something offensive to one woman equated to ‘men’ exerting power over ‘women’. it is as if jerry the construction worker whistling at hazel the women’s studies student through some invisible web of ‘society’ has me and elton john being as much a perpetrator in this act as jerry. it’s the same kind of offensive rhetoric that is rampant in such statements as ‘a credit to your race.’

    and what power is being exerted? the power to whistle?

    I’m sorry, but sexual harassment is no more ‘disempowering’ than any other unwelcome advance. an unattractive female gazing at me is as innocuous as someone at a super market offering me an unwanted free sample of cheese. both advances are unwelcome. speaking rationally, one is no more trenchant than the other unless the individual is particularly sensitive, for whatever reason, about a subject. the feminist may be more insulted with the sexual advance, the gourmand may be more offended with the dairy advance. for some unknown reason, sexual harassment is put on the same plane as sexual assault, which it is certainly not. such vague statements about ‘creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or school environment’ reek of the same sloppy ideas of rights that are seen in other aspects of feminist literature (the list of male privilege comes to mind).//

  6. fembootycall permalink
    July 25, 2009 3:14 pm

    Excellent post jackson and what it really boils down to is that some women are just angry that men don’t cop glances at them.

    – agrufette

  7. Jackson permalink
    July 25, 2009 6:15 pm

    “It is also considered rape if the victim is intoxicated”

    don’t get me started on how much bullshit this is.

  8. Erik permalink
    July 25, 2009 6:57 pm

    Jackson – so much of what you said is spot on. Thanks for that post. I’m not going to take the time to respond to all of those points, but I agree with you on the whole.

    Emily – arg. Yes, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. I don’t think we’re really in that much disagreement. I want to just address a few things.

    The definitions – yeah, ok, fine. Let’s please not redact this argument to a debate on terms. Those definitions are fine, but I find that to be of little interest. And, btw, those are not the legal definitions of the term – and at the end of the day, I hate to say it, that’s all that matters (that said, I think the legal definitions are completely f***ed up and need to be completely redone – I’ve said it here before, but the definitions were written from a male perspective, and that’s why they’re so f***ed and arbitrary. They should be written from a female perspective, for reasons which are too obvious to state here).

    The only thing I’d like to say at this point is there is a big part of my comment I think you missed. Without getting into an argument about will, you are driving this debate, at least for me, way too much in the direction of cultural narrative, which I’m just not comfortable with. At the end of the day, humans exist for three reasons: sleeping, eating and fucking. These are the necessary – and the only necessary – things necessary for the continuation of life, and that is all we are really programmed for. The rest is fiction, narrative, social story, language. I realize you don’t want to be looked at sexually by men who are not your SO – but, and god I’m gonna sound like a realist asshole so I’m really sorry – that is just not possible. Ever. Believe it or not, women also look at men sexually – even men who are not their SO! This is the human condition. Yeah, it may suck – and it may lead to all sorts of what we now consider to be illegal or taboo or whatever – but our laws are not as enduring as those of nature.

    This is where talk about what is ethical, what is legal should start. We cannot possibly talk about what is and is not socially acceptable without recognizing the aforementioned. Praise and punishment is a tenuous issue, based on even more tenuous and obscure philosophical concepts. I really think you’re making a lot of assumptions that are based on disjecta membra. There’s really nothing interesting in only talking about what someone wants or enjoys as a basis for forming social values. Existence just doesn’t work that way. c.f. Heidegger and facticity.

    The issues of aesthetics is a much, much deeper and more nuanced subject than ‘outer beauty.’ I won’t go into it here, but aesthetics brings up questions that reach far beyond the naive notion that its about things looking pretty, or whatever. Aesthetics is rooted deeply in ethics, politics, economics and neuroscience.

    My point about approaching women being difficult – you missed what I was trying to say. No, its not necessarily a bad thing, but its turned a lot of men into creepy dudes who only look upon from the sideline.

    As far as history is concerned, it’s too involved to get into now. And sure rape, et al have always been a part of the story. But do realize that there are serious hermeneutic issues involved here. Our views on sex, beauty, rape etc. and the definitions of these concepts are really quite fluid. You can’t say simply ‘rape has always been…’ c.f. Hegel’s exegesis on Greek sculpture in the first chapter his lectures on aesthetics. We cannot simply speak about the past as if we understand or as if it is somehow analogous to the woes of our own time. To say ‘men have always abused this appreciation’ is so broad a statement it cannot possibly have any validity. Saying something would require a lot of defining, context, hermeneutic investigation, etc. And even then it would be dubious.

    And as far as the rape = violence based on the pursuit of power, etc. You know, I’ll admit I really no nothing about rape nor about the urge to rape. But as all things, I have a feeling this is a more complicated issue than ‘it’s about power.’ Don’t let feminism fall victim to the same fate as, say, terrorism where we love to single out a scapegoat and call the problem solved.

    Dude, Emily – I’m totally on the same page – but, to echo Jackson, there have been a lot logical leaps in this debate. I probs sounded like a total asshole above (did not proof), but I’m in the treat women fairly and don’t be a douche camp…but this is a much more complicated issue than you’re making it, I think. Ok, let the dissent begin. 🙂

  9. Erik permalink
    July 25, 2009 7:22 pm

    God dammit I did the italics thing again. Clearly someone is WAY to confident in his computer science 101 skills (ahem). Oh well.

    I did want to add one thing, seeing as I didn’t really address the actual issue above.

    I’m a little offended to be thrust into this faux universal truth of the male ‘gaze.’ I said it before, but theories such as these are BS.

    Homo sapiens want to fuck other homo sapiens. QED. Trying to separate the sexual from everyday life works against not only feminism but society in general. Humans think about sex. End of story. This is not something to be condemned. It is something to be celebrated.

    This is where the discussion needs to start.

    There are many societies that have solved the problem of looking at each sexually. Let’s see…Iran, Turkey (parts), Iraq, Yemen…

  10. July 27, 2009 3:13 pm

    To those who think that the Male Gaze theory is BS (and it seems most of them are men):

    If you’re a man, consider how you would feel if some other man, obviously bigger and stronger than you (hey, maybe there’s a possibility that one day you’ll be arrested on bogus charges and have to share a cell with this guy, who knows?), were to walk past obviously gazing at your butt – and then you heard him mutter under his breath, “Nice ass, I’d like me a bit of that!”

    Do you think you might, just possibly, experience a moment of fear? Of being threatened? I think you would. I think you would start to fear the possibility of sexual assault up to and including rape.

    Such is the normality of the male gaze in women’s lives, the added vocalised context isn’t necessary: that element of context is provided by numerous advertisements, television shows, magazines, etc.

    That is where the power of the male gaze arises: just in letting one’s gaze linger for a second longer than normal, you (as a man) are capable of inducing fear in another (female) human being.

    The fact that you are able to induce this fear in another person affects that person’s agency in the same way as threatening anybody, in any manner, affects that person’s agency.

    I’m a relative rarity as a man, in that I have suffered street harassment, sometimes explicitly sexually oriented (indeed, on one occasion, there was a genuine threat, and fear, that I might be raped). This is relatively rare in my life, but I can readily see that it is an everyday occurrence for many women, and it is most definitely not BS to say that the male gaze has a real and tangible effect on women’s lives, every day, in ways that genuinely do affect their human agency.

    • August 4, 2009 1:00 am

      If you’re a man, consider how you would feel if some other man, obviously bigger and stronger than you (hey, maybe there’s a possibility that one day you’ll be arrested on bogus charges and have to share a cell with this guy, who knows?),…

      I know I’m all kinds of late but I have a question. In trying to men to consider what it is like to be on the receiving end of the gaze did you use a bigger stronger man in your example in order to strike a chord of homophobia (and you do mention the possibility of being in a jail cell with said bigger stronger man), to make it as close to what a woman experiences as possible, do you think that women do not have such power over men (they do), or was there some other reason?

  11. spike the cat permalink
    July 27, 2009 5:06 pm

    I don’t really see biology as being responsible for the divergence of opionion on this. For example, weren’t female babies shown to be more interested in gazing at faces than male babies? And haven’t the latest fMRI studies on arousal indicated that both men and women are visual creatures? (I’m not dismissing biological differences, just the extent to which they are being considered here). There is also marked cultural diversity in terms of what is appropriate eye contact, saying “hello” to strangers and touching not only between men and women but more importantly among men and among women.

    I feel like there are several issues of power perhaps having to do with men’s fear of rejection from women; and women’s fear of male aggression. To me, any cultural roadmaps based out of fear are problematic.

    Things like overt staring and catcalls are essentially a form of passive agressive, one-way mode of communication; Catcalling is often so outlandish that it practically negates any sting of “true rejection”. Instead, men who become increasingly verbally aggressive when women ignore their street harassment or talk back are likely doing so because of a sense of entitlement (I’ve noticed that usually men usually don’t say crap at other men without expecting them to respond in kind, unless one of them is armed or something like this). On the street, the power dynamic can be off balance, because women generally don’t feel 100% free to either respond in kind or to tell the person to fuck off, without fear of escalation.

    With respect to simple looking (aka checking people out), what it looks like to me, is that men would rather defer to other men rather than hear individual women out on this. That is, folks seem to be much more accepting of the cultural norm where it’s considered inappropriate for stranger men to overtly check out another man’s partner or family member in a clearly sexual way—-such as making an accompanying kissy noise or gesture or staring at her chest in close proximity. Now when a lot of woman simply ask for the same consideration, speaking for themselves, all of the sudden it’s going against nature.

  12. Erik permalink
    July 28, 2009 4:54 pm

    I’m not going to comment further on this topic, but I’ll leave you all with this:

    For the record:

    I have been cat-called on the street by both men and women.

    I have had my ass slapped by men on the street.

    I have had my ass slapped by women at bars.

    I have been approached by a man at three in the morning asking to suck me off or watch me piss in exchange for prescription drugs.

    I have had men and women yell sexual insults and innuendos at me from their cars.

    I’ve been told by both men and women without prompt and with little acquaintance and in public that they think I have a big or small penis.

    I’ve been approached by a woman I did not know at a party and told she would give me the best blow of my life on the spot.

    I’ve been asked to have sex by both women and men in the bathroom of a bar.

    I have had my genitals grabbed by random women, both sexually and aggressively.

    I have had a random woman on the street yell at me that we needed to fuck in the road before jumping onto me, climbing onto my shoulders, and humping my face with her crotch.

    I have been hit, choked, scratched, punched and otherwise been abused by a woman.

    I have had a woman I barely knew offer to help me home after I had gotten fairly drunk at a party, only for her to carry me into a bar, order me another drink, making me black-out drunk, and then take me back to her apartment and have sex with me without my knowing.

    I have had countless women show me their breasts without me asking them to or even talking to them.

    I have kissed both men and women who have become mean, indignant and physically forceful when I’ve refused to go further with them.

    I’m a man. And I have been sexually assaulted, harassed, abused, raped, and ‘gazed’ upon by both women and men. I have never done any of the above to another human being, be it a man or woman. That’s because, for me, this is a humanist issue, as I tried to outline above.

    One cannot hold that gender and sexuality are fluid, complex, personal and spectral concepts while at the same time holding antiquated dichotomous views on topics such as this one.

    Thus far, this has been a really quite interesting blog about international political and social issues and gender. I hope it stays that way. There are a kazillion shallowly argued, uninformed and biased man-hating ‘feminist’ blogs already.

  13. Chuckstyle permalink
    August 5, 2009 2:43 am

    This reminds me of something one of my ex-girlfriend who was a middle eastern studies major used to talk about. She got in a big fight w/ one of her profs because the teacher claimed that US feminism was the only type, or at least the only valid type. My girlfriend. got real angry about that- and one of her arguments was that the burka, hajib, etc, were expressions of women’s rights, not male oppression. The crux of her argument centered around being free from being judged as a whole person by men based on their physical appearance. As a veteran, I’ve seen some of the massive abuses of women that these societies perpetrate, but I can also see where she is coming from. FWIW


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