The male gaze: how pervasive is it really?

15 Jun

Originally posted to the Community section at MyMedia

Once again, my interests intersect.

Let’s look at this short paragraph, parse it a bit, and see whether those reading can guess what type of book it comes from:

Every person in the room—from the preppy-looking thirty-something-year-old with spiked hair, taking notes in Chinese, and the young blonde with the tight blouse and the too-short skirt, to the jogger in baggy running shorts and damp T-shirt, and the rheumy-eyed octogenarian with herringbone coat stained by decades of chalk dust—knew that they were potentially witnessing a monumental milestone in a three-thousand-year-old legacy.

First off, can we guess the gender of any of the people mentioned? Considering the descriptions, I’m going to say that three are male, and there’s one female.

Easy, right? The female is wearing a tight blouse and a too-short skirt–because of course the only female mentioned must be objectified and judged, and sexualized.

Anyone willing to guess what type of writing requires the use of such a sexist stereotype to make its point?


Well, I know you are all dying to know.

It’s a math book.

From the link:

It’s easy to think, “If you can’t handle one less-than-perfect sentence in a book, you’re too delicate to be here” or “Why are you so worried about this when there are people who have it so much worse than you?” But it really is relentless. One bumbling sentence is small on its own, but it’s part of a sea of messages women and men receive starting when they are infants: women are looked at, men look.

This male gaze stuff is so pervasive, that there’s invariably a backlash when anything is written or created specifically from and for a female perspective.

Don’t know what I mean about male gaze? Just think about these:

Outraged fans: What do you mean, an all-female Ghostbusters movie?
Non-exclusively male gaze: did anyone bat an eye about the all-male Ghostbusters movie?

Outraged fans: What do you mean, a MadMax movie with a female main character?
Non-exclusively male gaze: did anyone complain about the three previous MadMax movies, where only the male title character was the main protagonist?

Outraged fans: What do you mean, the main character in your science fiction novel is not white, male and straight?
Non-exclusively male gaze: did anyone even notice how many (as in, virtually ALL) science fiction up to the past couple of decades had only white, straight male protagonists?

This is one of the biggest obstacles to actual equality: the internalized sexist attitudes we all have; they are so much a part of our cultural identity, that for most of us they remain unexamined and unquestioned, and it makes us acutely uncomfortable to be called out on them.

Our first instinct is to say, “but I am not sexist! I don’t objectify women! I respect women” and so on and so forth, while rushing to defend sexist attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.


2 Responses to “The male gaze: how pervasive is it really?”

  1. Lori 17/06/2016 at 2:48 AM #

    From a math book. Jeebus.

    My daughter fights this fight in every aspect od her life from not being feminine enough that everybody feels they have a right to tell her to ‘fem it up’ and liking video games, anime and math. You know, boy things.

    • azteclady 17/06/2016 at 6:01 AM #

      Here’s to Miz Mollie, for being herself. And to you, for not just loving her, but supporting her.

      She is so lucky to have you as a mother–because as hard as it is to have so many people around you trying to force you to fit the stereotype, it’s a lot worse when your family joins them.

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