The male gaze has objectified and sexualized women throughout history. The media consistently sets expectations about how women are meant to look and act, which ingrains these ideas into society. The male gaze places female empowerment secondary to men’s desires, making it even more important for women to find their own ways to empower themselves. However, with the male gaze so prevalent in society, it can be difficult to tell what’s empowering and what’s harmful.
Determining exactly what the male gaze is key to eliminating it. Often easiest to find in films and visual art, the camera focuses on actresses’ bodies, sexualizing their appearances to appeal to male scopophilia. Revolving around a misogynistic lens, the male gaze often portrays women as one-dimensional objects of desire.
It’s understandable that some believe that women who wear revealing clothing are feeding into the problem. They argue that wearing revealing clothing perpetuates the oversexualization of women, and on some level, this idea isn’t entirely wrong. The male gaze has a powerful influence on how women view themselves, meaning that some girls may accidentally objectify themselves in an attempt to match the appearance society wants them to have. Advertisements for women’s clothing often push the idea that women must wear revealing clothing. This is problematic as such advertisements are heavily controlled by the male gaze, and it once again asserts that all women must act a certain way with no exceptions.
Consequently, the actual problem is not so much what clothes someone wears, but why they wear it. Empowerment means different things to different people. For some, confidence might come from wearing revealing clothes. For others, modest clothing may be more comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with either, as long as it’s for themselves and not anyone else. Arguing that all women should wear modest clothing isn’t productive towards fighting the effects of the male gaze, as it still enforces that all women must look and act the same way. Self-expression is valuable because it allows us to showcases our true selves.
Another similar argument is that it’s harmful for women to be openly sexual, comparing it to the way the male gaze oversexualizes women. The issue with this argument is that society has long dictated that women are supposed to be sexual objects, while allowing men to be sexual individuals. This means that women being open about their sexual desires can actually be a form of empowerment against the objectification of women.
Men who are open about sleeping with lots of women often receive positive reactions and praise. On the other hand, women who are open about sleeping with lots of people are shunned. This maltreatment of women makes it important to encourage women who are comfortable about being openly sexual instead of condemning them. That isn’t to say that all women need to publicly discuss their sexual desires; similar to the matter of clothing, the most crucial and important thing is that it’s an individual decision.
The male gaze influences a lot of women’s self-image, but it shouldn’t control us. Every woman has had different experiences, and how she empowers herself is something that only she can decide. Believing that all women should feel empowered by the same things confines us to think along the same lines as the male gaze. The truth is that women are humans, and humans are complex creatures. It is very doubtful that there will ever be one way of empowerment that suits everyone, and this should be viewed as a positive thing. The layers surrounding women empowerment shouldn’t be worrying. Instead, it should be seen as a display of our beautiful intricacies.