Friday, August 22, 2008

The male gaze

Broken Mystic, via Racialicious, wrote about the first female muslim Xmen character (hm, i just realized they are called 'men'...). She talks about how Dust may bring female muslim presences into the mainstream public sphere, only to quickly realize that it is in fact an object of 'male gaze' (as she puts it, male gaze refers to "female characters being depicted and presented in ways their heterosexual male writers, artists, and audiences would like to see them"). Or rather, a western heterosexual male gaze, where an image of the 'woman-in-burka' is becoming a label for muslim women.

I'm struggling with putting my thoughts together on yet another type of characters, the avatars of Second Life. If you've never heard of it, it's just an online virtual world where you interact with other people through an avatar you build and customize.

There's something very sexual about this world. Everyone is so fit, so sexy and so scantly dressed. Or at least that's how it appears to me. So, I'm torn between wondering how my own system of values and my own fears play into my view of the world. I see the liberating potential: you can feel empowered by building yourself any way you want and by interacting with others without any inhibitions/ constraints you may have in face-to-face communication. But I also see how feeling liberated by fitting into a particular shape of a woman is in fact reintroducing a very patriarchal vision, where women are first and foremost sex objects. Where women come to measure themselves up to this avatar ideal of big boobs, small waists and long legs, of weaving hair and perfect symmetry ...


Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for posting my article on your blog!

Believe it or not, I'm a guy :P

thinkingdifference said...

oh, well, this only shows how my stereotypes shape my expectations... it is an interesting discussion of the male gaze regardless of your gender :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, no worries :) It's happened to me before!

I was speaking with some of my guy friends about the male gaze recently, and they admitted that they never really thought about that deeply before. One of them argued and said that men are objectified in comic books too. While that's true, it's nowhere close to how women are treated in comic books.

When men are drawn with large muscles and ideal bodies, it's meant to demonstrate their strength and powers. But drawing big boobs and an impossibly perfect body on women is more about sex than it is about super-powers. The poses are more than just "sexy," they're pornographic.

I just read a recent "Star Wars" comic book and was really disappointed with the way a certain female Jedi character gets depicted. She is drawn in a very submissive way, which is just to reestablish male dominance. We see a pattern of these poses and depictions of women in our society, and I think they really reflect the kind of body images that our society values.

The mistake people make is that they think men and women are treated the same way, which is clearly false.

Lindsay said... are objectified in comic books too.

Ha! I've definitely heard that one before. Your response is a good one, about the difference between images of impossibly muscular superhero men and impossibly bosomy superhero women, but I would add, also, that male characters get to break away from the ideal image more than female ones do. You have your iconic, square-jawed, blue-eyed All-American superheroes like Captain America and Superman, but you also have a whole range of other types, like geeky Spiderman, ugly, short, hairy, cigar-smoking Wolverine, geeky and graying Mr. Fantastic, and even monstrous-looking heroes like The Thing and The Incredible Hulk.

Of those, though, Wolverine is probably my favorite example. I'd love to see a heroine who transgressed against the accepted standards for female beauty to the same extent that he does against mens', and who was as much beloved by audiences and writers as he is.

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