back to resources for studying the 'male gaze'
Notes on Gender
That which man seeks to control is often gendered female. Lectures so far have touched on at least two ways in which control over the female is at issue. Lets call one sociological and the other technological. Recall Adams’s statement that "An American Virgin would never dare command; an American Venus would never dare exist." This statement calls attention to social facts and places those facts in an historical context. One way to read Adams’s statement is to say that the social norms of turn of the century America silenced women who did not conform.
The ‘male gaze" as described by John Berger provides another instance of sociological control of women. Women according to Berger must internalize a set of male expectations for appearance if they wish to have control over how men will treat them; the male gaze censors activities and appearance. Since Adams’s time, media has played an increasingly powerful role in setting expectations for appearance. Media control represents a fusion of the technological and social forms of control.
The appearance of women in media is increasingly a result of technological applications of power. Adams may have sensed some of this when he compared the Virgin to the dynamo. In Metropolis, Fritz Lang presents two images of Marie, his heroine, one is saintly and capable of inspiring men for the good of all; one is a robot capable of inciting men to their destruction. One represents the fears of the managers; she is not controlled; one represents the desires of the managers. She is controlled. There are many ways that men have exerted technological control over women. One is through medicine. If you were to turn to Chapter 7 of Elaine Showalter’s Sexual Anarchy, I believe that you, men and women of this generation, who are familiar with body piercing (at least via the media), will be deeply shocked by the descriptions of how a woman’s body has been alter by medical practices so as to better please the desires of men. Apart from surgery on the genitals, another illustration of technological control of the woman's body is represented by the use of forceps to replace the hands of midwives in the birthing process. A machine replaces a woman’s hands; the hospital bed with the intravenous hook-up replaces the breast.
Of course there are many human machine interfaces in our world. Men and women are each to some degree a cyborg. The fundamental question surely remains one of control or power. The argument here is that through ideology that is gender-biased and through increasing technology, masculine control has increased in the century that we are now leaving. It is appropriate that in an age called ‘the information age,’ that control has been exerted through the information conveyed by the technology of the media, call it a ‘soft’ interface, as opposed to a metal one as represented by the forceps. In the process of colonization of private life, described by T.J. Clark (43), expectations for how men and women will spend their private time have been gendered in ways that undermine our ability to live fully in the present. Wherever one turns in our world that which possesses control is gendered male, that which is passive is gendered female. Knowledge has often been the object of man’s desire. And the subject that represents knowledge has often been gendered female. The accompanying page excerpted from Showalter’s Sexual Anarchy seeks to offer a feminist explanation of masculine insecurities that terms justify his compulsion to exert control. Her text is an interesting use of Freud for feminist as opposed to masculinist purposes (by the way the spell checker does not recognize ‘masculinist’ as a word).
To conclude here with another reference to Adams: Why did man build the cathedrals of France? Was it not to ask for intercession from the Virgin Mary? Was it not to direct her attention towards that over which man sought control?