Response to Chapter 3 Practices of Looking

The power of the gaze is a terrifying and intensely interesting subject. I enjoyed the discussion of cinema, which seems such an obvious manifestation of the gaze that I can’t believe I hadn’t already given it more serious thought. I was glad Sturken and Cartwright included Foucault’s model of the Panopticon in this chapter, because I felt that it really made clear how powerful the gaze is – so powerful, in fact, that the mere suggestion that it might exist can determine the course of a person’s actions.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was empowered by being a subject of the gaze

I was, however, very frustrated with the seeming inequality of the discussion surrounding the power endowed by the gaze in terms of gender. It seemed to me that the authors felt that anytime a woman is gazed upon, she is objectified and somehow lessened. Yet in the example showing a male being gazed upon (page 88), they suddenly observe the subject as maintaining power by refusing to acknowledge the presence of the gazers (who are women). While I can’t begin to fathom the complexities of the psychoanalytic theories surrounding studies of the gaze, I did feel that Sturken and Cartwright’s interpretation was lacking in the manner. I can think of myriad examples in which women are gazed upon and, in being so observed, wield great power. Likewise, I can think of examples, though not so many, of when men are gazed upon and thus made inferior. Both male and female gazers can also be on either end of the power spectrum.

I am reminded of a study I once did on feminism and pornography. There are two basic camps (in reality, there are far more). One side argues that women are being turned into commodities against their will in a fashion very akin to slavery. The other side says women have learned to use their sexuality as a commodity that they can then use to make slaves of consumers. In other words, these two camps see the power of the gaze in very different ways. One believes that the gazer holds more power, while the other believes that the subject of the gaze is the more powerful of the two.

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