Published in the North Central Chronicle on September 28, 2007.
Imagine: John Q. Student is sitting on a bench outside the Science Center with his friend Billy. John spots a voluptuous, scantily-clad young woman walking their way and takes a long look at her behind his sunglasses. He says to Billy: “Dude, check out that chick’s…personality.”
You mean you’ve never heard that before? Well, replace “personality” with a part of the female anatomy and you’ve got what is commonly referred to as the “male gaze.” The male gaze, according to Dr. Jonathan Schroeder, “signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.”
It’s about having “the power” to look a woman up and down, see what we want to see, and then move on. Century upon century of male superiority has made this act commonplace and even encouraged. It’s considered a badge of honor within the Brotherhood of Man. But that doesn’t make it right. In fact, it’s something that needs to be changed.
Perpetual use of the male gaze degrades women to mere objects of a man’s desire – pieces of meat, essentially. When we as males check a girl out, be it mindfully or not, we’re saying to the woman: “You are only worth what I’m looking at right now.” That’s quite a message to be sending to a fellow human being.
The male gaze has in a way become a rite of passage into modern manhood. In order to impress our buddies, we have to talk about how hot a girl is or how nice her breasts are. Ladies, odds are you’ve never heard this talk before, but it’s very real. It can happen as soon as you pass a group of rambunctious guys, or as soon as you leave the room at a party, or even right before your eyes. Think Glenn Gulia in The Wedding Singer: “that’s Grade-A top-choice meat.”
The fact that the male gaze has been accepted as normal male behavior disturbs me greatly. Take a typical beer commercial for example: A man is caught checking out a good-looking woman by his girlfriend, but he just shrugs it off. His girlfriend is then forced to surrender to the notion that it’s “just a guy thing.” He will continue to size women up, and she will continue to feel powerless and undesirable. How painful.
A big reason why men utilize the Gaze is because we know women like being desired. The depth of the desire isn’t important so long as it’s desire. That could be a gross generalization, but I know for a fact that many women eat up the attention. Trust me; that attention is fleeting. Your self-esteem cannot survive on lustful looks you absorb from the guy across the room. Do you really want all the good things about you ignored simply because they’re hidden from view?
You are worth more than the looks you receive. Put your self-worth somewhere else, somewhere worthwhile. Guys are admittedly very easy to bait, but I’m challenging you to give us something more than a mini-skirt to value about you. There’s a part in every one of you that deserves to be shared with the world; I dare you to show us that part. Be a mystery that we men have to solve. Flaunt your gifts, not your G-string.
I issued a challenge the women, so I will issue one to my fellow men as well: It’s time to clean up our act. No matter how we try to justify it, the male gaze is just not cool. Just imagine seeing another guy check out your sister, or your mom. That’s no different from what you just did with that girl sitting next to you in class. The women we’re ogling are sisters and mothers as well, so let’s treat them as such. They deserve nothing less.