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The Feminine Urge to Internalize the Male Gaze

Updated: Nov 28, 2023


Soundtrack for this article: Just a Girl by No Doubt, Rajkumari by Meesha Shaafi, Do It Like a Dude by Jessie J, Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys, Born this Way by Lady Gaga, Flawless by Beyonce, Wings by Little Mix, Love Myself by Hailee Steinfeld






The "male gaze", a term coined by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema', is not something most of us are unfamiliar with. However, for those of us foreign to the term, the male gaze is a concept that presents a perspective on women that sexualizes and diminishes them while empowering males.



If this is your first time coming across this term and you feel some type of repulsion, I welcome you with open arms into the realm of critical awareness and progressive dialogue.


Call it what you want to– objectification, triggering, or predatory– it is something we cannot escape. I have come to the point where I embrace the fact that things are messy, society is wild and humans are a cosmic joke and walking contradictions that are sentient. So while, I understand the lesbian feminism I can not imagine a world where a heterosexual woman does not view herself from the eyes of men.


Now, before I am shamed for holding this view- as sad as it may be, one can not deny the power a man holds in narratives . After all, since the beginning of time a woman has been secondary to men, almost viewed as an accessory to a man's ego.


In her essay, Laura Mulvey delves into the concept of "scopophilia," a term rooted in Freudian psychoanalysis, which pertains to the gratification obtained from looking or gazing at someone. When she applies this concept to the realm of cinema, Mulvey unmistakably scrutinizes the gendered dimension of scopophilia within the cinematic context.



Often times than not, women in media are displayed as fragments of themselves– a body in pieces– with more interest on their physical appeal than them as a person. There is a voyeuristic undercurrent to the way in which women are both portrayed and viewed in the media. Women are an objects of desirability then according to this concept and seemingly this idea is talked about heavily in media. All around us we see the three types of male gaze: how the protagonist sees her, how the camera sees her and how the audience sees her. Then, the usual she in this discussion becomes nothing more than an object. Most media around us validates and substantiates the gender identities and play a crucial role in society confiding to these gender roles. The flawed if not damaging representations of women we're consuming in music, movies and literature manifest themselves in our reality.



Indeed, in sincere contemplation, anthropological inquiries into social media reveal an escalating challenge in maintaining a distinct real-world identity that stands apart from one's virtual persona. Why must, I, as a woman deny the childhood wiring that has been engraved within me and that is–to be a woman, one must appeal to a man's eyes. This is explained by the many ways that women are depicted in movies, television series, books, and in everyday life. It is an endless orthodox cycle I have tried to escape but the efforts have gone to vain. After all, the presence of men is what surrounds us– yes us, all of us women– perhaps not even physically but the male gaze has deeply been rooted within us. To deny this inherently, becomes the denial of a part that most women are circuited to grow up with.


The internalization of the male gaze is how women have ingested all of this information subliminally to the point that they feel as though they must perform for a male audience that doesn't exist while they go about their daily lives. I'd also add that the goal of this encounter is to look good in a man's eyes, in addition to attracting love or attention. I can speak from my experience when I say that having an internal masculine gaze is "natural".


The internalization of the male gaze also puts forth the idea that the effort of a female not catering to the male fantasy, is also a male fantasy. The notion of not caring for the male gaze, when we as women are subverting the male gaze, we are subconsciously still thinking about it. Whether you actively perform femininity by shaving, putting on makeup, fixing your posture or not, it still circles back to what men want. Hell, even the veil has fallen victim to the fetishization by the male gaze.


So how are we expected to escape? Should it even be escaped at all? And if you are nodding your head yes, at the cost of what? How far are we, women, willing to go? I bite my lip in vexation, because why must we feel the need to be stuck in the notion of subversion or submission to the male gaze. The world for a woman is secondary– as the French existentialist, Simone de Beauvoir says–her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.



Source: florencegiven via Instagram



In an attempt to ignore the male gaze and the repulsion it brings, I think of it as a one-sided relationship. It doesn't seem to handle my rejection well and it shows in the manner males around me feel offended when I tell them a woman's words of affirmation or appreciation hold greater value to me. However, I can not deny when I leave the door for an audition or interview, I do try to dress according to the male sight gazing at me– whether that be covering myself or exposing skin.


I often wonder what my life would look like if I had been taught that my body solely belongs to me, and it is just mine, it's purpose and how it looks is not for the pleasure of those around me. I see myself internalize the male gaze when I sit straight, don't spread my legs apart, stand in the corner of an elevator in an attempt to not take up too much space. I am only now learning that the best version of my being is not the one I break down in order to fit into the room afforded to women in a man's world.



As I learn all these things and as I feel helpless, I find comfort in the women around me– who are sadly also oppressed by the expectations that the patriarchal society puts on women. I find comfort in my female friendships as we bond over being raised to constantly police ourselves in the notion to be considered “feminine". I find comfort in the women who use makeup as a form of self expression rather than a means to sexualize themselves. I find comfort in women who wear baggy clothing or act in ways traditionally seen as masculine and women who refuse to play into the trope that women should be infantilized and that men should explain things to them.



I find comfort in the words of Kacey Musgraves as she says, "You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t so you might as well just do whatever you want". I try to remember those as I immerse myself into this contradictory voyage of becoming a woman of my own.










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Male gaze, for male by male. I personally believe this male gaze is so embedded in media that we have seen instances of it in society. Many women after their marriages are asked to wear colours their husbands prefer or cook or clean a certain way. The male gaze has been deeply inculated in the structure of our society such that, we as women have been influnced by it as well. The boundary of this convergence is so blur that reading your article, I realised how frustrating this aspect it and how embedded it as well and why is not no one discouraging it? What do you think can be done at a societal level?

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Neiha A. Siddiqui
Neiha A. Siddiqui
Dec 01, 2023
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As I was writing and researching for this I realized that this pervasive and deeply rooted effect is utterly disturbing. I believe in order to address it, individuals must have conversations. Debates, even. We do it in class, evey single day where we sit facing one another and share our views on topics. We must take the initatives, as previliged and educated women, to attempt conversations regarding this matter.Society is made up of individuals and starting from our personal sepheres, we must discourage people from following suit into this 'Your husband is your God in this world' notion and encourage individual autonomy. However for any such conversation, we are to challenge stereotypes yet welcome a variety of viewpoints in the media. It goes without saying, in…

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Honestly, when you first told me about the article, I strongly disagreed with you on the notion of women shaping themselves on the basis of the male gaze. After reading this article though, I fully get you. It's genuinely a frustrating spot to be in. How do you navigate through this constant internal dilemma and what's genuinely harder is what you mentioned regarding independent thought and how even that might be stemming from the internalization of it all. I had more questions then answers after reading this blog but I genuinely do think that signifies a great written piece and out of those, the predominant one is, where do we go from here?

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Neiha A. Siddiqui
Neiha A. Siddiqui
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

I'm so glad you gave my article a chance!

I think the question of where do we go from here, is one that we have sort of addressed in a lot of our classes. For my family, personally, I am the first of many women to realize the fault in the media. Pretty late but at least it's a start. I believe we need to support critical thinking, varied representations, and media literacy. It is crucial to educate people about a woman's autonomy and gender equality. In fact, most educated boys in our very university do not know what feminism truly stands for. It baffles me what a bubble privilege is. Furthermore, establishing safe venues for candid conversations about society.

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uff the part about mot spreading your legs too far apart or acting a certain way are such blatant way we police oursleves as women to be a ceratin ''personality" for men, and whatever one does its just never enough. I actually stopped and imagined for a second how it would feel if we as women had bodies only for oursleves and i cant even fully come to terms with it tbh.

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Neiha A. Siddiqui
Neiha A. Siddiqui
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

Right?! Even I can't begin to imagine a life where i was taught that my body is mine and is solely for me. How much I weigh, what my height is, how much space I take up etc. how different would all of it seem. The way we have internalized our very being as the 'second' is just beyond me and even while I try to picture and take action to breaking these norms, unfortunately I do not see it going too far before it takes a MASSIVE toll on my mental health. it is such a tiring cycle.

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Ugh, I so understand the hair-pulling frustration of the "damned if you don't, damned if you do" nature of it all! And what Mariam said, too, about the ways in which lesbians are represented is also through a male gaze reminds me of one comment professor made in class about the "heteronormative matrix" where, it doesn't matter how you try to subvert or distance your form of representation, it invariably comes back to the very same thing: be it male gaze or heteronormativity etc. But I also wanted to add something, stemming from your mention of Beauvoir. I remember that much of her theory emphasizes how Woman as a category will always be "Other" because its used as a way…

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Neiha A. Siddiqui
Neiha A. Siddiqui
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

I like to think that in my children's time, there is a chance to upset the cyclical connection described in Beauvoir's theories by altering the masculine gaze to take into account other viewpoints and defy stereotypes. While I acknowledge that the male gaze may endure, I like that your viewpoint made me think that some women can be in line with the efforts to create a more dynamic and inclusive social structure by promoting changes that would shift the paradigm in favor of a more equal portrayal of gender dynamics.

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Mariam
Mariam
Nov 25, 2023

I really love the way you navigate between subverting and internalizing the male gaze because I, along with countless women I know have experienced instances of the male gaze way too much in our lives. I do, however, want to add that this struggle isn't limited to heterosexual women, as mentioned in the beginning of your blog post. Heteronormativity, especially with regards to the male gaze infiltrates all walks of life, and lesbianism unfortunately, doesn't exist in a vacuum. Lesbian representation in the media is centered around the male gaze as can be seen from infamously male dominated media production houses. Time and time again, lesbians have established that they haven't been accurately portrayed in the media either because thei…


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Neiha A. Siddiqui
Neiha A. Siddiqui
Dec 01, 2023
Replying to

I thank you for expressing your thoughts and drawing attention to the wider effects of the masculine gaze, particularly on the LGBTQ+ community. I wholeheartedly agree that breaking down preconceptions and the patriarchy calls for a team effort that acknowledges the oppression of women in all guises. Certain groups of women are especially impacted by the male gaze, and male-centric viewpoints frequently distort how lesbians are seen. In order to promote inclusion, it is imperative that various perspectives be amplified, stereotypes be contested, and genuine depictions be promoted in media. It's true, thought, that the resilience of female friendships acts as a potent counterbalance to these difficulties. More power to us! <3

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