About her digital painting, “He’s Looking at Me,” Simone Dunye, a high school student in Oakland, California says:
“Sex and gender equality is something I think is primarily hampered by masculinity and the way men who have power view women in society. The male gaze is a large part of that, and this piece is a critique. Sexuality and gender are very much tied together when this aspect of sexism is investigated.
The style I chose (vaporwave) is also very closely related to this as it stemmed from a few Internet communities, notably 4chan which is overwhelmingly male and actively reinforces sexist views of gender and female sexuality.”
Her position rests on a longstanding feminist critique of mainstream visual culture. Images of women are usually built on values from a heterosexual man’s point of view, and they positions women as sexual objects.
In these depictions, the woman gets presented as passive, available for the active “male gaze,” a concept feminist film critic Laura Mulvey describes in her influential essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975).
Mulvey argues that for a person—any person regardless gender of sexual preference–to enjoy a film, she must learn to identify with the male hero who gets to define the terms of viewing pleasure. In his groundbreaking art history book, Ways of Seeing (1973), John Berger writes “men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.”
This objectification of women is fully integrated into U.S. culture, and it perpetuates unequal status and opportunities for women in all forms of media. And since the media is a powerful tool that shapes our culture—it influences politics, public policy, and powerfully influences our social values—change is vital.
The Women’s Media Center is making women visible and powerful in media. It helps insure that women are present in newsrooms, on air, in print, online, in film, entertainment, and theater as sources and subjects.
Watch: Miss Representation (dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, 2011)
The United States is not only 51% female, it is also racially and ethnically diverse. Yet its film, television, newspapers, and magazines continue to privilege the “male gaze” as directors, writers, and on-camera personalities are overwhelmingly and predominantly men who perpetuate a single demographic. This problem has garnered the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has asked state and federal agencies to investigate rampant and intentional discrimination against women in Hollywood studios and talent agencies’ hiring and recruitment practices.
Read: Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures (2009)
Get Involved: Women’s Media Center