Before I begin, here is a disclaimer, all thoughts portrayed here are my own, and those that have been heavily influenced by my Netflix binge, specifically of Schitts Creek and Emily in Paris.
It started with the scene in Emily in Paris, where they are shooting for a perfume company, and they have a naked woman walk across a picturesque bridge in Paris, while suited men stood rivetted by her presence and perfume. The tag line read – dream of beauty. And the question raised was – is it sexy or sexist? The simplistic point that the show raised was – the model should have been clothed. But, would that have changed the male gaze?
The Male gaze is defined as the representation of women, through the eyes of a man, and these women are represented as passive objects of male desire. The term ‘male gaze’ was coined by Laura Mulvey in her 1975 essay on cinematography titled ‘Visual pleasure and Narrative cinema.’
Now, let’s shift our collective gazes to the show ‘Schitts creek’. While explaining why I liked the show and particularly the standout couple in the show David and Patrick so much, I explained to a friend, “Sometimes a person is wonderful, but the way they look at their partner, makes the other person look good as well. David is petty and petulant, and a bit of a drama queen, and Patrick is the wonderfully understanding partner. But, the minute Patrick showed up on the show, and the way he looked at David, made us start to look at David through Patrick’s eyes, and suddenly his precious mannerisms became adorable. And as Patrick gazed indulgently at David, we found ourselves indulging his quirks as well. From his choice of wearing funky cashmere sweaters in the middle of summer, to having a brick oven pizza at their wedding, everything is suddenly seen through the ‘gaze of the admirer’.
And this brings us back to the male gaze, is it still the male gaze, many would question, because it is not a traditional heterosexual male gaze, but I would argue, it is still the male gaze. The relationship polarity of one masculine and one feminine is still maintained across the shows, and we are still viewing the world through the masculine lens- whether in heterosexual or homosexual relationships.
The male gaze has less to do with what the masculine feels about the feminine, than what the feminine makes the masculine feel. So, you feel desire and that makes her the object of your desires, but what does she make you feel ? She makes you feel vulnerable, continuously amazed, she leaves you unsure of yourself, and slightly breathless, and maybe in a state of surrender. What does that make you an object of?
And that’s what we want to see in the male gaze on television, an object of affection: indulgent, amazed, vulnerable, and in a continuous state of falling … the desire to protect before possession. Is that too much to ask? Probably, but thankfully we saw that in dollops on the Emmy winning series, not just between Patrick and David, but also in the much older couple Johny and Moira.
The male gaze- the beauty in the eyes of the beholder, which says – “Yes, you are beautiful; but the beauty that the beholder bestows on you makes you glow even more.”
But, does the male gaze of today make women feel more desirable? Unfortunately not. It makes us cower self-consciously, fearing for our security, it makes us feel cheap and objectified, and not celebrated or appreciated – as the intent should be.
A few days back, my friend and I were enjoying a lovely moonlit sit out on the beach. It is a beach close to home, and it was just 8 pm, and yet, I find myself having to explain myself. Anyhow, we decided to do some deep breathing meditation, but soon we heard a group of guys laughing.
It was dark enough for us to just make out their silhouette in the distance. And to be fair, they could have been a group of college boys pulling each other’s leg, or a group of men after work catching up, and just having a good-natured laugh over something. But, we didn’t feel safe. The sense of leisurely calm, that a beachside meditation under the moon light was suddenly filled with what-ifs.
And I am sure a lot of you are rolling your eyes hash-tagging ‘not all men’, but were we willing to wait to find out what kind of men they were? And if things went south, shouldn’t two middle aged women alone at night on a deserted beach stretch have known better ?
You should have known better! What does it say about men in general – when you should have known better translates into, to knowing the worst about men?
And as we got up and got into our car and drove away, I was filled with a deep sense of sadness for those boys, and for men in general.
A group of men, anywhere in the world, should encourage a feeling of protection. Having those guys sitting on the beach near us, should have made us feel safe and supported. That if one of us had a sprained leg, we would have help, that if the tyre got stuck in the wet mud, we would have strong pair of arms, to hoist the car out. A group of men should symbolise strength and not symbolise predators.
And the fact that because of how men have projected themselves, the world over, we now have so little faith in men in general, made me feel sorry for those boys on the beach. Yes, men and the male gaze judge and objectify women for the length of their skirts, for the time of day they are out of home. That we judged them, for laughing, for having a good time, because four men having a good time, can never mean a good thing, and that’s the female gaze.
One has become the object of desire, and the other the object of distrust.
Let’s change the narrative around what the male gaze represents?