Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Female Gaze

Pretty Lady has commented before, in passing, on her impatience with those pusillanimous, victim-type females who quail, rant and whine about the objectifying and aggressive qualities of the Male Gaze. It is her firm opinion that those who are reduced to impotent fury by a mere rude gesture on the part of another are beyond any reasonable assistance, whatever Draconian Legislation or re-vamping of Societal Mores might take place as a result of their activities.

And seeing as how she has been on an Old Movie binge of late, she is delighted to discover that Anthony Lane agrees with her.

Film theory has dwelled, with justice, on what is called the objectifying male gaze—that is, the power of the camera to ogle and depersonalize, and to encourage the viewer to follow suit—without always remembering that, at Hollywood’s height, there were plenty of people who could take that gaze like a punch and throw it right back. Stanwyck, by her own account, had practiced the response long before she stared into a lens: she recalled meeting the playwright Willard Mack in New York and regarding him “with impudent assurance, just to keep from turning around and running away.” Master your own fear, in other words, and you end up frightening others.
Pretty Lady is no Barbara Stanwyck, to be sure. But she rather doubts she will ever again be seriously intimidated by Latino construction workers, Italian limosine drivers, or knots of callow adolescents who are inclined to express their appreciation of her person by hissing, whistling, or using coarse epithets. For she has never once experienced any negative consequences from the simple act of nodding courteously at her admirer and walking on; occasionally she will even bestow a smile or a wave on the fellow, which is deeply appreciated.

You see, ladies, it is paramount to understand that a vulgar male who behaves this way is not serious in his attentions toward yourself. It is, simply, Not About You, except in the most tangential way. He is attempting to prove his masculinity to his peers, express himself as a True Male in the world at large, and giving tongue to his inarticulable feelings about the female in general.

It is then entirely your choice as to how to receive this chance attention in passing. You may choose to rail against nature, biology, and the vagaries of social class; you may choose to engage on a social, political and emotional level with these immutable forces. You may get All Worked Up, and have your day ruined.

Or you could think, "Yes, that's right, I am the most gorgeous thing you've seen today," and leave it at that. Because in Pretty Lady's experience, it is statistically improbable that the vulgar fellow, thus encouraged, will chase you down and assault you. In fact, he is much more likely to be intimidated.


Chris Rywalt said...

Unless of course he is an evil male painter with no sense of history (or herstory, for that matter), in which case he'll run home and paint you without a head or hands while he jacks off onto his palette.

Or so I've been told.

Anonymous said...

How many times have you been whistled at--or whatever--by just one guy?

Aren't they almost always in groups--as you put it--acting out the True Male in the world at large bit for his buds?

Anonymous said...

I don't mind a polite appreciation of my feminine pulchritude, but if they say something really vulgar, I like to answer back with something like, do you talk to your mother with that mouth?

Anonymous said...

And here I thought this was going to be about the power of the Female Gaze when looking at another woman, to reduce that woman, if she's not up to it, to a quivering heap of insecurity. No man's look has ever done *that* to me, dammit.

Desert Cat said...

I've never been one to whistle and hoot. But I have been known to softly utter "go-od MORning..." a time or two upon catching sight of a thing of exquisite feminine beauty...