Laura Mulvey in the essay of the name- “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, establishes the concept of the male gaze, where, in the visual media, the majority of representation of women is of objects of desire portrayed through a heterosexual male perspective lens. The topic of the male gaze is often present in the realm of media studies, feminism, and cultural criticism
The manifestation of the male gaze appears in the reinforcement of gender stereotypes and objectification that have had and continue to have a lasting impact on the perspectives of society on women.
How the Male Gaze Shapes Societal Attitudes and Behaviors
The subsequent consequences of the male gaze have quite an impact on society, usually in the form of societal attitudes and behaviors. It contributes to unrealistic beauty standards, body image issues, and the reinforcement of traditional gender roles. Women directly or indirectly become pressured to conform to the fantastical caricatures of themselves, which ultimately leads to the development of several issues that have lasting consequences, both on the collective psychology of the society as well as the mental well-being of the individuals being exposed to the specific representations.
Additionally, by promoting the notion that men inherit the power gaps between men and women, highlighting the male gaze, and upholding sexism in a variety of contexts with an infinite range, the active approach is normalised. As women are portrayed as inheriting the passive position, this leads to the genesis of numerous aspects of gender inequality. This leads to the origin of several elements of gender discrimination and the perpetuation of sexism in various aspects with an innumerable range.
In the realm of psychology, intertwined with the influence of societal norms on established perceptions of gender and sexuality, the male gaze exerts a significant impact. It is not merely a phenomenon confined to the realms of media and culture.
The origins of male gaze in psychology can be traced from the following branches of psychology
- Evolutionary Psychology: It is suggested that the human tendency to focus on the visual aesthetics of potential mates is a primal instinct. Thus, there is a preferential attraction towards certain visuals over others.
- Social Psychology: The factor of socialization plays a part in societal norms regarding gender and sexuality. Thus, contributing to the solidification of the male gaze.
Some cognitive processes, where it mainly focuses on, are also linked to the male gaze:
- Visual Attention: Men exhibit certain patterns where there exists a focus on certain physical features resulting in enhanced visual attention in specific visual scenarios.
By understanding the psychology behind the male gaze it helps to enable the essential conversations that need to take place while also addressing its impact on individuals and society. The inclusion of the psychological aspects behind the male gaze develops a respectful approach in the discussions and interactions between individuals of all genders. This includes challenging societal norms, promoting media literacy and encouraging empowering representations.
The male gaze has the qualities of a pervasive cultural phenomenon with implications on mental health.
The constant objectification and sexualization of women in the long term significantly affect their self-esteem. Constant exposure to representations with no reflections of reality leads to the development of feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
- Self-Comparison: The idealization of the female identity, both physical and personality creates a vicious cycle of self-comparison which further leads to the downward spiral of self-esteem by not fitting into the unrealistic beauty standards.
- External Validation: Focusing on the perception of others to create worth from the inside leads to a never-ending loop of external validation. It is unhealthy as esteem building is an inward process, not an external one.
- Negative Self-Perception: The heavy forces of societal expectations weigh heavily upon women which ultimately lead to feelings of powerlessness and diminished self-respect.
Body Image Issues
Placing relentless focus on the physicality of an individual obviously contributes to body image issues. It creates unrealistic beauty ideals leading to negative mental health issues.
- Body Dissatisfaction: The constant exposure to highly curated images inevitably leads to body dissatisfaction. The preoccupation with achieving unattainable physical standards results in a negative perception of one’s body image.
- Eating Disorders: The pressure to conform to beauty standards increases the chances of developing eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
- Anxiety and Depression: Persistent negative body image and self-esteem issues can contribute to anxiety and depression. The cycle of negative thoughts and emotions serves as a catalyst in eroding mental well-being.
Empowerment and Mental Health
Recognizing and challenging the male gaze is essential for promoting mental health and well-being.
- Media Literacy: Promoting media literacy helps individuals critically analyze and deconstruct the male gaze in media and advertising. The male gaze’s impact on mental health is a complex and multifaceted issue. Recognizing its influence and its role in impacting self-esteem is the first step toward addressing the entirety of the problem.
In conclusion, the concept of the male gaze has a prevalent position as a topic of discussion in modern society. While progress has been made in challenging the norms, it is still a work in progress. The promotion of more inclusive representations of gender and sexuality are the fundamental laying of this process.