Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The female gaze?

Following hot on the heels of Tom's recent post about inappropriate images in advertising, comes this interesting gem. Oddly enough, this was sent to me by my mother,* text and all:

Edge Designs is an all-women run company that designs interior office space. They had a recent opportunity to do an office project in NYC.

The client allowed the women of this company a free hand in all design aspects. The client was also a company run by all women execs.

The result: Well... We all know that men never talk, never look at each other -- and never laugh much in the restroom.

The men's room is a serious and quiet place. But now -- with the addition of one mural on the wall -- let's just say the men's restroom is a place of laughter and smiles.

Now, there's a couple of things that need to be said here. The first, and perhaps most interesting to me, is that the story is partly false. This mural does exist, and it is in a men's room, but it is not in a restroom in New York run by all-female management. Instead, it is in a men's room in the Sofitel Hotel in New Zealand. So far as I can tell, the Sofitel Hotel is not run exclusively by women. Seriously. Additionally, the mural was not designed by an all-female company called "Edge Designs" but, instead, is the work of the Perron Group, which is also not all-female. Does this make the idea any less amusing? No, it's still funny as all hell, but we should give credit where credit is due.

More interesting, however, is that in its metamorphosis into an e-mail forward details were changed in the way that they were. An all-female interior design company working with an all-female group of managers to put a sexually suggestive mural in a men's room? Why does this seem more interesting that the truth? Imagine the reverse: perhaps art on the mirror of a ladies room depicting male construction workers staring at, and measuring, the breasts of bathroom patrons? And if we were told that it was installed by an all-male design firm at the behest of an all-male group of managers, would we be equally amused? Probably not. Probably we'd call it sexual harassment. So, when the story is changed in this way, why is it somehow more compelling? Why don't we regard it as harassment as well?

I won't pretend to know completely, but I think it has to do with something known as the "male gaze." Summarized quickly, and poorly, the male gaze is a term referring to a tendency for mass media to depict women in a way that implies that the viewer of the media is a man. Tom found a doozie of an example but even many products directed at women seem to reflect this tendency towards the male gaze. Take, for example, the last Victoria's Secret catalogue you ran across:** is it just me, or are the models posing in a way that is more than just a little... um... sexual? I mean, no lie, some of them look like they just stepped off of the pole and into the photo shoot. So, in short, advertising for men features women looking very sexual and advertising for women features... women looking very sexual. Whether you accept the idea of the male gaze or not*** this does seem to create a weird sort of imbalance.

And I think this is precisely why this story about a men's room seems more compelling told in the way it was: it turns this overwhelming "male gaze" on its head and exposes men to a female gaze. That it is funny suggests, to me at least, that perhaps many of us do recognize the pervasiveness of the male gaze on some level, even if we are loathe to admit it.

Or that men are just narcissistic enough that we want to believe many attractive women are interested in checking out our equipment. Take your prick pick.

* In perfect honesty, this is probably a warning of things to come. My maternal grandmother habitually sent my sister copies of the Marmaduke cartoons that appeared in the paper- not knowing or not caring that my sister didn't find them amusing. Given my mother's increasing penchant for e-mail forwards, I think it only a matter of time before I am buried under a mountain of animated cat .gifs.

** This springs to my mind because I think my Sainted Fiancee receives one of these every week or so. I've taken to exclaiming, "Hey honey! Your latest issue of 'Victoria's Secret' is here!"

*** I don't completely buy into all of it myself, but I think there's some merit to the idea.

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Blogger yli said...

i'd call it "the second-order heterosexual male gaze" because women aren't really gazing here -- it's heterosexual men who are making women stare at them. in fact, if you think about it, the creation of such a female gaze is not for men to alter their behavior or presentation of the self to accommodate female expectations, but rather to enjoy the attention. it's more sad then funny i'd say.

sorry to have missed meeting you at the ASA blogger gathering -- perhaps in boston...

Thursday, August 23, 2007 1:44:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Can you elaborate a bit on what you mean? I've read your comment several times and I can't quite figure out what your objection is.

I wouldn't be too disappointed about not meeting me, though. I'm not really that interesting in person. Or online, for that matter.

Thursday, August 23, 2007 4:06:00 PM  
Blogger yli said...

drek, i wasn't objecting anything. i was mainly agreeing with what you said in the last paragraph and trying to point out that "the female gaze" isn't just the flip side of the male gaze, but an extension of it. "the female gaze" makes it sound like there's female agency, but as you observed, it's (most likely) heterosexual men who came up with this urinal mural idea, so there's really no more female agency here than in the male gaze. i call it "2nd order" male gaze because it's how women should look at men from a heterosexual male perspective. the fact that the picture/idea is funny/interesting (i certainly chuckled) and not considered outright offensive is sad to me because it just shows how subtle and elusive, therefore persistent, sexism can be.

> I wouldn't be too disappointed about not meeting me, though. I'm not really that interesting in person. Or online, for that matter. <

well then, i regret not being able to claim (truthfully) that I met the mysterious drek in person. i was there in the bar though -- perhaps you should thank me for adding to your mysteriousness: "i sat at the same table as drek for an hour and still have no clue what drek looks like!"

Thursday, August 23, 2007 6:33:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Ah-HA! I understand now, thank you. It's an interesting question whether or not this is how men think women should look at them (I suspect many men would find the tape measure, and some of the expressions, rather intimidating) but you have an interesting point.

And you're right- you've helped add to my "mystery." Honestly, though, the mystery I find most compelling is how many sociologists actually pay attention to the crap I write. Every now and then I get really surprised.

Friday, August 24, 2007 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger yli said...

> It's an interesting question whether or not this is how men think women should look at them

"should" was probably too strong a word. how about this is what men "fancy" how women look at them? and by men i mean the heterosexual male collective that has a strong share in influencing culture.

> (I suspect many men would find the tape measure, and some of the expressions, rather intimidating)

i'm probably beating the feminist horse to death now, but men can be victims of the male gaze as well.

i think as long as there's a writer, there's probably more than one reader. (i'm done commenting on this blog by the way...)

Friday, August 24, 2007 8:27:00 PM  
Blogger SARA said...

Your pictures are so well suited to your writing! YOU are soo creative!

I would have to say that if pictures of men lined the walls in a womans washroom ( on the door of the cubicle- gawking in some perverted or sexual way at women as they sat, my guess would be outrage...especially if they thought it was coming from an all male advertising agency.

Sunday, August 26, 2007 9:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop giving a fcuk and the issue goes away.

Issues are only issues if we carp on about them wether it be race,religion,orientation etc.

I like admiring (gazing) womens breast and am delighted when a women takes a moments to gaze at my nether regions.

The real difference between men and women is that men are crap at hiding the fact that they 'gaze'whereas women are fantastic at the sneaky sly glance

Thursday, November 29, 2007 12:39:00 PM  

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