I have written before about my frustration with The Myth of the Female Gaze. And it seems to be rearing its ugly head again. According to the organisers of this forthcoming exhibition – Man As OBject, the female gaze is alive and well and – shock! – turning the tables on men and looking at them. They say:
‘I’ts man as object – reversing the gaze. So the male gaze is about active men looking at objectified women. We’re reversing that gaze, it’s women artists portraying men in exactly the same way as has been done throughout history.’
We all know of course that Mark Simpson has been demonstrating for years, how men have become ubiquitously objectified in our culture, for the pleasure of men, women and everyone in between. So, I am wary of the premise of this exhibition for a number of reasons.
1) It reinforces the idea that it is women, not men, who are mainly ‘objectified’ in culture. I note how the blurb on the exhibition states that the ‘male gaze’ is about ‘active’ men looking at ‘objectified’ women. It does not use the word ‘passive’ because to draw attention to the dynamic between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ aspects of gender/looking/sex, we might end up, as Freud did, and as Simpson has done, considering how men too can be ‘passive’. What about homos? What about gay porn? What about metrosexuality? etc etc.
2) It reinforces the gender binary, the idea that the complex act of looking and taking pleasure in looking can be reduced to two poles – man/woman, male gaze/female gaze. As I said to the lovely Matt Lodder, art historian and self-objecitifier extraordinaire who sent me the link, ‘the gaze is not a truck that goes into reverse, it is panoptic’. So the exhibition does not consider groups looking at groups, or men looking at themselves or each other. I doubt it would include images such as this 1966 Japanese photo, of men voyeurs ‘gazing’ at couples making out in a Tokyo park for example, because it is too ‘complicated’:
3) It ignores bisexuality and how bisexuality proves the ‘panoptic’ nature of looking. As I said in a previous post about the myths of the male v female gaze:
‘Simpson’s writing also brings into focus how we forget, when talking about looking, and desire, the existence of ‘bisexuality’. If some people are attracted to both men and women, surely ‘all’ porn is for them? And if some people are able to watch all kinds of porn, surely … er… anyone can?’
I have had this argument too many times now. I have had it with the editors of a magazine including ‘porn for women’, I have had it with the kinkster and feminist Kitty Stryker. I am a bit bored of it to be honest.
I am sure there will be some nice pictures in the exhibition but my response to ‘Man As Object’ is a shrug, and a slightly dismissive ‘ORLY’?
Thanks to @mattlodder for the tip.