gender inequality makes it difficult for men and women to be friends with each other, for men to be friends with men, and for women to be friends with each other. Regarding the latter, I argue that, in a society that values men and masculinity over women and femininity, everyone values men’s opinions more than women’s. Inevitably, then, women are placed into competition with one another for attention from men. Meanwhile, women’s opinions of them have less value and can’t substitute for men’s, so women can’t hold each other up; they must all turn to men for self-esteem.
So we have an obvious truism — that women are often in competition with each other for male attention, and that women are often pitted against each other generally — being pointed out, which is a good first step. Figuring out why that might be so — and why that obvious truism is of feminist concern — is the logical next step which is, unfortunately, never taken. In other words, so what?
As discussed previously in Critique of Sociological Images post ‘The Hunger Games, Hollywood & the Fighting Fuck Toy’, the concept of the male gaze is a feminism 101-concept often used in liberal analyses of media images. According to the feminism 101 FAQ, “the simplest way to describe the male gaze is to return it to its roots of the female model/actress/character being looked at by the male looker.” In the case of commercial advertising images,
more than just being an object of a gaze, the woman in the advertisement becomes what’s being bought and sold: “The message though was always the same: buy the product, get the girl; or buy the product to get to be like the girl so you can get your man” in other words, “‘Buy’ the image, ‘get’ the woman”. In this way, the male gaze enables women to be a commodity that helps the products to get sold (the “sex sells” adage that comes up whenever we talk about modern marketing). Even advertising aimed at women is not exempt: it engages in the mirror effect described above, wherein women are encouraged to view themselves as the photographer views the model, therefore buying the product in order to become more like the model advertising it.
What we never see in liberal or liberal feminist analysis of media images, however, is an explanation as to why that is important, and why the male gaze is or should be relevant to feminists: specifically, how or even whether the male gaze is supportive of male power, and supports men’s individual and collective power at women’s expense. In other words — and this is what’s typically left out of liberal feminist discourses about everything — so what?