Male Gaze #1: its impact on young women’s relationships

June 23, 2022

Collage by Phoebe with images from Pexels

Phoebe Case examines the pressure felt by young women to satisfy men

The internalised male gaze is the idea that women objectify themselves for straight men in order to win validation and affection. Coined a ‘woman’s greatest performance’ the internalised male gaze has poisoned the minds of women everywhere.

It’s something that most women don’t even know exists. It’s the spectator that you have been catering for whose opinion you regard higher than your own.

The internalised male gaze has festered with our greater intake of media. We grow up seeing female characters through a rigid male lens. This resonates with us and shapes the way we think about ourselves. The male gaze can plague every part of daily life. For me, it affects what I wear, the personality I present, and all the subconscious decisions I make to please my male audience.

This doesn’t make you a ‘bad feminist’. From a young age we are taught that a man’s ‘gaze’ is far more important than our own. The internalised male gaze is a learned trait that, as women, we can unlearn.

The first way to shed it is to recognise what you’re doing and why you’re doing it; are you reading on the bus to appear cool and mysterious or because you enjoy it?

Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies?

Are you wearing that top even though you feel uncomfortable because you get male validation? It may seem arbitrary and unimportant, but this objectification is at the core of the patriarchal structures imposed on women.

Why do you think that the global diet industry was worth $254.9 billion in 2021 even though a reported 95% of diets fail? As award-winning Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood stated, “Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies?”

On a lighter note, things are changing. Victoria’s Secret, best known for its over sexualised lingerie tailored towards predominantly white, slim feminine ideals, has taken a new initiative; lingerie for women made by women.

This is hardly a radical idea, but it is important to see huge influential companies make changes. After decades of Victoria’s Secret shows (models showing off their made-for-men lingerie) and catalogues that were criticised for being ‘soft-porn’, the company unveiled the Victoria’s Secret Collective run by a female-dominated board of directors. It includes a group of seven female ambassadors, featuring actress Priyanka Chopra, athlete Megan Rapinoe, and plus-size model Paloma Elsesser, who embody the brand’s ‘What Women Want’ image.

Although this is positive, a point must be made that as long as capitalism exists so will the patriarchy. Capitalism creates the conditions for patriarchy to thrive profiting from women’s insecurities, consumable feminism and dictating new beauty standards.

Doctored images create the idea that there is something wrong with our natural appearance

The impact of the Male Gaze in social media
Most people I know joined social media when they were around 11. With the rapid growth of technology people signing up are only getting younger. Social media is harmful for everyone with its idealistic and caricatured nature of posting pictures of yourself at your best, creating the idea that everyone is always at their best.

This is especially harmful for impressionable girls and young women who are constantly exposed to Photoshopped faces of their favourite celebrities, mixed with the toxicity of female beauty standards. Bombarded by these images they start to believe that it is normal for people to look ‘perfect’, despite Photoshop and Facetune and thousands of pounds worth of plastic surgery. These doctored images create the idea that there is something wrong with our natural appearance as we don’t look like the celebrities or influencers we look up to.

Young women frequently face sexual objectification in their daily interactions and through the consumption of multimedia. When influencers post hyper-sexualised photos, impressionable young women feel the need to mimic their idols by sexualising themselves to appear older and more attractive.

Unsurprisingly, treating people and their bodies like objects has negative consequences on mental health. Undermining a young person’s confidence and comfort with their own body can lead to emotional and self-image issues, such as shame and anxiety. When people feel critical of their physical appearance there is an increased risk of disordered eating and depression.

“The consequences of the sexualization of girls in media today are very real and are likely to be a negative influence on girls’ healthy development,” says Eileen L. Zurbriggen, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

If you are affected by any of the issues explored you can get support from: SafeLives, which is operating the, Your Best Friend Fund – The #FriendsCanTell campaign – to educate and empower young people to spot abuse in relationships and support their friends.

Many thanks for making this project possible!

Phoebe is studying Politics, History and Classics. She is passionate about political and social issues, like the impact of class on society, feminism and how they interact with capitalism. In her free time, Phoebe likes to read, watch films, spend time with friends and family and walk her dog, Luna.

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