Politics  •  January 13, 2017

How to Respond to “Gaze” — Male or White

“Gaze” as a psychoanalytic term is essentially an internalized eyeball. As such, it’s not something that exists independently of our minds. Every internalized eyeball is different. For some, it is painfully intense. For others, it’s casual. Some hate the gaze and try to deflect it, while others enjoy it and crave for more. Each eyeball is as singular as the person who internalized it.

For women, to their own male gaze they have internalized, they can react in many different ways, like pleasing, offending, or denying it. When a paparazzi aims a camera at you, you can pose to please him or give him the finger. You respond by giving him a particular look whether he likes it or hate it. Another way is to block the camera lens with your hand.

The insidious nature of “male gaze” is that it situates women in the passive position of being looked at (and men in the position of actively looking). Women cannot counter this by negating or denying it because the act of denial still assumes and reinforces the same position of being looked at. And, developing an oppositional gaze towards men is hardly worth the time or energy.

No matter how women react to “male gaze,” as long as they react to it, they reinforce it and their passive position of being looked at. Any reaction gives power to the gaze.

The same mechanism operates for race relations also. In many discourses of racism, white gaze is prevalent. Their audience is implicitly white people because they are under the influence of the white gaze. What they are ultimately trying to achieve is to change the behavior of white people. They want white people to perceive them in certain ways. Behind their sharp rebuke is their desire for white people’s attention, approval, and recognition. They have a love-and-hate relationship with their white gaze.

Meanwhile, most white people are not preoccupied with how people of other race perceive them. Their minority gaze is shut unless they are asked to open it.

The problem with reacting to the white gaze is that it reinforces the power of it, regardless of how we respond to it. It tacitly agrees with white supremacy.

Asian Americans, particularly Chinese Americans, avoided this for the most part. They literally plowed through without paying negative attention to how white people saw them. The inequality still exists but it is narrowing quickly.

I think the best way to counter a gaze is, firstly, to realize that we internalized it ourselves, and secondly to avoid giving it more power by paying attention to it negatively or otherwise.