When addressing the consequences of sexism and misogyny, we must understand all of the contributing variables. One of these factors is known as "the male gaze". The male gaze can be described as deeming a given audience as having a male perspective on the world and catering towards their needs in the media that is presented to them.
To understand internalized male gaze, we must first address how the male gaze is oppressive. Media revolves around the male gaze, as we can see in films with "Mary Sues" and sexy lamps being placed into the background of scenes to give male perspectives an object for their attention. Ads that turn women into things such as cars and beer-dispensing robots sell a story of success, sex, and ownership of women's bodies to a male audience. These also exemplify the problematic culture created by the male gaze. Aside from the heteronormative and misogynistic narratives being pushed here, there are significant consequences for femme-identifying people who begin to see themselves in these images.
The boom in social media and technology usage over the past two decades has made the strict code of femininity set for women everywhere even more inescapable. What once was only seen on black-and-white television shows and newspaper ads is now seen on billboards, shows on streaming services, ads in YouTube videos, and is plastered all over social media posts. Although marketing strategies and the structure of advertisements has changed, men remain the intended audience-thus promoting consumerism, sexism, and an internalized male gaze that makes many young women pick themselves apart in the mirror.
The male gaze alienates women from their bodies and leads women to view themselves as "things" to fix. A single magazine ad can promote many oppressive and damaging image stereotypes. Notable, the the thin, fair-skinned, delicate, and submissive feminine body is most idolized. The ads communicate that whoever views them will be able to own not just the product being sold, but the feminine body displaying the product. Women who see this ad take away the message that there will always be something wrong with their bodies until they are able to reflect back the image seen in advertisements made for men.
By viewing women as "things", we take the first step to justifying violence towards them. In 2020, 35% of women across the world have experienced physical or sexual violence. Although a large number of countries have passed laws or acts prohibiting violence against women, they may not all be sucessfully enforced. It's extraordinarily difficult to pass these laws and try to educate men against mistreating women when they constantly consume media catered to them that depicts women in compromising situations. When men see these ads, they may feel justified in their violent actions and micro-aggressions toward women. Women seeing themselves in these ads feel that their voices are isolated, as their bodies are framed as something that does not belong to them. A deconstruction of the internalized male gaze must be coupled with a reformation of women’s media portrayal in order to truly confront this issue. The human subconscious is fragile and can internalize even the most implicit messages, which, in the case of the male gaze, normalize silencing women’s voices.
Furthermore, the justice system and the media heavily impact each other. If the media tells a false narrative of who a woman’s body belongs to, then other systems of power will be influenced. Punishments served to men who may have enacted violence upon a woman are, at least a small amount, ruled in favor of the male gaze. Women’s voices must be included in the conversation regarding how we are portrayed to the world. Opening up spaces for more women in roles that have power over how our bodies and our humanity are portrayed is one of the required steps in deconstructing the male gaze.
The internalized male gaze also shows up in internalized misogyny. Perhaps our first response to seeing a woman who looks different than us is judgement of their bodies, clothing, hair, or demeanor. This may be but a conditioned response that we can snap out of momentarily, but it shows how deeply ingrained the male gaze is in our lives. This is clear in memes such as "pickme's" and "not like other girls". Women measure themselves against each other to see how well we compare to the idealized version of us depicted in ads. We weaponize the male gaze against one another so that we can feel safer in a world that criticizes everything we do.
The results of this are brutal. When we do not address our internalized male gaze, we place men and their perspectives on a pedestal, measuring our value by standards males set, while making ourselves more passive, submissive, and smaller. Yet then we fail to recognize it isn't women's responsibility to make the world a safer and less rigid space for us to exist; it's mens’ job to undo the feelings of ownership they feel they have over the feminine body, and understand that women are people.
And for individual women, we must remind ourselves and each other that we don't need to be smaller or more passive to be beautiful, desirable, or loved. Most importantly, to heal from the internalized male gaze, we must remind our communities that we are human. We do not need to adhere to the unrealistic pictures we see in the media that try to tell us to take up as little space as possible. Rather, we must permit ourselves to exist free of the self judgement the male gaze encourages. The male gaze is a violent, inescapable form of oppression ingrained into our society, but awareness is the first step toward deconstructing it within ourselves and others.