Reversing the Gaze

What a fascinating looking show. “The exhibition ‘Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze’ will examine the visibility of men and masculinity from female/feminist/transgender perspectives. In the context of this exhibition, the male figure will assume the historically ‘female’ role with the male body and its gender expression shown as spectacle for a woman’s viewing and contemplation. This truly feminist stance positions the surveyor as critic of traditional gender roles, problematizing notions of ‘men,’ ‘male,’ ‘masculinity,’ ‘women’ and ‘female.’ This is an inclusive show for women and transgender artists to challenge what it means for ‘women’ to look at ‘men.'” Tanya Augsburg, feminist interdisciplinary scholar, juror

‘Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze’ is on at the SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA November 4 – 30, 2011. Judging by the preview, available here, some of this is sexy, some quirky and funny, and much of it thought provoking. Thanks AZ.

8 thoughts on “Reversing the Gaze

  1. This is “a truly feminist stance”? Heaven help us. How about, instead of ‘reversing’ the gaze — which strikes me as an aestheticized version of responding to violence with violence– but fundamentally rethinking it? And how “historical” is this show, with its all too masculine fascination with penises? The male gaze (in my opinion) is overly sexual, eroticizing everything; what this show appears to do is maintain the maleness of the gaze itself but switch the _objects_ of it, so that men are now being objectified in the way that they have objectified women in recent history (and in particular genres, namely, the pornographic). Certainly applying a female gaze certainly should accomplish more than this.

  2. Warning: do NOT look at the clip while waiting for your flight at the airport… got me some amazing frowns this morning! I had to stop mid-way… :-)

  3. V.Brandt, I agree in a lot of ways, but I think one has to be careful in bringing your kind of criticism to first steps. I think here there may be a strong element ‘see what it feels like, guys’. Almost a hitting back, though more in the spirit of fun. It nicely makes some things obvious, among them that the supposed universality in male art is a fiction.

    I don’t know what a development can or will look like, but you may have raised some important issues.

    My use of ‘may’ really signals my own sense of not knowing enough.

  4. @V.Brandt, […]
    it’s far more then just tit for tat, ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ kind of exhibition. We are asking the viewer to think, what is porn what is erotic, how do we represent men in our culture, who do we let represent men? There are things that evolved out of this exhibition that none of the curators expected. Of course we don’t answer every possible question, that would be impossible, what we were trying to do is make people talk and get people thinking about what is gender and who gets to decide what is feminine and what is masculine?

    Shows in the 80’s in the UK that dealt with similar ideas were described as “Forests of Penises” I think the idea is to make you look deeper, to ask yourself why you don’t see this more? Is it because as someone I heard today said, “It creeps me out…it makes my skin crawl. All my homophobic issues come screaming to the fore. The reason you have not seen a show like this before is because Men are in charge and it makes them sick.” Hey that is one persons reaction….is it true? I don’t have a clue, but it is sure interesting to think about.

    As one blogger wrote about the exhibition something to the effect that ‘Men are visual and Women are moved by more what is going on in their heads??’ something like that, I think that you really sense that in this show. Sure there is that homo-erotic, 6 pack abs, hot oiled Adonis thing going on, but there is humor and wit and visual challenges in the exhibition as well. Frankly I don’t think it’s very easy to make men feel what Women have felt as Object for all these years. With men like Andrew Wiener and Brett Favre flashing their junk around it appears you boys are all about being the center of attention. I think perhaps a show where we showed men naked looking at their bank accounts so the viewer could see what you really had would really case some shrinkage.

    This comment has been edited by profbigk.

  5. @Anne & V. Brandt, both good observations. Regarding “first steps”, is it just me or does this have a vaguely 20 or so year ago feel to it? Not my field, admittedly.

  6. To me, to reverse the gaze is a pretty good idea.

    @V. Brandt: I think no-one has any idea what a typically female gaze would be like, there haven’t been many female artists who portrayed men. This exhibition is a start. I see no reason why a female gaze would be less objectifying. Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not, but women might find out by making pictures of men they like. As for penises, as a heterosexual woman I like a nice penis, and I find it a pity that the penis is almost never pictured as something nice for heterosexual women….we are supposed to be afraid of it or the penis is portrayed as a shiny and big disgusting thing for the pleasure of men. I feel that portraying it (and men in general) by female artists in a way that they find sexy is almost like claiming the right to view sex from a female perspective. It seems to me to be very important to show that the participation of women in the interaction with men is something active and willful, not just a kind of passively participating. What does the woman feel and think when looking at a man? I think society has no clue.

    I don’t like the clip though. I wished these women would take themselves, the artists and the male models seriously. The child-like tone of voice and the music makes it seem like the sole purpose of the exhibition is to tease men and make bunnies out of them for a change. That is such a pity and I think your criticism certainly applies there.
    The ‘humor’ seems to be something they hide behind because they are afraid to take a stand and afraid to demand that the female gaze is to be taken seriously. It is a downplay of their own intentions. A bit like shy people who cover their mouths when they are laughing, afraid to show their feelings and not daring to even think that they should matter.

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