Where does the male gaze end?
An article in The Observer Magazine caught my attention yesterday. It is a brief interview with Corinne Bailey Rae, a musician who I have generally avoided purely because she seems to be this year’s Gay Dad*. There is some discussion about Christina Aguilera and the Pussycat Dolls and she is then quoted as saying:
“I think it is both an interesting and a sad thing that some women don’t understand that there’s a link between them being portrayed like that and how men view women in general. I never saw the Madonna image as powerful – it just seemed like a woman running her hands over her breasts for the benefit of the male gaze”.
It is good to hear such thoughts from a mainstream pop musician, but the really interesting thing about this article is the contrast between what Bailey Rae is quoted as saying and the way she is portrayed by the photographer.
Five photographs accompany the article. The least innocuous is one of her performing on stage. However the other four, presumably set up for this interview, are a prime example of the male gaze Bailey Rae says she tries to avoid. The largest image is of her head and shoulders. She is looking down, away from the camera, at a dandelion. The pose is coy and childlike and sets a theme for the rest of the photos. In the next she is making eye contact with the camera, but from a distance as she skips across a field, her arms flung out. Again, childlike and really quite unnatural. Then she is depicted with her head tilted at an angle, glancing coyly at the photographer, arms hanging at her side. She wears a white dress and is submission and innocence personified. The final image is also the most disturbing. Bailey Rae sits on the grass, legs crossed, dress rolled up, arms hanging in her lap. The way her body is positioned creates a ‘V’ shape so that the eye of the observer is drawn towards her barely covered crotch. The photographer looks down on the subject, while Bailey Rae looks up at the camera from beneath her fringe, coy and flirtatious. Again she is submissive and powerless, both because of the angle the photograph is taken from, and because, in the corner of the photo, we see she has removed her shoes.
This article effectively, although unintentionally, reveals the layers and layers of perception that surround us. Bailey Rae sees objectification in images where women are blatently sexualised and speaks out against it. However she is apparently not aware that she can still be objectified and sexualised despite keeping her midriff covered. I think a certain blindness to aspects of the patriarchy can affect us all, purely because we are all products of it in one way or another. For example, I had never considered why I was taught human biology through images of the male body. Never questioned it once. It took several strongly worded articles and blogs to raise my awareness.
It also raises the question of whether Bailey Rae really was comfortable with these images. The article refers to her squealing with embarrassment at the prospect of having to skip across the field for the photographer. That she felt uncomfortable with this and yet was coerced into doing it is slightly sinister, and once more demonstrates inherent problems with the British and American music industry.
*hype by the music press resulting in miserable disappointment and failure a few years back