Laura L. Sullivan writes in Cyberbabes: (Self-) Representation of Women and the Virtual Male Gaze that she
believe[s] that the objectification of women’s faces and bodies pervasive in mainstream mass media forms one of the cornerstones of women’s oppression. Women internalize this objectification and in turn feel bad about ourselves (how we look gets translated into who we are and how much (self) worth we have), because no woman can ever measure up to the stereotypes promoted by mass mediated images.” (192)
Every month, women’s magazines next to the grocery checkout counter promote quick weight loss and decadent chocolate desserts on covers that feature a famous/beautiful/successful/normal woman, someone that other women want to emulate. I don’t see those models as mindless—they inspire a certain amount of envy; a feeling of loss, even grief. I think that those models’ images were meant to speak to women “as objectified images to be consumed by the largely [fe]male viewers” (192, I have substantially changed the context of Sullivan’s statement by replacing male with female). Sullivan’s concern with the male gaze on female images online is legitimate as long as the demographic profile shows males’ access and use exceeding that of females. And her emphasis that “the public nature of this medium is not to deny the way that sexism, classism, and racism influence and limit access to the technology of the Internet…[and] may reinforce and amplify such oppressions in new ways” (193). One of these ways is through weightism, yet for at least 20 years, movements such as Big is Beautiful have existed. Leonard Nimoy, in an interview for the New York Times about The Full Body Project: Photographs by Leonard Nimoy, a book of photographs featuring nude obese women, talked about how he became interested in the project and his initial difficulty: “The nudity wasn’t the problem,” he said, “but I’d never worked with that kind of a figure before. I didn’t quite know how to treat her. I didn’t want to do her some kind of injustice. I was concerned that I would present this person within the envelope of an art form.” I don’t intend to critique Nimoy’s art nor to question the result of his efforts. I found his book when I decided—with great trepidation—to see what popped up in a web search for “obese women photos.” While not as bad as I feared, I wonder whether a man behind the lens can avoid viewing any woman without a trace of male gaze.
Susan Romano writes in On Becoming a Woman: Pedagogies of the Self about textual construction of online female identity in a sometimes hostile male environment. Male antagonization requires that females “accept, refuse, ignore, or challenge” the male characterization of women as a group, and each option “carries an array of immediate discursive consequences for the women students undergoing this form of interrogation. Indeed, the onus placed on women is striking” (255). Romano calls on Haynes and Le Court in her construction of “a new rhetoric of the self—for feminist performances in online environments” (257). I don’t quite understand what she means by this because she skips immediately to explaining the classroom example later in the essay. She calls her tactics reformist as opposed to Haynes’ and Le Court’s revolutionary mode (257). Roman’s posit of the “metaphors of recombination” offers hope for synthesizing a self-awareness, self-possibilities, and self-esteem (265).
- I opted out of the first wave of feminism and didn’t know that a “new “feminism had arisen until four years ago. Now I hear there is a third wave. Where is this wave in its evolution?
- I’m not sure how Romano’s “new rhetoric of the self” differs from “healing the inner child” or “building self-esteem.” Is she simply renaming preexisting programs in feminist terms?
[i] Recidivism is an appropriate term for a lapse of behavior that returns the person to previous habits, but a strong connotative association with relapse into criminal behavior demonstrates how obesity is viewed in the medical field and in society.
[ii] Rosenbaum, Michael. Physiological Barriers to Weight Loss Maintenance. Medscape General Medicine. 2007; 9(3):18. Accessed 23 Feb. 2008