Breaking the Mirror – Challenging the Male Gaze – Day 9 NaBloPoMo 2017

I had to turn down a gig recently and not because I was sick or too busy – but because of how the show was being promoted. I objected to the poster.

This isn’t something I would normally write a blog about but it really rankled with me and got me thinking about my politics and having the strength of my convictions. I want to be clear I’m not going to reproduce the image here out of desire to preserve the anonymity of the venue in question and also because I don’t want to look at it again or subject any of my friends to it!

The proposed poster depicted a beautifully coiffured and made up young woman, wearing a bustier, stockings and heels, lying on a wooden floor. She has her head turned to one side, exposing her throat while smiling towards the camera, holding a black guitar across her body. For those of you who know me, it’s not really the kind of image that comes to mind from my music!!!

It was also an image redolent with all the properties of the classic “male gaze”. The gaze was a means by which academics (and practitioners) could examine and analyse visual culture, classically advertising, television and film. The seminal essay with respect to the male gaze remains (for me) Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, which was first published in 1975. And if you’re interested, you can read it here.

I tried to explain to the female proprietor that I thought it was an inappropriate image but sadly, she took it as a personal judgement and quickly became very defensive, blocking me on social media. That saddens me so much. It takes two to make a dialogue and I wasn’t attempting to personally attack her, merely point out that there are some people in the broader community who might find the image offensive. Here, I’m particularly thinking of the parents of young people I teach music to – is this the kind of industry they want their kids working in?

But ultimately, there’s two things that this woman didn’t take into account. Firstly, I don’t need her small show. After all these years of professional arts practice, I’m confident enough in my own self-worth to live without it. And ultimately, John Berger had her pegged way back in 1972 when he wrote,

“Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves.”

(Berger, John 1972, Ways of Seeing, p. 42)

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and comments on the matter. Is this something that matters to you in your arts practice? And, how do you deal with this kind of entrenched, normalised objectification?

Here’s a picture of my favourite native mint bush (Prostanthera rotundifolia) that flowered recently. It’s such a calming image ❤

Round leaved Mint Bush