All right. Let me set the scene for a moment.
Baseball practice on Sunday. It's so hot that my best adjectives can't describe it. A lot of the team can't make it, so there are only five of us (and it's only my second practice). So, you know, we do our thing. We jog around the field and warm up with throwing.
So a little ways through, these guys come to the field. We've got it reserved, so we ignore them and keep practicing. They throw on the edge of the field, but you can tell they want to practice on the field. We ignore them more--we bat for a while, chase balls for a while (one or two people in the outfield, not so much fun). And these guys, when they rest for a little while, they watch us. And when we take a break, they come over to ask us if we're done.
Did I mention it's baseball practice and we're all women? Yeah.
Afterward, as my housemate Emily and I drive home, I say to her, "Did you feel uncomfortable with those guys there?" Turns out I'm not the only one who kept thinking Ah, the male gaze as we were playing.
Emily (my way, way cooler housemate) works as carpenter/construction manager (and Emily, if you read this, I have no idea what your actual title is, so I'm sorry) for Habitat for Humanity. It's primarily a man's space, you know? So she has to deal with, as she put it, the duality of guys' fascination and critical eye when she works. By contrast, I work in an (almost) all-women's space, so I don't usually get that. I do--like any woman, I imagine--have to deal with things like being careful when I'm alone, especially at night, and street harassment. Street harassment is for another post altogether (suffice it to say, I don't like it).
But the baseball practice was kind of an example of all this. We, the women, were in what is primarily a guys' space; the men seemed to feel like it was their prerogative to crowd that space and give us the look, the you-don't-belong-here look. In short, the male gaze.
The "gaze" is a Lacanian idea that (I'm simplifying horribly here) has to do viewing and recognizing oneself (the mirror stage), the way in which your subjectivity is questioned, and the way that other objects "look" back at you (fellow critical theorists, feel free to correct me). It's more complicated than that, of course, but that's the simple way of putting it. The idea of the male gaze originated in the 70s with film theory--basically, it's the idea that the media assumes that the audience is male, so the film (or what-have-you) will be from a male perspective. Taken more broadly, the male gaze signifies a disparity in power between the gazer and the gazed-upon.
Those guys on the baseball field? Well. They may have just been taking a break in the dugout, or they may have been curious, or they may have been laughing at those girls who were trying to play baseball. (Give me a break, will ya? I haven't played in 9 years.) I don't know what their intentions were. I do know what the outcome was. And being stared at--it really distracts a girl from those fly balls, you know?
Also, here's a related comic: http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=528