Thursday, July 1, 2010

I am not a kitten, stuck up a tree somewhere

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:


  1. 1. Working at NF was really really hard sometimes.

    2. I love that comic also.

  2. Yay for blogging, Sarah – have just added you to my RSS reader and look forward to future posts.

    Meanwhile, another related comic.


  3. Ok, can't read a post like this without reference to the little provocation "Hey, Baby." It's basically a short little "game" where you play as a shotgun-wielding woman and men walk up to you and say stuff like "Hey Baby" and "Smile for me" and "I want to lick you all over" and you shoot them. The reactions on the gaming scene when this little game was uncovered were basically three:

    One. I am a woman who has experienced this sort of thing, and I find this game darkly funny and a little cathartic. No, I wouldn't shoot anyone in real life, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought of it once or twice. I get it.

    Two. I am a man who realizes that women experience this sort of thing and have no real recourse except to try to ignore it as their dignity is stripped from them. I think it's a shame that the kind of inequities exist that led to the creation of this game, but at the same time, I am listening and receptive to the message my female fellow-humans are sending with this game. I get it.

    Three. I think this game is sexist. I think it's a terrible thing that there is a game made about killing men. I have never seen any woman get heckled like this, and even if that did happen, I don't think it's an in-equal situation in which they have no recourse. I don't know how else I'm supposed to ask a woman out that I'm interested in, if I'm required to be able to read her mind first to avoid giving unwanted attention. I don't get it.

    The sheer number of people (almost all of them men) who were in camp "three" and the excuses they gave was fairly horrifying. But I guess that also brings us back to your previous post--literature (tiny art games included) is dangerous.

  4. @Bekea: Yeah, I can imagine NF was hard sometimes. It's funny, because many of my work environments (N Street in DC and Moore especially) have been female-dominated, so when I emerge from that, I get a bit of a shock.

    @Bronwyn: Yay for blogging, indeed. :) I love that XKCD comic, too.

    @Rebecca: I remember seeing that--I think you posted it on Facebook? Reaction #3: talk about erasing other people's experiences ("I haven't seen it, so it must not be true").
    As for it being an equal situation, well, you try being a 5'2", 115ish lb girl being heckled by a guy who's nine inches taller and 50 lbs heavier. (The general you, not *you,* of course.) Makes me snarly.
    Also makes me mad because man, if you can't tell when contact is unwanted (eye contact, body language, etc), then you have no business hitting on random strangers.