How the Male Gaze can Suffocate Women

does-your-man-always-stare-at-other-women-300Women encounter the male gaze in sundry ways. One appreciates an approving nod. Another feels slighted when she misses said nod. Others seek escape from this gaze.

Melissa Nelson got fired.

The thirty-thee-year-old was dismissed from her job as a dental assistant in Iowa because her dentist boss – and his wife – felt she was too attractive, and too tempting.

Her sex discrimination suit failed at both a lower court and the Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled she was fired “not because of her gender but because she was a threat to the marriage of Dr. Knight.”

Michael Kimmel, an expert on men and masculinity, wrote a thoughtful New York Times piece citing the male gaze as culprit here.

Dr. Kimmel says “lookism” – discrimination inflicted on the “too attractive” and “too unattractive,” alike — stems from the power of that gaze and “the fact that men’s estimation of beauty is the defining feature.”

Sure, “lookism” is gender-neutral, but the workplace isn’t, he says. Bosses are more likely to be men.

Next, he asks:

Where have we heard that before — that men’s vulnerability to women’s sexuality and attractiveness is so great that women must be prevented from showing any part of their bodies to them? … Mullah Omar would approve.

Members of the American Taliban have commented on my blog, spewing hate at pretty women who make men feel lesser-than-her and weak in the knees. A “good” woman would cover up, lest she be raped, or at the least, hated.

Or fired?

Come on!

Of course men will notice pretty women. But the only reason some may fear “her” power or “his” inferiority is in his head. Neither is really out there.

There is no need to punish us because we are pretty or because we are not.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 2, 2013, in feminism, objectification, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I’m a bit surprised all criticism is leveled at the dentist. Surely you have also saved some for his wife for feeling threatened by a beautiful assistant.

    • I didn’t have anything new to say about his wife that your average person probably wouldn’t have already thought of, and I haven’t heard anyone else say anything new or interesting either.

      But Dr. Kimmel did take a novel view on how the male gaze was related to this woman’s firing. Since not everyone reads the New York Times and I thought it was worth repeating and adding a couple of points too.

  2. I have two theories (regarding appearance) that the world would be a better place:

    1. If everybody looked the same.

    2. If everybody was blind.

    (The first one being preferable, of course, since we rely so much on sight)

  3. Where do you come up with this stuff? No woman in this WOLRD makes me feel weak in my knees because of how she looks. It should have been titled, weak losers (including couples) out there have no self-esteem. You’re categorizing as if all men give this “gaze” to pretty women. I usually don’t even pay attention to women around me. Being a personal trainer…I’m usually the one being gazed by other women (and men!) all the time at the gym and I just ignore them…especially when I’m trying to train a client.

    • Where do I come up with this stuff? I was surprised to learn about it myself.

      I had thought that all men enjoyed looking at pretty women. But it turns out that some men hate pretty women because they make them feel weak – in the knees, and these men feel like pretty women feel superior to them. And even the doctor in question here felt so weak that he couldn’t handle his own sexuality.

      If you think that no men feel this way take a look at this post and the comments:

      Men Who Hate Pretty Women
      https://broadblogs.com/2011/12/12/men-who-hate-pretty-women/

      I generally won’t post misogynistic comments. But I make an exception on this post because a lot of men, like you, don’t believe that men like this are out there.

      And in this post (the one you commented on) I didn’t say that all men were that way. I called those men “American Taliban.”

      Also said, “only reason SOME may fear “her” power…”

  4. Rohan 7 Things

    God, again with this kind of attitude. Every single man (or woman) has the ability to develop his discipline. Just because there is a tasty looking sandwich on the table it doesn’t mean you have the right to eat it, even if you’re hungry! And it’s the same with people. The way someone looks does not justify any action against them.

    I see attractive men and women every day. I appreciate them, most always without starting too long and being rude. Never do I think they owe me, or anyone else anything.

    Sigh, it’s a long road when ideas like this still exist!

    Rohan.

    ps. Did you get that PDF working Georgia? If not, do you know another file format that will work for you?

    • Pretty sad, huh?

      And yes the PDF works fine on my computer. I had it on my iPad for a while in my email but then it disappeared. So I tried to buy the book on my iPad but I couldn’t find it when I went to the iPad bookstore. But now that I’m back from my vacation I’ve gotten about one-third through. (Trying to play catch-up and read.) A lot of interesting stuff. I think it would be really helpful for young people, especially, to read.

  5. I remember hearing about this. I think your marriage is already in trouble if you can’t handle working with a nice looking person!

    • Indeed. And how likely is it that the young woman would agree to have an affair, anyway. Then it would most likely be sexual harassment – which the dentist ought to to refrain from, anyhow.

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