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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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