Ihde argues that males suffer just as much as females do when they fall short of physical ideals. In particular, he disputes the notion that the male gaze only objectifies women, arguing that there is also a female gaze that equally objectifies males. But can there really be a female gaze?
Ihde’s support for this argument comes from bullying taking place in his 11 year-old son’s class. Young girls mockingly pass notes to nerdy boys that profess interest and then laugh at the boys for believing them. Sometimes, the author claims, the girls call boys’ houses to taunt them.
I remember from my own elementary school experience that this bullying exists and that children can be very cruel to each other. I also do not want to minimize the pain a young boy feels when he is teased by female classmates. However, I believe that what the author describes is not a form of female gaze but is instead a social hierarchy stemming from adolescent anxieties.
Teasing and bullying, while harmful, do not equate to the objectification associated with the male gaze. A gaze requires an objectified recipient, and the harassed boys do not fit this requirement simply because they being harassed by a member of the opposite sex. Furthermore, girls can also be very cruel to each other. Would this also exemplify a female gaze? The purpose of most adolescent harassment is to consolidate social power or hide insecurities. I argue that it is not a gaze, but a process through which insecure adolescents attempt to determine, and remain at the top of, a social hierarchy.
Furthermore, arguing that there is a female gaze and that it is equal to the male gaze minimizes the effects of the male gaze on women. The boys who are affected by what Idhe describes as the female gaze are rejected for their inadequate physical qualities and therefore seek mechanisms other than the female gaze for approval- they pursue talents in music, science, etc. Girls, however, do not have ways to circumvent the male gaze. The male gaze manifests itself in their body language when they cross their legs or arms, physically when they stop playing sports for fear of seeming too masculine, linguistically in their voice inflection, and mentally when they agonize over diets. While a girl might look to develop her talents in music, science, or humor in response to bullying from other kids at school, these things will not help her avoid the male gaze that she sees in magazines, movies, and in social settings. Idhe fails to realize that the male gaze is about more than a woman’s physical size or shape and the consequences thereof.