I know it's old news, but I feel it can never be said quite enough: raising feminist sons is one of the best things a parent can do. That and convincing your kids that house elves are real and then blaming the house elves when things go missing. I've done both. While watching my children literally and in all seriousness shake their fist and grumble "Dobby!" when they're looking for a misplaced toy is absolutely amazing, the whole "raising a kid who feels less encumbered by gender expectations and seeks to treat everyone equally" is actually more deeply satisfying.
To that end, a few weeks ago I wrote about ways to help your son undermine the Male Gaze. For those of you not familiar with the term (we'll get into it more in a moment), the Male Gaze describes the fact that most visual media is directed for and by a male viewer. I argued that it was more pressing to address this issue with boys who, unlike our daughters, will not have a lived female experience to counter a rich media culture more or less constantly catering to them. As a mother, I take this role very seriously...but I can't be the only voice my little boy hears on this matter. When it comes to my son, male voices are going to be crucial in navigating his relationship with women and feminism.
This is, in part, because of the strong family bonds he has to his father, grandfathers, uncles, etc. But another huge factor here is the social bond encouraged between men (and men and boys). Men can reach out to other men (and boys) in ways that women often can't.
So, are you a man? Do you have a child/children in your life? Do you want to help pulverize the Male Gaze into itty-bitty pieces? Here's what you can do:
Learn What The Male Gaze Is
Some people (including myself) would argue that the Male Gaze is so persistent and pervasive throughout society that we don't even notice it. We take it for granted. As such, the concept of the Male Gaze may just kind of be part and parcel to how we see media in general. So we're all on the same page, I really like GeekFeminism's description, which I'll share now:
The Male gaze means a quality of a visual work, where the audience is put into the perspective of a (heterosexual) man. It emphasizes and focuses on aspects considered interesting, pleasing, titillating to the assumed viewer (for instance, zeroing in on a female character's derrière as she walks away from the camera), and averting aspects considered awkward or uninteresting to the assumed viewer (for instance, zeroing in on a male character's derrière as he walks away from the camera).
The Male Gaze is a three-pronged concept, purporting that visual media is built around the idea of a male viewer in its creation, consumption, and projection (aka, the characters within that medium).
Recognize The Ways The Male Gaze Caters To You
While #NotAllMen benefit from all aspects of Male Gaze (more on that in a bit), the fact is that the male gaze, first and foremost, assumes--and therefore caters to--a male viewer, and so men have a certain privilege in watching most media that women do not. If you are interested in dismantling this nonsense for the benefit of your children (and society as a whole), you must examine and confront the ways the Male Gaze is a tool that privileges your maleness. It's also interesting to note which aspects of your maleness are being addressed. (This isn't exclusive to men battling the Male Gaze, of course. Deconstructing Patriarchal systems requires all people to consider their privilege, be that gender, racial, economic, religious, etc., as well as their lack thereof.)
Recognize Who The Male Gaze Leaves Out
Obviously women get the short end of this stick, but sometimes the male gaze even excludes (gasp!) other men! The Male Gaze tends to center on a cisgender, heterosexual, white man, which, in the grand scheme of things, is a pretty narrow demographic. So lots and lots of people are being left out here, at best, and fetishized at worst.
Pay Attention To How You Talk To Women
Yes, it's the Male Gaze, so we're obviously focused on visuals, but words still matter. Are you perpetuating that with how you're speaking with a woman? Are you speaking to her as you would a man in the same situation? If not, then why not?
Be Mindful Of How You Talk About Women When None Are Present
Are you code switching from Feminist Fella to Bro when you're with your guy friends? Most importantly for the purposes of this article, are you doing this in front of your child? Why? And what sort of message does that send? Also, am I being rhetorically preachy right now? Yes. A little bit, yes. Mainly because this is sort of a big thing for me: When you perpetuate the idea that non-men are basically just scenery in a big boys club, well, there's enough out there to perpetuate that idea (because #malegaze #wewerejusttalkingaboutthis) so that it sticks in a child's mind.
Be Mindful Of The Media You Consume
This is especially true of the media you consume in front of children, but it goes for the media you consume on your own time because what we watch affects our behavior. How are the female characters treated while they're on screen? Are they there exclusively or primarily for aesthetic enjoyment? Do they speak? What are they speaking about? Are they speaking to each other? What are the male to female character ratios? Why? In short, watch critically with the Male Gaze in mind.
Pay Attention To The Media Your Child Is Consuming
And go ahead and ask them all the same questions you're asking yourself when you watch your own shows/movies/webcasts, for all the same reasons.
Call It Out
Now we're moving past awareness and getting into the Big Leagues. Once you have a handle on the Male Gaze and how it affects media and, in turn, society, point it out. Encourage other people — other men especially — to think about it.
Demonstrate Feminist Ideals In Your Relationships With The Women In Your Child's Life
Aim for an equitable division of household labor. Avoid falling into particular roles and jobs simply on the basis of yours and your partner's gender. When it comes down to it, the Male Gaze is just one aspect of the societal horror show our children are going to be subjected to: If we're going to smash it, we need to counter it on all possible fronts.