Male Gaze as Hyperobject:
The cancerous effects of gender performativity
Persons are welcomed into a world with predetermined conditions. Heidegger’s thrownness attempts to describe the panic we face when confronted with the reality of being, with this freedom and restriction. One does not consent to being here. The conditions for being are preconstructed. Thrown into a world with other objects, one internalize their role in the order of things. Packaged with potentiality and poised to perform our roles in a prefabricated society.
Our body becomes an object in itself, we learn to separate our bodies from other bodies during the phallic stage of development, according to Freud. We learn that our bodies are personal territories, cages of our consciousness, leather suitcases to be packed daily and carried about town. We are tricked into thinking that we are the center of the universe. Individualization and “you are special” slogans convince us that we are the creators of our reality. Little did we know that individualization is the best state of mind for the production of capital.
I learned early that my body was a commodity that was desired. This was a currency and an asset that I chose to invest in at a young age. Tae-bo, shaving, tanning. Ingredients for the attention that I sought. Beauty meant boys and I loved boys.
By thirteen I was grooming myself according to the market. At that time, I had braces so I had to compensate by being tan. Tan was in. Being tan meant that you were also rich, because being tan in the middle of Minnesota winters meant that you vacationed in Mexico.
The first time I went tanning in a tanning bed I skipped basketball practice and ran through a blizzard to the one tanning salon that wouldn’t card anyone under 16. I was acting in response to the direction given by an object beyond my young comprehension, in my justification, i was rebelling and claiming ownership over my life and body.
As I grew up I evolved my beauty standards and means of coercion. Participating in a society that demands beauty from women. With the rise of social media and the new forms of attention currency, the reward system grew exponentially. Being more daring and bold with my presentation of self meant more likes, follows and influence. This was another symptom of an object greater than myself asserting its control over me, I developed in its shadows.
Now more than ever we use images as dialogue. Instagramming the painted descriptions of our inner selves, sometimes we manage to make a statement. Maturing within the paradigm of instagram made me crave something more, too many ideas were falling into tropes. Feminism has taken the form of self objectification. Motifs of rebellion and pale blogs, overt femininity and sisterhood, or soft core pornography bordering on pedophilia. Feminism online now is a form of masturbation, sharing your self discovery with the world, in the best lighting possible.
This past year something began to shift in me. I actively renounced my attention seeking and flamboyant behavior to pursue a social media presence focused on subjectivity versus objectivity. I desired myself. Sole physicality became problematic to me. I began to see the oversaturated nature of objectification in the name of art, of the sole expression of the self being the selfie. I didn’t want to be a visually stimulated victim of the male gaze anymore, posing as liberated but really just posing.
It is at this moment that my familiar emerged, a familiar that I had known my whole life. That had been following me before I knew me. Because it’s not mine, it’s ours. and it was only until it became a problem, that it stopped being polite and asserted itself upon my form. Its presence was contingent on my struggle to reject it.
Timothy Morton coined the term Hyperobjects in 2013. Hyperobjects are objects that are greater than our human comprehension, are viscous, intrinsically linked to us, beyond temporal locality and phase in and out of our conscious contact. Graham Harman writes “because objects withdraw irreducibly, you cannot get closer to them” If we try to pinpoint where the hyperobject is, we are only acknowledging its wake. Inter-objectivity is a characteristic of hyperobjects, we are linked in a mesh. Thrown into this mesh at birth. Climate change is a hyperobject, and i would even argue that climate change is a symptom of the hyperobject of the overarching Patriarchy. Capitalism, sexism, racism, cancer, pollution etc are all symptoms of its presence in space, extending beyond measurable time
The male gaze is a hyper object. it has no edge, evading causation. It is bigger than our cognitive comprehension and it sticks to us, without our consent.
To quote John Berger: “men act and women appear”. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This is the nature of the visual image, and to quote Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never be used to dismantle the master’s house.”
This is the nature of women on the internet. I was/ am complacent in this presentation of myself. Adding a filter to aestheticize the object. However, as soon as I became aware of the shadow that surrounded my body, since my naive tanning regime. I began to trace the outline of something bigger than myself.
I did not consent to enter a world where we pollute pillage and poison. An inheritance of the male gaze, the imbalance of masculinity overtly controlling mass consciousness. Needledick sized holes in the ozone, I did not choose to place them there. Maybe I did choose my skin cancer, for I chose the male gaze over my own well being.
My statement here is that It is only when the idea of reclaiming my body, that the full extent of the control emerged. My body was not mine to have. Territory beyond my own jurisdiction now scarred by the mark of capitalist industrial greed and coercion. Cells revolted and I was left with a more localized familiar, a token of appreciation from my hyperobject: basal cell carcinoma aka skin cancer.
Cancer is your own cells turning against themselves in defense of a foreign entity. The entity convinces your cells to go rogue. Skin cancer was symptomatic of my transformation. It emerged smack dab in the middle of my nose, as if to say, you rebel beauty? than I take that away. I had been so obsessed with the idea of beauty, tricked by a culture of imagery. My attempt to revolt left me scarred, as with most revolutionaries.
The male gaze is capital. it is Manifest Destiny and my body is the great plains. it is Climate Change and it is the Stock Market. Sunscreens and Kyoto protocol keep me up at night. I did not consent to this.
Why the male gaze? Because the world ended at the Industrial Revolution. Because we are all now grasping to quantify every single minute, to commodify every action and to perform it with filters and sharing in mind. Because it is larger than we can even identify.
Because everyone knows that selfies get the most likes.
As women our worth in the market is either brains (but we will always be paid less) or our image. For years I presented myself for the world to see, acting in defiance against what I thought was conformity. but I was conforming. Internalized male gaze brought me to the tanning salon, holes in the ozone caused by capital gave me skin cancer at a young age. I didn’t not put the holes there. My body a soldier in line with a common order of desire and satisfaction. We put ourselves on the internet to feel connected, to present. Ubiquitous and intrinsic to everything. A penance paid each day as I dress myself for the dance with my object, meditating: “how will men respond”
Pretty became problematic. My skin cancer emerged at a time when I was willing to break this long term and abusive relationship with the male gaze. like a black eye or the Scarlet Letter, hyperobjects are already a part of us. Like mercury in the blood stream, we are inextricable.
I would never Instagram this image:
I took this selfie to post it, but still couldn’t push myself to do it. it was too ugly, eyes too tired from crying. crying about my loss, my youth, my beauty — an asset that i depended on.
An excision was all it took to make it go away. To the root they dug, I was awake for it the whole time. Unfortunately, because of the nature of hyperobjects that is not where it lives. its temporality and its very ontology is dependent on our inability to grasp it. We cannot pinpoint its location, but simply schedule appointments and charge Obamacare for its symptoms.
Visual culture is structurally catered to the male gaze- as our world becomes more and more image based- our bodies and how we express ourselves within this structure are innate to patriarchy as a whole, even in acts of resistance. Maybe real resistance would be withholding. Like how sexual satisfaction for a woman comes when the man doesn’t.
This essay isn’t a rejection of beauty. This isn’t a rejection of presentation. or Instagramming (which I still do) it is the breaking open of a dialogue via direct confrontation. When you give your hyperobject a name, when you look it in the eye. you can begin to live with it, make compromises and draw maps of strategy. For me it was refreshing to see that I was not the center of my experiential universe and that there are objects greater than us, that our bodies are not exclusively ours. Objects tied together in Shibaru knots held over the abyss of being.