“Capitulating to the Male Gaze” and What I Would Teach my Daughter

I’ve been having a lot of discussions on this ever-floating theme of what it means to be a feminist in light of the “male gaze.” In fact, is there such a thing as the official prescribed “feminist” response to the male gaze? And if so, who is the arbiter of feminism? (I suppose my phrasing betrays how I feel about that one.) Should one be encouraged to identify the conditioning built and reinforced by the male gaze and seek to actively defy it? Are women sometimes unknowingly “capitulating to the male gaze”? If so, how can we know who is blindly “capitulating” and who is an empowered woman making a choice she is comfortable with? All these questions are nuanced but often come down to: How would you raise your daughter? Hopefully, if I answer that here, I can move on from this issue. Here is what I would attempt to teach. (These are not hardline dogma, to be enforced.)

1. One should be happy by themselves before one can be truly happy with a partner.
2. Realize you don’t need everyone’s approval and validation and it’s ok to break social norms to be true to oneself.
3. Realize you are not required to be “sexy” 24/7, or at all.
4. When you do want to be sexy, define your own “sexy” as you see fit. Don’t let the male gaze OR over-zealous feminists define YOUR sexuality. There is nothing inherently wrong with having sexual queues in your presentation. You can be sexy and appeal to men, without relinquishing your feminist credits, if “feminist” is how you choose to identify.
5. Wear make-up if/when YOU feel like it, not because you must wear it every day and feel frumpy without it.
6. Feminism is personal. Learn the history, but define your own feminism. No one feminist, no matter how renowned, is entitled to define it for the rest of us.

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