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Discussing female gaze is already confusing, let’s not involve irrelevant TikTok trends

To illustrate the distinction between the female and male gaze, some people compare Margot Robbie's portrayal of Harley Quinn in the male-directed "Suicide Squad" to the female-directed "Birds of Prey" as an example — but does the female gaze even exist? – Photo by @not_cheska / Twitter

I, and many others, have often referred to the internet as a digital Wild West and high noon in the form of a horrifying TikTok trend is here again. Yet another conversation about the female gaze has reached the "for you" pages of the masses, and it’s sparked a debate about what exactly the term means.

In this trend, Kevin, a content creator who at the time was under the handle @strangek3vin, made a TikTok in which he lip-synced the words to Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend." He appeared nervous and fidgety at the beginning and then became confident in a flash. 

The video sparked a trend that many have since followed, attempting to capture what caused Kevin’s original content to go viral, even though the original video has since been taken down. But rest assured, there are still plenty of stitches to the original video that allow us to view it and catch up on the context. 

He quickly developed a female audience that gushed over his video in stitches and comments. There was something about how quickly he went from anxious to confident that attracted viewers and some felt it was the perfect example of the "female gaze."

Like many before him, the fame has seemingly gone to Kevin’s head, and his TikTok account turned into a thirst trap paradise where he continued to post similar videos to the original and has even gone shirtless on TikTok lives. His original account has since been banned which is no surprise given the frequency with which account bans occur on the internet.

But Kevin isn’t really the point here — just an example of a larger conversation that the internet, especially TikTok, has been having about the female gaze. So, what does this term mean exactly?

Of course, you may have guessed that the idea first arrived in contrast to the idea of the "male gaze" which is a filmmaking term created by Laura Mulvey. The male gaze refers to the way that media is controlled primarily by the men that make it, the male characters that feature in it and the audience that views it.

As a result, women are often objectified and their presence is much more two-dimensional and performative than male characters. Though this term was coined to describe media, some feel it’s applicable to real life as well.

To expand on this sentiment, I’d like to insert one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Atwood from her novel, "The Robber Bride," on male fantasies in everyday life: "You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur."

Those that believe in the female gaze, on the other hand, define it as storytelling from the perspective of women. The female gaze doesn’t objectify like the male gaze, and it delves deep into the feminine world rather than examining it with a shallow lens. 

Some question if the term is even valid since the origin is still rooted in the idea of the male gaze, which is inherently predatory and a result of living in a patriarchal society. Can we have a term that exists in total opposition to the original when it still emerged from a patriarchal society? The male gaze exists due to the power structures behind it, and these structures don’t support a gaze that women can look through. The world just isn’t particularly interested in a gaze dominated by feminist theory and a woman’s perspective.

Besides, if we want to have a conversation about issues pertaining to women’s place in media and how we view it, we can still achieve that by discussing the male gaze. In fact, it's likely what Mulvey intended when she coined the term male gaze.

Rather than creating a new lackluster phrase, we could focus on discussing how certain media either exists in the male gaze or doesn’t. Regardless of whether you believe the female gaze has merit, TikTok and other social media sites have taken an already shaky concept and run to the hills with it.

Whatever the original term was trying to do, these trends completely disregard the original intention, opting instead to focus on petty details and making female gaze and male gaze buzzwords.

This isn’t a surprise to any internet veteran as trends are where nuance comes to die. The story with the female gaze is no different. Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of people use the term to describe why unconventional men are attractive and why they prefer the Lokis of the world to the Thors.

But we don’t need terms and arguments loosely backed up by academic research to explain why we’re attracted to someone. Attraction is different for everyone, and one person's 10 may be another’s six and vice versa.

If I was Tom Hiddleston watching the internet use a term based on film theory to explain why they were attracted to me, I’d be pretty insulted. Most of the men that people use as examples for the female gaze aren’t even unattractive, they’re just not the god-like Adonises we see on People’s "Sexiest Man Alive" ranking. 

To me, Kevin, like many used for this theory, is just an average-looking man, and if thirst traps are your thing, it shouldn’t be that much of a quandary as to why you’re attracted to him.

So to use a term — quite incorrectly, in fact — to try to search for the reason behind this attraction is unnecessary and insulting. It also generalizes women, making the assumption that they’re all attracted to men and that they all look for the same things in men. 

The conversation around the female gaze, no matter which side of the fence you sit on, is a conversation worth having. Even if the term doesn’t quite have the validity people think it does, it’s still worth discussing these ideas to remember where they came from and why we even started having these kinds of exchanges.

But the internet often clogs proper discourse and removes any complexity the subject once had. To boil these terms down to a "who’s hot and who’s not" list is to miss the point entirely.

We shouldn’t be countering the way the patriarchy views the word by talking about how men without washboard abs are actually far more attractive to most women, but by trying to figure out how we can exist in a world without the male gaze. Instead of trying to counter it with a limiting female gaze, we should shatter the lens entirely and make the view a bit wider. 

And the next time we discuss the idea of the male gaze, let’s leave Kevin and Loki out of the discussion.

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