November 20, 2008

The Male Gaze Performs Community Service

Today, I was in the elevator at LSE, going up to the Gender Institute, when I realized the wind had probably messed up my hair. BEcause I was giving a seminar facilitation in about twenty minutes, I wanted to look presentable. I knew from past rides that there was a mirror in this particular elevator, so I began to use it for the purpose of preening. I was in the process of fixing my wind-swept hair when the lone other passenger in the elevator, a handsome young man of around my age, said to me with a big smile, "Don't worry, your hair looks fine." WTF?

Here's the thing, I can use a mirror. I don't care if my hair looked fine to him; it did not to me. I had clearly made that value judgement or I would not have started to fix it. Was the fact that he approved supposed to invalidate my own opinion about my looks? "Don't worry, honey, you don't need a mirror, you have the male gaze!"

The irony is idea that he would reassure me and thus eliminate my need to preen is preposterous, because what he didn't know was that I wasn't fixing myself for the male gaze at all. I was headed to a class of only women. The fact that he thought I looked fine did not matter to me. I was performing superficial preening for the benefit of my female peers and professor.

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