Gender Bias in Photography or Male Gaze / Man Gaze – Research

Those of you who follow me, know that for the past few weeks I conducted a research. I mentioned this on my instagram. This research was about gender bias in photography. And how it still remains and some more interesting facts I learnt through this small scale research.

Disclaimers before I start

  • This research consisted of responses from 238 people exactly. So this is no way a huge scale research.
  • These people belong to various fields, business, arts, IT, fashion designers and much more. Very few from those being photographers
  • Majority of the participants were Indians. So the results may change by region. (Though some participants who aren’t Indians also responded similarly)
  • I am not trying to generalise a gender here but tried to study on a whole collectively



About the research

If you are not aware of the “Male Gaze”, then you probably did not study or research into the history and psychology of arts. In photography or painting or any visual arts, the end product is a representation of the artist’s idea about the subject. And throughout history, it has been dominated by “Male Gaze”.

A quick google search about Male Gaze would give you

In feminist philosophy, the male gaze is the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine and heterosexual point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure

This pattern of objectifying women has been in existence for centuries and still is. This is one of the major factors why “Nudes” exist. It was ignored and was not an important topic to discuss as the society was dominated and more or less ruled by men! with women having no rights, no benefits and no significance whatsoever. I do not wish to get into a controversy. Though, as simple as that, being a male myself, in this age, I am well aware of how we, males, objectify women. Not just in photography but in many other ways. Even if not done or said, men, objectify women in their head at some point, even if it’s as minor as a grain. This could probably be something maybe a psychiatrist could explain as to why.

This brings another point, when men DO NOT objectify women and yet are perceived as “trying to objectify”.

We now live in a time when women have significance, a voice, a unity and enjoy their benefits and rights. Which is definitely good and much better than previous generations. So no matter how many excuses you have up your sleeve, whether you were objectifying or not, is out of the question. What passed down from centuries is changing and hence everything else needs to change.

These points and thoughts derived me to this research. Where I wanted to understand majorly from a female’s perspective, how they perceive a photograph of their own gender in different types of photography. And even before we begin, let me tell you, it’s complicated! LOL, much more than how men perceive photos of their own gender.

How was the research carried out

I selected photos, from three different genres of photography. 3 women and 3 men, from 3 photographers. Known for their 3 distinct styles. Displaying fashion and skin in different ways and poses. I do not wish to show those images here as they will directly be connected to those photographers who are well-known names, and I do not want to associate them to “Male Gaze”. Who ever participated, were shown 3 photos of their gender. And asked the following questions

  1. How do you feel about each photo
  2. How do you feel about the person in each photo
  3. What do you like and dislike in each photo

This was done online through Instagram as well as in person.



Findings (Collectively)

I am a male and I pretty much know how male brain thinks and perceives. So answers from male participants were not very different than what I had expected. Just one or two differentiated.

Males

Men do not judge sexuality of a photograph of a man by the expression on the face. They judge more by body language.

They appreciate a fit body and also are ok seeing a photo of a shirtless man with a well-built body. But, there is a limit beyond which it starts to gross out. And it mostly goes in an order, the more skin shown, the grosser it gets beyond that limit.

Men do not like photos of men who have different ideas of appearance than their own. For example, if someone does not like denim jackets, they do not really like to see a photo of a man with a denim jacket.

Majority of men do not like to see a man’s photo beyond their waist line. Especially from the back.

Males do not feel men in photos being objectified, they rather see it as a stupid or unwanted attention seeking act or pose.

Females

If you’ve heard “Eyes are the window to the soul”, this is very true for females. Majority of them. Unlike men, expression is the first thing women notice.

They also appreciate a fit body, but they don’t gross out as much as men to see women showing skin beyond comfortable levels. For them, it is more about the intention of the photo, the expression on the woman’s face, and the story.

Women are more comfortable seeing their own gender than seeing men. And they do not mind women in photos if they have different taste of fashion and appearance than themselves.

Women sense objectification not just by how much skin is shown, but more by the overall photo, which includes expression and intention and story. Even a close-up shot of a face can be perceived as objectification. And they also care about that being done by the photographer.

Unpleasant Valley / Uncanny Valley

If you aren’t aware of uncanny valley, it is a concept in graphics, robotics and artificial intelligence etc. it is as follows

In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion (or uncanniness) among some observers

Have a look at this graph from Wikipedia

 

What it shows is if “Likeability” were on the Y axis (Vertical) and “Closeness to real humans” was on X (Horizontal), There is a dip in likeability when the closeness is very close. This is the reason you feel negative when you see a wax statue that is very close to real life but isn’t alive.

In Photography, I found this is very close to how men and women perceived in this research. However, men differ a lot from women.

For men, the dip in the likeness of the photo of the same gender comes more due to personal reasons, if they do not match the style of the person being portrayed, if there is too much skin shown than he would like to see. Or simply because they don’t find the person in the photo good looking.

For women, the dip in the likeness of the photo of the same gender is more due to the photographic reasons. If the expression of the person isn’t right or if the story isn’t right. Their unlikeliness doesn’t seed mostly from the fashion or appearance of the person in the photo, rather, they care more about what that person in the photo is doing, for what and before who. For them, a unclothed woman can be as normal, and a fully clothed woman can be “being objectified”. It all depends on what story the photo is saying in the end.

No wonder, some of the best-known Photo editors of the world are women!

Conclusion

These are no scientific papers but rather just my tiny little research. It may be way off and completely untrue in different regions. What I found was eye opening for me and I wanted to be better able to see through the eyes of women. And from their eyes, any sort of objectification is very apparent. So if you objectify then you do, there are on excuses for it. And there is nothing artistic about objectification and it must stop.

let me know in the comments what thoughts you have about this topic.

As always, thank you for reading and have a great week!