Oppositional Gaze

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Hook's main argument in her article is that women of color, specifically African- American women, have to appropriate a realm in which the oppositional gaze can exist.  Hooks develops this argument in the article's exposition by suggesting that there was a punishment to gazing.  Children would be rebuked if they stared too long, or gazed, at adults.  Then, when they were reprimanded for doing so and would look away, they were chastised further:  "Look at me when I talk to you."  In this experience, the gaze, as a transformational quality, was repudiated.  Children, specifically children of color and girls in particular, were told to not gaze.  For Hooks, the gaze represents a point where transformation can occur.  When we gaze, we study, we critique, and we offer insight to transform what is into what can be.  To gaze is to envision something different than what is.  It is a vehicle of thought and critical analysis.  To punish the gaze is to remove a realm where scrutiny of power, control, and identity can be present.  For Hooks, those in the position of cultural, artistic, social, and political power benefit when the gaze is removed.

From this, Hooks goes on to define how the oppositional gaze can be powerful.  In the article, Hooks' purpose is thus to construct a realm where the oppositional gaze can exist:

When I returned to films as a young woman, after a long period of silence, I had developed an oppositional gaze.  Not only would I be hurt by the absence of black female presence, or the insertion of violating representation, I interrogated the work, cultivated a way to look past race and gender for aspects of content, form, language.  Foreign films and U.S. independent cinema were the primary locations of my filmic looking relations, even though I also watched Hollywood films.

Through "looking at films with an oppositional gaze," Hooks asserts that those voices who are silenced can develop a realm in which critical judgments and assessments can be made.  This condition does not punish gazing, but rather praises it as an essential element in being able to transform what is into what can and should be.