Male Gaze for a Male Church

From Wikipedia:

In film, the male gaze occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man.

Awhile ago I hit on the idea that when approaching the Temple ceremony it was much easier for me to have a positive experience by adopting a Male Gaze- by forcing myself to look at the ceremony as if I were a man, rather than engaging the ceremony directly as a woman.

For example it is fairly well known that women wear a veil over their faces in one part of the ceremony. When I first attended the Temple that veil was very hurtful to me. I understood veils within the temple to be barrier between the profane and the divine. When the veil was between me and God it should be obvious which side is profane and which is divine.

In reading and pondering that veil and it’s meaning, I had the idea that the question to be asking isn’t “What is this veil supposed to say to me about my relationship to men and God?” Instead the question to be asking was “What is this veil supposed to say to men about me, and what does that say about my relationship to men and God?” Nearly all the answers I could find to the first question were hurtful, while there are many potentially positive answers to the second question.

Oddly enough I’ve found that by running nearly everything said in the Temple, the scriptures, manuals, and general conference through a “male gaze filter” I feel much more at home and loved in the church. My experiences and enjoyment of church meetings have improved dramatically by assuming that everything said is said to men- then extrapolating meaning for me as a woman from that.

While it isn’t ideal, and I still very much long for religious experiences that are for and about women I’ve found that this is an effective stop-gap to keep my church related experiences from being actively hurtful.

Starfoxy

Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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41 Responses

  1. Amy says:

    Wow, Starfoxy. I have never thought of things in that way before. That point of view is something I definitely want to think more about. What a well-thought and studied post. It also speaks to your open mind. Thanks for that thought! Much food for thought!

  2. Hydrangea says:

    Very interesting topic Spunky. I admire you for trying to change your perspective and allowing that to positively change your attitude. It’s hard to do.

    Last month I made an appointment with the temple president to discuss the veil. To me it is a bit disorienting, and symbolically confusing. He said that he is questioned about it frequently. He said that he asked Elder Packer about it and Elder Packer said the woman’s veil is symbolic of something specific but he couldn’t disclose. So it wasn’t much help. Could it represent ‘hiding’ Heavenly mother? Hmm.

  3. isobel says:

    omg, i’ve been doing this my whole life, my whole life and never realizing it until probably a few years after i was endowed. in retrospect, i think my ability to assume the “male gaze,” as you call it, stems from the fact that i relate so much more to my father than my mother in basically every way, and have a better/more supportive relationship with him also. it’s actually difficult for me to find any desire for a [relationship with] heavenly mother (this is also because a heteronormative point of view doesn’t come naturally to me either).

    I once asked my favorite OT institute teacher about veils and he said it was related to relationship [marital] symbolism, as well as gender roles– as with “presiding” it’s the male responsibility to deal directly with god– face-to-face –and to protect females from the potential harshness of that encounter (harshness=OT god wrath, etc). either way, it’s safe to assume it’s not coming from anything that would satisfy a woman pining for equality before god.

    thus, i always assumed the “male gaze” (it helped that i didn’t go to the temple just before i got married– i never had to link any of it to an actual relationship with an actual man). when i step back and take a look at my mormon self, i’m a little stunned at how much of the gender stuff i overlooked, without even thinking about it! i just assumed that whatever god had to say to a man he had to say to me. helped me stick with the church a lot longer than i think i would’ve otherwise.

    (then i wrote a poem about it before my last temple visit: http://tosendwarmth.blogspot.com/2010/08/i-am-my-fathers-daughter.html, realizing that for me, the line between relating to my father on earth and relating to my father in heaven is sometimes kinda fuzzy, etc.)

  4. suzann says:

    I take my feminine gaze into the temple ceremony and reinterpret the sexist parts to match the equality Jesus Christ demonstrated in his ministry. In all the whiteness and beauty, I visualize myself wrapped in wholeness , love, wisdom and power.

    Many years ago, Margaret Toscano suggested to me that the veil women wear is symbolic in the same way as is the veil of temple. Through both veils, we see God. So, during the veiling ceremony, I think of Goddess Wisdom, and embrace the wonder of being a women, a goddess in the making.

    Suzann

    I

    • jenneology says:

      Suzanne, I appreciate this and had a thought to extend it. Just as the Goddess is veiled from us, we are veiled. Perhaps a time will come when those veils will no longer be literal but only in remembrance of the past? Another way to think of it is that by veiling our faces, we invite the Goddess into that part of the ceremony?

    • Katrina says:

      beautiful symbolism! Thank you for sharing that, Suzann.

  5. Anita says:

    paul’s comments in the NT about veiling seem to indicate to me that the veil gives women authority, which whether or not is accurate, is an interpretation i like.

  6. jks says:

    Slightly off topic question – Anyone know where I can find the feminist short story written in the 1980s or early 90s where it is a sacrament meeting where everything was flipped genderwise? For instance the announcements included “Sisters, make sure your husbands….” etc.

  7. jks says:

    Thanks Keri but that isn’t it. It is similar, but it is portraying what is said to a combined gender group with everything flipped. Any other ideas? Maybe if I check that thread someone will mention it.

  8. Lacy says:

    Starfoxy,

    This is exactly what I used to inadvertently do before my feminist awakening. Part of me wishes I could go back to it–life/church was so much easier back then! But I can’t. I owe it to my daughters to hand them down a view of God without any filter. Especially a “male gaze” one. You know?

    And JKS: my aunt emailed me the content of the Elouise Bell “The Meeting” story. I can’t find where she got it to send you the link, but if you email me, I’ll forward the story on to you: lacy.lee AT gmail.com

  9. z says:

    Sigh. Insightful writing, Starfoxy, but it just makes me really, really sad that that’s what it takes.

  10. Corktree says:

    I’m going back to church this Sunday as a sort of test for myself. I don’t really like that this is what it might take to make services bearable, but I might just give it a try to keep me from walking out this time around.

  11. Deborah says:

    Starfoxy, you wrote: “Instead the question to be asking was “What is this veil supposed to say to men about me, and what does that say about my relationship to men and God?” Nearly all the answers I could find to the first question were hurtful, while there are many potentially positive answers to the second question.”

    Just curious, what are the “potentially positive answers” you found when you flipped perspectives?

    • Starfoxy says:

      Since having that thought, I’ve come to think of the veil along the lines of how Anita mentioned (and Julie M. Smith convinced me of it with this post).
      The positive answers I had at the time were along these lines: A man looks at a woman in a veil and thinks “I can’t see her face- maybe her beauty isn’t what’s important about her.” Or he thinks “a veil separates me from God, and a veil separates me from women, perhaps women are important, and autonomous, and not chattel or inferior to me.” Things along those lines.
      There are plenty of infuriating answers one could come up with as well, but at least it’s not limited to thinking of one’s self as unable to approach God without covering your profane self.

      • Rachel says:

        When I went for the first time, this was exactly my thought. There are potentially men holding/touching women they may not be married to. It keeps men on task as to what they’re supposed to be putting their mental/spiritual energy toward.

      • Amy says:

        Really appreciated the link to the Julie M. Smith post. Very thought-provoking for me.

      • Sarah says:

        I don’t know, I think that just means to say men can’t control their thoughts. Maybe they just need to learn. I will forever tell my Husband to be, even when he is the hubby in the next few short weeks, that My beauty is secondary, everytime I hear a comment I’m beautiful, I hate, hate, hate that.

        That just to me just says “Oh men need visual reminders” it doesn’t make them work that they have to be focused on their words not my face. I just think its rather lame. I mean okay makes sense on how culture is for now, but…I don’t like it. I have considered putting to the test when I have boys, that I will always tell them, it matters not what a person looks like but what a person says, and how a person acts. Looks are important, but they are secondary, or third to what a person says and does. So I guess the need for the viel may stop, when men actually think “Oh duh, I’m in control of my own thoughts. Her looks shouldn’t blind me.” And take control for their own thinking.

  12. Caroline says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post, Starfoxy.

    Like z, I’m left feeling really sad that this is what we need to do to not feel hurt and belittled in our faith community. I also hand it to you, Starfoxy, for being able to do this. It would be very hard for me to filter everything I see around me in Mormonism through the male gaze. The fact that we need to take this step makes me question whether or not our faith tradition sees women as fully human before God.

  13. Carla says:

    I don’t know. It bothers me that you have to essentially disconnect from your femininity in order to have a positive experience, that you can’t have as positive of an experience if you have a fully female mindset – you have to deny a huge part of who you are.

  14. Stephanie2 says:

    Insightful post. I’ve had a similar realization about the temple. It is very male-centric. I think that has more to do with when the ceremony was written and recorded and who wrote and recorded it than what God has in mind for us as women. I think that realizing it is male-centric and trying to look past that to figure out what it was that God revealed that was then interpreted through male lenses helps me. That sounds a lot like your “male gaze filter”. I think it’s an effort to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  15. grandmatk says:

    Thank you for your post, I enjoyed reading it along with the comments. I don’t mean to intrude on your discussion but I would like to share an experience. First, I like all of you, wonder about the symbolism and try to understand it.

    When my mother passed away, I along with a few sisters in her ward dressed her in the temple ceremonial clothes. After my initial tears of sadness, my emotions were replaced with an over whelming sense that I was dressing royalty. Each item became a symbol of her mortal experience and her virtue, with each item she became more dignified or perhaps deified. When the time came to close the casket, I being the only daughter walked over and pulled the veil over her face. At that very moment, my mother became sacred and protected.

    Now when I attend the temple, the veil has a whole new perspective for me, only the most sacred things are veiled in the temple. It is at the temple that I feel most equal with my husband or rather men in general; it is only after we depart the temple the world creeps in and slowly lowers my status as a woman. I sense it is this mortal estate that lowers my significance, not God.

  16. kmillecam says:

    I find the fact that you are required to use the male gaze to feel like a full and complete person in Mormon culture to be the largest of problems. It indicates that the structure itself is toxic.

    That said, I certainly can’t blame anyone who does this (viewing things through the male gaze) in order to cope with these circumstances.

  17. Kaimi says:

    Just vote for Prop 8, it will protect you from the gaze.

  18. Kaimi says:

    Oh, Starfoxy. This is perceptive, and heartbreaking, and makes me want to pull out my hair. Because you’re right, of course, and that’s really the depressing part.

    I think it’s quite true that if women suppress their own view and take the point of view of the men in the community, the church looks pretty good. It provides for the needs of men, sends affirming messages to men, and sometimes reminds the men to be nice to the women.

    This is also known as male privilege. The system is optimized for male experience, and women’s views are not given anywhere near the same weight.

    I think that it’s great as a general matter to step outside of one’s own perspective and consider the views of others. It can be a soul-enlarging experience. On the flip side, this has to be an exchange, not simply submission. If it’s not reciprocal, then the process invites exploitation.

    And it’s absolutely the case that women in the church are often encouraged to adopt a male perspective. Women are told, for instance, that they should wear clothing that doesn’t tempt the poor deacons. Just think of the deacons! Put yourself in his shoes. What does it feel like to be a 12-year-old boy first noticing women’s curves?

    But the reverse is seldom true. I don’t think that men ask themselves, how would I feel if I had to perform this ceremony behind a mask, as though my very face was something shameful? How would I feel if I were repeatedly placed in a subservient position vis-a-vis my spouse, and my spouse were placed as an intermediary between me and God? How does that framing create inequality, disharmony, or abuse? I just don’t think that the male hierarchy running the show takes much time to adopt a female gaze.

    In society in general, and the church in particular, women are taught to be subservient, submissive, meek, self-sacrificing. In the dominant narrative, the woman sacrifices her own desires to become a wife and mother. And the act of then consciously choosing to adopt a male gaze in the temple is, ironically, an incredibly feminine act (in the sense of cultural definitions of femininity), because it is such a further negation of self.

    The asymmetry of the exchange is too much for me, and I can’t endorse it. I totally understand that it can be a useful coping tool for individual women who have to survive within the patriarchal system. But wow, I just wish that more women would say, enough is enough. I have a female gaze and it is not the same as the male gaze, and these institutions do not represent my values and experience, and here’s why. (And then, that the institution would listen and respond.) Women have so much to offer from their own stories, and those will always be the most real.

    (And paradoxically, the church itself reiterates the importance of the female soul in places like the Proclamation. I have all sorts of problems with the Proclamation, as you all know. But I think it is deeply incongruous with church gender doctrine if the people in the temple are all either men-thinking-like-men or women-thinking-like-men.)

    • Amy says:

      I think that in having the true church to house the true ordinances and doctrines of Christ- in some ways it may be imperfect due to the fact that those of us who are administrating Christ’s church are imperfect and also due to the fact that our understanding at this point in time is less than perfect. I propose that many of our frustrations and dissatisfactions with the church as women may have less to do with the gospel itself and more to do with the imperfection of the people and culture that surrounds it. And perhaps, as we pray and sincerely try to find the purpose of what goes on, we will be granted more understanding and perhaps so will others.
      “In society in general, and the church in particular, women are taught to be subservient, submissive, meek, self-sacrificing. In the dominant narrative, the woman sacrifices her own desires to become a wife and mother.”
      My response to this, is that to attain anything worth having, there is sacrifice involved. I also think that for a man to be fulfilling his role as a worthy father, priesthood holder, etc, there will be things that he must sacrifice as well. Yes, it is a different sacrifice, but in a traditional male role, he also doesn’t have the same closeness that “traditional” mothers may have with their children.
      Although it may not be perfect, I think the church has actually helped me in some ways as a SAHM to be able to spend time outside of the home and be fulfilled in other ways through my callings. I have had opportunites to plan big activities, spend time with youth who weren’t my own children and work together with capable women and men. I feel I have been able to develop some talents I may not have had the courage to pursue on my own. Plus, I did want to be a SAHM and yes, there are times when it is a sacrifice, but it’s OK to want that and to be happy with that even when the world is pulling us in so many directions as women. When my kids are older, I may get my Masters Degree and work or maybe I’ll do more volunteer work. There can be a time and a season for many things, we don’t have to do them all at the same time. I think that is one of Satan’s tools. He makes us feel so inadequate when we can’t do EVERYTHING at once.

  19. Amy says:

    While I have enjoyed reading what goes on in this blog, I am a bit disheartened and alienated that people keep “disliking” what I write, even when it doesn’t seem very opinionated. (there are a few times I have commented, and can see why others may have hit the “dislike” button). It makes my opinions feel unwelcome here- and perhaps they are.

    • Deborah says:

      Let me emphatically state that your opinions are absolutely welcome here! And I hope you stick around. We only recently added the like/dislike option (it comes with our server format); the downside to “dislike” is the people who click it might not actually engage in a dialogue and it’s anonymous. My favorite part of this blog — respectful sharing of stories and experiences, even when people don’t necessarily agree.

    • Caroline says:

      Amy,
      We appreciate your contributions. I hope you keep commenting.

      And thanks for pointing out the problems with the like/dislike feature. I hadn’t thought much about how it could make people feel unwelcome, but your comment has brought it to our attention. We’re planning to disable the feature.

  20. Whoa-man says:

    Brilliant! And applicable. I love posts where I can go out and test the theories my next temple session or church meeting. Thank you.

  21. Barbaricyawps says:

    I’m a little behind on my RSS feeds so I just now saw this post. But I wanted to thank you for posting it, Starfoxy. It was so thought-provoking that it derailed my entire evening as I was engrossed in deep thought about it. Even though the comments on this post have probably gone stale by now, I’ll go ahead and add my two cents.

    First random thought: I’d encourage you to check out Laura Mulvey’s very famous feminist film essay entitled “Visual Pleasure and and Narrative Cinema.” This seminal essay is responsible for popularizing the theoretical notion of the male gaze. Although I don’t necessarily share Mulvey’s dogmatic commitment to psychoanalytic theory, her essay is a fascinating exploration of how the language of Hollywood film forces us to identify with the active male subject who looks on the passive female object. I re-read the essay tonight and it had me thinking about the temple film in a whole new light.

    Second random thought: Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Movie Test which actively tests to see whether females have an active presence in a film? Sadly, your article made me realize that the temple film fails the test: http://bechdeltest.com/. It’s also always bothered me that after Eve makes the promise to hearken to her husband, she’s silent for the remainder of the film. (I know you were trying to articulate positive ways of interacting with the temple ceremony, but I couldn’t help noticing some additional problems that I personally need to puzzle through.)

    Third random thought: Actually, I think that females are very adept at learning how to identify with the male gaze. We’re trained how to do this at an early age through literature and pop culture. The majority of popular literature and pop culture usually has male protagonists or is narrated from a male perspective. Because of the abundance of male characters and male-centric narratives, females have learned how to easily identify with both male and female protagonists. But I’ve heard it argued that men have a much more difficult time identifying with female protagonists—perhaps because they are provided fewer opportunities to identify with a female. In fact, Mulvey makes a side note in her article that even female protagonists do not really enjoy the full benefits that a male subject usually enjoys—but she doesn’t go into much detail why. Could this potential lack of male empathy (and lack of opportunities for males to develop empathy) be part of the problem?

    • Sarah says:

      Wow, that last thought. Yes I totally agree. I think that the lack of a strong female presence in the lives of males are harmful and hurtful to their full development, as is the lack of a strong male presence harmful and hurtful to a full development of females. (Though by strong male presence I mean in homes where the father is absent).

      I though for one, am really just tired at looking at everything from a male glaze. I notice silently saying in my head, maybe whispering it out loud the words “heavenly mother” after Heavenly Father and “priestesshood” after mention of priesthood makes my experience at church somewhat more enjoyable. I think I may use this (though keeping it in my head) while I go through the Temple.

      • Sarah says:

        Basically in my first thought, we need a strong duality in our religion, in our world. When we don’t have that, everything is chaotic, or seriously one sided.

  1. March 11, 2011

    […] Due to the male gaze it is easy for men to grow up mainly being inundated with music, books, movies, and themes that are […]

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