More On the Gaze: Some Thoughts Prompted By Dianna Anderson

Yesterday I wrote a post Can a Jesus Feminist Wear High Heels?: Evolutionary and Incarnational Reflections on the Male Gaze. In the comments Dianna Anderson gave some helpful and constructive pushback to the post. Dianna also followed up with a post on her blog: Cruciform Incarnation: In Which All Bodies Must Matter. I encourage you to read her thoughtful reflections.

Given the blinders I have on in light of my social location I'm always deeply appreciative about getting feedback--even strong feedback--about the ways I might be intentionally or unintentionally excluding others.

So this isn't a "response" or "rebuttal" to Dianna, just a string of thoughts I had yesterday thinking about Dianna's comments and the post she wrote in response to mine.

I want to start with the conclusion of my post. A part of the problem, as Dianna saw it (and I'm sure others as well), was that my analysis in the post focused to heterosexual relationships. A part of that was simply due to the fact that I was responding to a concrete situation in how the male gaze might play out (or not) in a heterosexual marriage. And while that case study might have been limiting (and, thus, exclusionary), I think the theological conclusion of the post generalizes to every person in any sort of romantic arrangement.

Specifically, the theological conclusion of the post doesn't depend upon anything that Dianna finds objectionable to the post. For example, and I'll discuss this in more detail in a minute, Dianna finds gender essentialism in my stating that males are, statistically speaking, more visually stimulated than females. For the sake of argument, that's a point easily conceded. It doesn't really matter which partner of whatever relationship is or is not more visually stimulated. The theological point of the post is that, if this preference exists, for whatever reason, Christians aren't going to force that preference on their partners. The visual aspects of sex are to be free of power and coercion. The visual aspects of sex should be engaged in playfully and joyously. Your partner might want you to wear a teddy or high heels or leather chaps or a clown suit. Such visually-based kinks are all part of the fun if there is mutualism and cruciform love.

So it doesn't matter all that much if there is or is not a statistical trend showing that males, on average, are more visually stimulated than females.

The point being, I think the theological vision of the post is very inclusive.

Now the controversial parts of the post are due to the fact that I do make some claims and arguments about male arousal being more visually-based. I want to talk more about about those claims and arguments. But before doing that we need to disentangle two things that I think Dianna mixes up a little bit.

In my post there are two scientific claims/arguments being made. The first is descriptive and the second is explanatory. And they need to be keep distinct from each other.

The descriptive claim is that, statistically speaking, the male arousal system is more visual than females (which is more relational/emotional).

The explanatory part is a speculative argument proposed by some evolutionary psychologists about why this difference came about.

Let's start with the descriptive claim. Are males more visual in their arousal system? The answer to this question has nothing to do with evolutionary psychology. It's a simple empirical claim that we can gather evidence for or against. And as I pointed out to Dianna, I think the evidence is clear that the difference exists. For my part, given that I'm convinced by the psychological and brain imaging data, I think it's best to, tentatively, assume this data point in theological reflections about embodiment.

But Dianna's point is well taken, we should never reduce incarnational theology to this (or any other) data point. But mentioning the data point and reflecting on it isn't the same as being reductionistic. It's not inappropriate to theologically reflect on a data point regarding human biology (if it exists). That's a place where I think Dianna misjudges a bit. To reflect on something is not to reduce. To say something is not to be taken as saying everything.

Now, three points about this descriptive issue.

First, if there is a "difference" between the genders in this regard the difference is statistical, not essentialistic. In trying to explain why men are "different" from women in this regard what we are trying to account for isn't an essential difference between Platonic types. We're trying to explain a statistical trend, why more men, statistically, are visually stimulated relative to women.

Because, to be clear, any given person can be however they are. Conforming or breaking with the trend. Which brings me back to the theological point of the post: it doesn't really matter if this trend does or does not apply to you, but if it does you need to not lord it over your partner. Same goes for any sexual preference or inclination.

Second, Dianna pointed out in her post that most (perhaps all) of the studies on vision and sexual arousal have mainly looked at heterosexual men, heterosexual women and gay men. There hasn't been a lot of work regarding visual arousal with other groups (e.g., transgender persons or lesbians). And that's a point worth making.

Still, I don't think it changes the conclusions I reach. If we, for the sake of argument, grant that any particular LGBTQ group is just as visually simulated as heterosexual and gay men then I'd simply say that, in those particular relationships, the sexual gaze should not be privileged or lorded over the partner. Again, most everything I'm saying generalizes.

And finally, let me just make a simple logical observation. We're talking about the male gaze. Which seems to presuppose that there's something going on with the male visual psychology in regards to women. If there were no differences between the genders in this regard we wouldn't be having conversation about a gaze. We'd surely be talking about something else, but not a gaze. This whole conversation seems to assume the trend being denied. If there are no visual biases at work then this conversation doesn't happen. We'd be talking about men doing something else to women rather than gazing at them.

And this brings us to the more controversial part of the post, the explanatory account based on an argument from evolutionary psychology.

First, to be clear, this explanatory account can be wholly wrong and the descriptive differences between the genders (the statistical trends) still be true. Again, there is a distinction here between description and explanation.

Regarding Dianna's concerns, in her post she says that I'm using the evolutionary account to "baptize" the male gaze. I'd like to disagree with that. I'm not trying to baptize the male gaze. I am trying to naturalize it and, thus, root it in an incarnational theological account. And by naturalize I mean, as I said clearly in the post, to render the gaze morally neutral, akin, like I said, to why sugar tastes sweet. Naturalizing is a far cry from baptizing, as I also clearly say that these natural responses can be used for good or ill. Like eating sugar can be good or bad.

As I mentioned in a comment to Dianna, we have to remember Hume's Dictum: You can't get an ought from an is. Just because something is natural doesn't make it good.

So my attempt to naturalize the male gaze wasn't an attempt baptize it. For example, in the post I describe a relational context where the gaze is good. Like there are times when eating sugar is okay. But I also described where the gaze is evil. Like when eating too much sugar isn't a good idea. In short, the gaze in neutral, dependent upon context. And like I said above, that can be a LGBTQ context or a hetero context.

In a related criticism, Dianna felt that the appeal to an adaptive history was "foreclosing on a framework for how power and historical sexism even enter the picture." As I mentioned in my comment to her, I actually felt that I was doing the exact opposite. Again, in pointing to the adaptive aspects of the male gaze I'm not justifying it on ethical grounds (again, Hume's dictum). This leaves the field wide open to explore how this particular adaptive quirk has became a locus of oppression. Consider a parallel example: skin color. There is an adaptive history behind skin pigmentation. But noting that adaptive history doesn't justify oppressing people based upon skin color. The same reasoning holds for the male gaze. Just because males have a visual bias doesn't mean women must submit or be subjected to it. So the framework Dianna is asking for to explore how men have exploited the gaze to oppress women is as wide open as it is for those wanting to explore how whites have exploited skin color to oppress people of color. The adaptive backstory doesn't foreclose on any investigation that Dianna might want to do in analyzing how the male gaze is oppressive to women.

All I'm suggesting, and I could be totally wrong about this, is that a when a male looks at a female and feels sexual arousal this isn't intrinsically a symptom of patriarchy. Some of the time it might just be biology. But that arousal, no matter its source, doesn't justify any actions toward a woman that are oppressive, dehumanizing or exploitative. And that will most likely mean that a man must restrict, redirect or resist his gaze. And personally, I think that's an interesting area for theological reflection. When does fleeting and spontaneous sexual arousal become objectification? Is that even a legitimate or helpful distinction? I think it is, but when and how to make that distinction is an open question.

That said, the evolutionary account I gave is very speculative. But happily, it's the most expendable and severable part of the post. You can take it or leave it. As I've noted, it doesn't affect the descriptive issues noted above or the theological implications, for all persons, hetero and LGBTQ.

One issue to kick around, however, is how any appeal to evolution is inherently biased toward heterosexuality given the central role of biological reproduction in both natural and sexual selection. To be honest, I'm not sure how that should be handled. I'm assuming, of course, that anyone working in queer theology believes in evolution. So we admit that evolution happened, and generally agree that it works as Darwin said it works, through differential reproductive success. We grant all that but agree to never use it as theological data? Is that the way we are to proceed? Or are there times when an incarnational approach can legitimately invoke evolutionary history, despite its bias toward reproductive success?

My point is that evolution looks biased, given its mechanisms. So it's hard to talk about what happened during evolution, which we all agree happened, without looking biased. But it's also strange to talk about embodiment and never candidly talk about the forces that shaped our bodies over millions of years. And again, to return to Dianna's point, theological reflections regarding embodiment shouldn't be reduced to evolutionary accounts. That's a given. What I'm asking about if evolution can ever provide theological data.

And finally, what I found very helpful in Dianna's post is how I may have been misusing labels and, thus, causing confusion. As Dianna defines it, "the male gaze" is intrinsically oppressive. Thus it makes sense to resist any attempt of mine to extract oppression from that label. If that's the case then I was misusing the label "male gaze" in equating it almost synonymously with "visual bias in male sexual arousal." That was a mistake on my part, a sloppy use of terms. The purpose of my post was to extract a psychological feature from an analysis of power, to make a distinction between sexual psychologies and how those sexual psychologies become loci of oppression.

If that distinction is coherent--visual bias in sexual arousal is distinct from power--then I think the incarnational theology I sketched in the last post holds, for everyone. We might debate the descriptive issue about if men show this bias, statistically speaking, more often than women. We might debate how this bias is distributed across the LGBTQ spectrum. And we can keep or discard the adaptive framework. But overall, the theological thrust of the post holds for everyone in every relationship.

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38 thoughts on “More On the Gaze: Some Thoughts Prompted By Dianna Anderson”

  1. Since knowledge is power, I appreciate feminist vigilance against any misrepresentation or misapplication of it. That said, I think that Richard has acquitted himself of those charges. And I think that feminists need to also be vigilant against violating Peirce's dictum: Do no block the way of inquiry. Thanks, Richard, for demonstrating that the quest for knowledge can be done with all due consideration.

  2. Dianna’s claim that an incarnational theology must include all bodies, while doubtless well-intentioned, seems to miss some fairly elementary truths. In particular, human bodies and human nature have a form. There are bodies with only one leg, but the human being is bipedal. There are bodies that are comatose, but the human being has self-consciousness. There are bodies that are blind, but the human being is sighted. There are human bodies that are homosexual, but the human being is ordered towards heterosexual reproduction. There are human bodies that are intersexed, but the human being is sexually dimorphic.

    None of this means that the exceptions don’t exist, that they don’t matter, or that it isn’t incumbent upon us to provide an account of them. Nor does it mean that persons with bodies that depart from the form of the human being in some manner or other aren’t embodied, that the form of their embodiment isn’t worthy of reflection, or even that the nature of their embodiment doesn’t have much to teach the rest of us. However, the notion that their existence allows us to dispense with the idea of a form to human nature is grossly mistaken. The human form is not ambivalent on the issue of hearing, despite the fact that many lack the sense. Hearing isn’t just ‘more common’ than deafness, nor is it just a probabilistic human trait.

    Incarnational theology shouldn’t solely have for its object actually existing bodies and the lowest common denominator between them: it must also reflect upon the normative forms of human existence. What does it mean that we have been created as a species with the power of speech and sight (despite the fact that some are mute and blind)? What does it mean that we have been created as a sexually reproducing species (despite the fact that some are sexually inactive, infertile, homosexual, or asexual)? What does it mean that God created us male and female (despite the fact that intersexed persons exist)? What does it mean that we have been created as a species with self-consciousness and rationality (despite the fact that some persons are comatose or very severely mentally disabled)?

    When we reach the point of people starting to dismiss the validity of reflection upon these natural forms of the human being simply because they are hetero- and cisnormative, I start to wonder whether they have ceased drinking the feminist and queer theory koolaid and have taken to eating the powder right from the packet.

  3. The location of incarnation is unclear for me in this discussion. Just the human body? And what is the difference between theosis and incarnation?

  4. "I start to wonder whether they have ceased drinking the feminist and queer theory koolaid and have taken to eating the powder right from the packet."

    This made me laugh.

  5. I think a lot of tensions, cross-talking, misunderstandings, needs for clarification, etc. is simply the product of the messiness of cross-disciplinary conversation. Disciplines of thought have habits of mind and modes of discourse and working assumptions. And when disciplines come together not all of that stuff lines up very well.

    For example, I strongly reject the working assumption in some areas of cultural studies that claim that gender and sex are wholly social constructions. I'll readily admit that they are extraordinarily plastic and largely mediated by culture. But coming from my discipline of psychology I don't believe in a blank slate.

    To illustrate this. One reason I don't believe in a social constructivist account of same-sex attraction is that I think some people are born gay. It's not a language game or cultural construction. It's just the simple--factual--givenness of their biology and psychology. You don't need a seminar in queer studies to apprehend that data point. And yet, that fact runs counter to the narrative of social construction, that language and culture works on an infinitely moldable and malleable psychological and biological substrate. Minds and bodies aren't silly puddy. And neither are they rocks. There's a middle ground here.

    Is that gay kid simply gay or is he engaged in a language game? I think he's just gay, God bless him. Social constructivists in the Cultural Studies seminar be damned.

  6. Good question. I would be interested to hear Dianna's take on this. Within my thinking incarnation operates in terms of Christ's incarnation, resurrection, and glorification in the ascension. It shouldn't just be conflatedwith generic embodiment.

  7. Alastair, just a note to say thanks again for your thoughtful reflections. And a part of my bracketing the evolutionary stuff was in large part due to your reflections.

  8. Embodiment also includes telos, with the purpose of the body being an integral part of what makes it that particular kind of body. And the purpose is baked in, not imposed from without.

  9. I think that you overestimate the degree to which being gay stands free of social construction. The whole concept of 'being gay' is heavily socially constructed, growing out of distinctively Western notions of 'homosexuality' and the 'homosexual' as a set identity, a particular understanding of the way that 'sexual orientation' functions relative to one's broader identity, culturally contingent forms of social expression of one's sexual identity (dressing in particular ways, adopting certain affectations and mannerisms, enjoying particular cultural products, and so on), etc. Something like David Greenberg's weighty tome is worth reading on this, illustrating the remarkable variety of ways in which homosexual relations and identities appear and are registered in various cultural systems. Let's also add into the equation the fact that there are cultures where homosexuality is unknown.

    Is homosexuality simply a 'language game'? Of course not! Nor, for that matter, should the recognition of the cultural contingency and construction of an identity imply that the identity could be shed with ease, or that is purely a 'choice'. Being gay is heavily culturally constructed, but it isn't something that is detached from nature. I believe that it is dangerous to think of homosexuality as if it were a 'choice'. I also suspect that there are persons in the Aka tribe who would identify as 'gay' if they were raised in our culture. They possess a natural inclination to which our culture would afford that particular identity. However, within a very different form of culture, that inclination would not be operative in the same manner, might be sublimated in various ways (for instance in the close 'romantic' but non-sexual friendships that used to be more prevalent between persons of the same sex), identities might be forged in a very different manner, sexual activity might be constructed in a manner that made homosexual acts less thinkable, etc.

    I think that we need to be careful not to draw too straight a line between our desires and their supposed external objects (and I am not making these statements about gay persons in particular, but about everyone). Also, we need to recognize that desires are culturally constructed too, through the medium of language and cultural forms and through what Girard terms the 'interdividuality' of mimetic desire. As philosophers like Heidegger and Wittgenstein make clear, our subjectivity cannot just be extricated from our 'language' (used in the broadest sense) but is realized in and through it. The fact that something is culturally constructed doesn't mean that it isn't very, very powerful in its hold on us. We do not merely create and use our 'language', our 'language' creates and uses us.

  10. I'm thinking about how one could generalize the "interdisciplinary theology of sexy", but I run into a hurdle that I would appreciate some help with.

    Suppose that everyone is sexually attracted to some degree to both visual and romantic stimuli (so we don't need to worry about statistical trends or detours through evolution). We can agree that both of tendencies are inherently neutral, and that it is wrong to exercise power and coerce your partner to conform. This applies to high heels, jewelry, gifts, personal grooming, foot rubs, the whole gamut.

    But suppose we push this further. Your comment about wanting your lover to wear a clown suit is a fine (though terrifying) example. It would seem that we can't necessarily extend the effort to naturalize desire to fetishes. Some desires seem inherently neutral, but others such as giving or receiving pain, or anything involving animals or children seems inherently wrong.

    This leads me to a theological quandary. Why would some people be born with neutral desires while others are born with evil ones? Why can I naturalize some but not other stimuli?

  11. Thanks, Richard. While my tone has been highly critical, I appreciate a number of the moves that you are trying to make in these posts. It is easy to forget that people aren't so acquainted with my personality online, so might assume that I am completely dismissing a position when my intention is forcefully to push key concerns back against it, to see how it responds and improves through engagement with tough challenges. I think that you are raising some very important issues for us to reflect upon, issues that throw up some troubling questions for all of us.

  12. I'm not trying to overestimate the degree to which social construction is involved. Like I said, there is a middle ground. And you're right to draw attention to how cultures allow certain inclinations to be expressed or repressed or redirected.

    The only point I was trying to make, albeit flippantly, is that some people in the world of cultural studies are inconsistent in how they handle biology. They want the factualily of the gay person and yet deny that very factuality in their modes of discourse. Appeals to biology work here, but not there. It's inconsistent.

  13. You don't find clowns sexy? :-)

    A couple of random thoughts.

    I think it's one thing to say that arousal is mediated by vision and another to discuss stimuli. That is, while arounal, for everyone, is naturally mediated through vision the stimulus of, say, high heels isn't natural, it's culturally mediated. And, thus, prone to be directed in good and bad ways. So I think there, at least, a two-step process. A visually mediated sexual psychology (for everyone) and the cultural stimuli that system is directed toward. I'd argue that the first step is neutral, a biological given of every human being. The second is cultural and under a moral lens.

  14. Ok. After a moment's reflection, I would define incarnation to be something that happened during the virginal conception of Jesus, and perhaps in some sense happens during Eucharist. Theosis could be defined as just participation in divine energies, which involves whole creation. But then there is this concept of "Christ forming in you", which is related to both incarnation and theosis.

  15. Before talking about 'sexy', I wonder whether it isn't important first to situate 'sexy' relative to terms such as 'beautiful', 'elegant', 'pretty', 'cute', 'handsome', etc., which also describe visual attractive characteristics. Each of these terms articulates an ideal of appearance relative to some standard. Our society especially privileges 'sexy', which defines the body's appearance relative to the standard of the sexual desire/lust of another party. By contrast, a term such as 'beautiful' is one that can be applied to the body as it expresses its highest qualities, qualities that are not reduced to the end of sexual relations. For instance, there is something incredibly beautiful about a mother nursing her infant, but this isn't typically seen as 'sexy'.

    Before discussing 'sexy', I think that we need to broaden our palette of descriptors and to recognize the ways in which a privileging of 'sexy' narrows our vision. Our visual desire for another person should not be reduced to our explicitly sexual desire or lust for them. We can be drawn to someone's beauty, but the difference between the desire prompted by beauty and the lust frequently prompted by 'sexy' is that the former more clearly recognizes a value in the desired one that exceeds its gaze and which does not have the satisfaction of its gaze as its end.

  16. The new idea is "epigenetics":

  17. It is ironic that many queer theorists and the proponents of conversion therapy agree so much on the origin of homosexual desire.

  18. Unfortunately, I don't really understand what's being said there; don't have the background, I guess, and so can't interpret the sarcasm correctly.....

  19. To flesh out this point a little, a man's visual desire for a woman shouldn't be reduced to her capacity to provide sexual satisfaction: visual desire isn't purely 'sexual'. In looking for someone to share a life with and to bear and raise children with, there are many visual qualities that are in play, not just sexiness. Sexiness relates solely to the sexual act: the other qualities relate to the broader fabric of a life lived and family raised together. And these other qualities can take priority over sexiness (and a 'sexy' person's lack of these qualities can dampen our desire for them). A gentle and kind face, for instance, may not be especially 'sexy', but it can indicate attractive traits in a spouse and co-parent. Our deep desire for the other sex is not exhausted in our desire to get them into bed. There is a profound beauty to be seen in many elderly women's faces, for instance. However, although this beauty could be very attractive, it is far from 'sexy'.

    In many respects, the privileging of 'sexy' results from a cultural attenuation of the relationship between men and women. When the relationship between men and women as men and women is conceptually reduced to that which pertains between the sheets, typically in a casual and uncommitted manner, 'sexy' will take priority over all else. However, when the relationship between men and women as men and women is conceived of as something that lasts a lifetime and occurs in many realms and activities of life, we will have a broader conception of the traits that are desirable in the other sex.

    A basic illustration of the sort of thing that I am getting at here is the difference between the traits that men privilege for casual sexual relationships (where bodies are more emphasized) over committed marital ones (where faces are more emphasized), something that has been studied in various tests.

  20. I think part of what is at stake is a tendency in "hard" feminism and "hard" queer theory to shame heterosexual males, not for the sinful things some heterosexual males sometimes do, but for the natural things that most heterosexual males most of the time do. To use your sugar analogy: they do not want me to tell my child to eat his vegetables and limit his sweets, they want me to tell my child that there is something WRONG with him in wanting sweets at all.

    An evolutionary account helps remove the shame and helps explain why "wanting sugar" (viewing the world the way nearly every heterosexual male views the world) can be morally neutral. This completely disarms the tradition of "hard" feminism/ queer theory that has already decided that to view the world the way nearly every heterosexual male views the world, is INHERENTLY patriarchal and heterosexist and wrong.

    In the end, I don't think your distinctions will hold "for everyone"--because you are trying to make peace with a tradition of feminism/ queer theory that is intent on making war. I hope I am wrong.

  21. Though I don't think that looking at this issue through the lens of male power or privilege is particularly useful (women's looks are often an enormous source of power over men), there are inherently problematic aspects to making value judgments about other persons based purely on the attributes of their body, as I tried to outline < href=>here. Since men are doing most of this type of judging, and women being mostly the one's judged, there is inevitably a sexed aspect to this.

    Now, even acknowledging the inherently problems with judging people, particularly women, based on their body, this does seem to be something so deeply ingrained in human nature that attempting to root it out would be vastly more cruel and inhumane than the original problem. So, we have to do something else to render the problematic aspects of this less problematic.

  22. You might be interested in the work of Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford, whose book "Darwin's Rainbow" looks at the evolution of diversity in gender and sexual orientation. She's a distinguished scientist (and Christian) whose work incorporates feminist, queer and trans criticism.

  23. No, I meant the sarcasm at the link itself; I can't get through to what's actually being said.....

  24. Thanks Sara. I've not read that book but I've got it ordered.

    On a related note, a thinker who has influenced me a lot on the topic of biology and marriage is Eugene Rogers. That is, while a discussion of the evolutionary history of sexual arousal patterns might focus overmuch (and perhaps wrongly in the opinion of Roughgarden) on heterosexual activity, I don't think that sets up a truly Christian theology of marriage. I'm with Rogers on this, marriage a matter of grace/election rather than biological complementarity/reproduction.

    See my post here (if you've not seen it before):

  25. I think it might be helpful to clarify the term "male gaze" means, as it is generally used in feminist circles. (I'm not a feminist scholar, so this would be my understanding of the term, although I think it's more or less in line with Dianna's.)

    Sexual attraction is, for the most part, morally neutral. (Assuming adults attracted to adults, of course - if you have an attraction to children or your dog, you should probably seek professional assistance.) You feel how you feel, and I think its important not to shame people - including male people - for that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a man seeing a woman and finding her sexually attractive. (And there's nothing wrong with him finding a man sexually attractive either, but the dynamics in gay relationships tend to be a bit different.)

    What IS a problem is the sense of entitlement that frequently goes along with that, the feelings that "I find you sexually attractive, and that means you have to do something about that."

    In conservative evangelical purity culture, this takes the form of "I am sexually attracted to you, therefore you must immediately put on a turtleneck or take other action to somehow take responsibility for my feelings of arousal." (Can't tell you how many times I heard a variation on that one.)

    In the world at large it takes the form of "I think you are hot, therefore I will yell obscene things at you from my car window/make inappropriate sexual remarks in a staff meeting/become hostile if you don't respond when I hit on you/decide that your worth as a human being is contingent on whether or not I personally want to have sex with you/respond to your argument by saying that you're fat and ugly (an internet favorite)/the 90% of men in online dating who didn't bother to read my profile because why would my values, politics or interests have any bearing on the situation.", etc. etc.

    The reason that this is called the male gaze is that, in general, men are far more likely to have this sense of entitlement than women are, and societal structures and culture frequently reinforce the male gaze to varying degrees - most dramatically in a country like Saudi Arabia where women are required by law to wear a burqa in public, but you see it at work in the U.S. too, particularly in the media. (Of course there are exceptions and of course some women -consciously or unconsciously - work to manipulate the male gaze to their advantage.)

    All that is a long way of saying, that "male gaze" is a term that has a very specific meaning in feminist circles,
    and if sloppily or improperly used can give the impression that
    feminists think that it's the "visual bias in sexual arousal" that is
    wrong, when that's not the case.

    I'm no longer a Christian, so I don't have much to say about the incarnational theology aspect of it, but when I'm talking about the male gaze, I DON'T mean that men are bad or should feel ashamed because they find a woman sexy - just that if you're a dude, your feelings of sexual arousal are yours to deal with - not mine - and they don't entitle you to anything, just as my feelings are mine to deal with.

  26. Summary of Cochran:
    1. A "leak" in epigenetics like this would be weeded out by natural selection when the negative impact on reproduction is this big.

    2. There are no other syndromes with this big an impact on fitness that are caused by "leaky" epigenetics. There are many caused by viruses.

  27. Thanks Christy. That's more or less what I've taken away, that much of the problem was my missuse, sloppy usage of the term.

  28. To be fair, some feminists don't do a very good job of explaining feminist terminology in ways that make sense to people that don't already know the lingo, so I find that it's usually helpful to provide a definition with a few concrete examples and devoid of jargon like "cisgender" and "intersectionality", which makes most people confused, intimidated, or bored.

  29. Thanks for these last two posts, Richard. Some fascinating conversation has come out of them, particularly this exchange with Dianna. I was thinking about this exchange today as I wrote a reflection on Jean Vanier, vulnerable communion and fragility of life, and my work in occupied Palestine with people with developmental disabilities. Embodiment can certainly be theorized generally because all bodies matter, but embodiment also requires tending to actual bodies and places. We arrive at the "universal" through the particular.

    Your post reminded me of an essay by L. Roger Owens called "Let the Place Judge: Healing the Division Between Theology and Practice." Owens describes how foreign missions have often been complicit with imperial enterprises: missionaries assumed that they brought the pure gospel to the "heathen," ignorant of the deeply cultural trappings of their interpretations and thus served to colonize other people by making them Western. Owens notes a turn in missiology with incarnational theology, but he has serious reservations about the way that incarnational missiology is presented and enacted. Because, in the end, it's not too different from the former imperialist mode: missionaries state that the gospel must be enculturated to be relevant, which assumes that they can find the pure essence of the gospel (without all that Galilean Israelite gloss). The gospel, however, is enculturated all the way down. Owens suggests a more embodied theology, a missiology of local and contextual adaptation as an alternative to imperial/incarnational missiology.

  30. Hi Richard,

    Big fan of yours (and Dianna's) and regular reader, though I rarely comment.
    Your initial post threw me off a little bit from the use of the terminology, though after I got my head around it, you definitely gave me some food for thought, and I appreciate the follow up here.

    The context that I first heard the term "the male gaze" was actually in film critique. This feminism101 blog ( ) defines it as such:

    "The introduction of the term “the male gaze” can be traced back to Laura Mulvey
    and her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” which was
    published in 1975. In it, Mulvey states that in film women are typically
    the objects, rather than the possessors, of gaze because the control of
    the camera (and thus the gaze) comes from factors such as the as the
    assumption of heterosexual men as the default target audience for most
    film genres."

    Ultimately, while I think your points stand, I don't think it's beneficial/useful to redefine the term of the male gaze in the context you've set up here - visually mediated attraction - which is morally neutral. The male gaze, as a term, is useful for understanding the way that media/culture (most often, but not exclusively) is typically presented from the perspective of (cis,het) men, and targeted at the same.

    For an obvious example, GoDaddy's sexist advertising ( ). It's like, so, clearly you don't think that women need internet domain hosting, because these commercials are definitely not meant for them.

    The male gaze isn't about attraction so much as it is about entitlement and a privileged perspective.

    Terminology aside, though - thanks for these posts! Sorry if I'm beating a dead horse with this comment.

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