To Look and To Be Looked At… The Power of the GAZE

April 1, 2010 at 9:50 pm (The Gaze)

Gender roles policed by our society has placed masculinity and femininity on either side of the gender spectrum.  Men and women are not able to be equals, as men are trained to view women as objects of desire, while women are taught to be subservient to men and to be the epitome of domesticity.  Looking at the gaze in Snow White and Beauty and the Beast once can see the separations and categorization that occurs as a result of gender roles.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves begin with a young beautiful Snow White signing “I’m wishing for the one I love, to find me, today”. Snow White begins to sing this song at a wishing well where her reflection is seen in the water.  Her reflection is one of conventional beauty, hair perfectly placed, lips perfectly pout and eyes wide and doe shaped.  Not even her ragged clothes can hide her beauty.  Once, Prince Charming hears her song, he comes to gaze upon Snow White’s splendor.  As their eyes meet, Snow White gasps “Oh, oh,” and runs away to hide from the Prince.  Her leaving the Prince highlights her innocence and pure nature portrayed in Anne Sexton’s Snow White poem, as “She is unsoiled / She is as white as a bonefish” (Sexton, 12-13).   The Prince gazes at Snow White and looks at her, not as an equal but as a product he must purchase.  By gazing at Snow White, the Prince sings that her love possesses him.  Her beauty alone is the driving force of this “love”, enticing the Price to purchase this beauty solely for himself.

Thus, Snow White’s beauty puts Prince Charming “under her spell” (Brazilai, 524), allowing her to achieve her goal of marrying the ideal phallocentric male; white, rich and physically strong.  While Snow White is depicted as young, innocent and virginal, she still knows the power her gaze holds.  After running away from Prince Charming, the fairest of them all continues to stair down at him from the balcony.  She continues to promote herself as an object to be looked at and further encourages the Prices advantages by kissing a dove (which then kisses the Prince).

Thus, Snow White’s use of her beauty and the symbolic kiss encourages the Prince to marry her.  And, as Snow White is the most desirable woman, the Phallocentric man must marry her.

Snow White does not only use this gaze with the Price, but also with the hunter and the seven dwarves.  Once the Huntsman corners Snow White in the forest, he is unable to commit the murder the Queen charged him with.  The huntsman sees Snow Whites beauty and succumbs to it.  It is important to note that the huntsman disobeys the Evil Queen’s command by letting Snow White go.  This occurs because Snow White has gained more authority through her looks and as a result has more right to live then the Queen.

When entering the Dwarfs cabin, Snow White uses her beauty again.  The way in which she gazes at the seven dwarfs allows her to reside in the house while also maintaining her innocence and virginity.  Snow White does not gaze upon the Dwarfs as she once did with Prince Charming.  She does not lower her eyes and suggest that they view her as an object of pleasure.  Instead, she looks onto them in a maternal way, calling them little children and offering to mother then and clean their home.

Snow White isn’t the only one to use her gaze to gain what she wants.  Belle, Gaston and the Beast all use their gaze to emphasize gender ideals.

Both Gaston and the Beast’s gaze makes apparent that Belle is the ideal woman.  Gaston’s gaze towards Belle is animalistic.  He is gazing upon her solely as an object of desire, since she is the prettiest girl, he focuses on what he believes to be “her most valuable asset” (Lieberman, 385).  Unlike Gaston, the Beast gazes on Belle as a possible savior.  He is hopeful that Belle might be able to break his curse.  Furthermore, the Beast gazes on Belle as a teacher, allowing her to play an active role in his rehabilitation into phallocentric identity.  Thus, the Beast does not only look at Belle as an object of desire, he acknowledges her ability to teach him and looks to her as a teacher.

Belle’s gaze informs its audience how to act with different men.  Belle looks at Gaston more cautiously, backing away from him.  She does not accept that he looks at her as an object of pleasure.  Instead, she makes herself look smaller and finds a way to remove herself from the situation (by telling Gaston she is not good enough for her and letting him out the door).  When around Gaston, Belle does not look at him, this suggests to the audience that for Belle, Gaston is not the ideal man.

Comparatively, Belle does not always shy away from the Beast gaze.  When first meeting the Beast Belle’s gaze is fearful.  She does not want to fully look at him but overcomes her fears and does.  Because the Beast is not part of Dominant culture, Belle is able to gain some dominance over him.  She is able to use her gaze to manipulate the situation and become the Beasts prisoner.  Belle knows her gaze, and more importantly her beauty is a valuable asset and presents it to the Beast.

As the Beast’s behavior changes, so does Belle’s gaze.  She starts looking at him more compassionately, and dare I say romantically.  At first, Belle’s gaze is more maternal as she teaches the Beast how to be human.  Later, her gaze turns more romantically as she acknowledges the traits that Dominant society admires.  As this happens, Belle becomes more aware of her physical looks and as Snow White did, she hides from the Beast.

Once the Beast becomes part of phallocentric society (by practicing all characteristics society deems valuable), the Beast turns into a human.  His physical transformation is not complete until Belle acknowledges who he is.  Once this occurs, both are allowed to marry as both fits into Dominant society.

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