Lower the Gaze: the Impact of the Gaze on Females

“Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do.”

Quran 24:30

Lowering the gaze is an act both male and female Muslims are encouraged to do (the verse just quoted goes on to include the importance of females lowering the gaze as well); the reason for which is often cited as protection against sinful thoughts and later down the road, sinful actions.  In short, since the gaze is the gateway for further potential sin, lowering your gaze protects YOU.

However, research shows that the male gaze affects more than the self – it has serious deleterious effects on the female recipient of the gaze.

Sexual gazing is an accepted part of Western society, as it has long been deemed “the socially sanctioned right of all males to sexualize females, regardless of age or status” (Westkott, 1986 – quoted in Fredrickso & Roberts, 1997).  Sexual objectification in Western society is rampant, and often the most common manifestation of this is through the gaze.  Women are socialized from birth to believe that they are not actual people valued for who they are intrinsically, but are bodies that “exist for the use and pleasure of others” (ibid), and so are accustomed to constant scrutiny.

Studies have found that women are gazed at more than men, and male gazing is commonly accompanied by sexual comments.  Further, women of color are often the object of more degrading, sexual commentary than White women.  This type of behavior is reinforced in the mass media, as advertisement analyses show that males gaze directly at females far more than the reverse, often resulting in what the advertising industry has termed the “anchored drift,” in which a male stares at or monitors a female who is daydreaming or looking off into the distance (ibid).

The impact of the male gaze has been found to have serious affects on females in research.  One such study (Calogero, 2004) revealed that the male gaze results in the female experiencing significantly more feelings of shame and embarrassment about her body.  In fact, a female does not have to actually experience the male gaze; only imagining or anticipating a male gaze triggers the same negative psychological response.  Further, other research indicates that body shame is correlated with eating disorders and depression.

So in sum, males indulging in gazing and staring at females causes real harm!  Although the practice of looking at and visually evaluating women is deeply ingrained in Western society, God, in all His unending wisdom, has asked us to resist cultural influences and lower our gaze.  Indeed it is “purer” for the males as they can help prevent inappropriate thoughts and temptations to commit indecent actions, and males lowering their gaze is “purer” for females too, as lowering the gaze protects them from serious, long-lasting psychological and physical damage.

Social science researchers express a great deal of alarm at the way in which Western society sexually objectifies females, and engage in much discussion and research in order to find solutions.  Yet, Islam has given us a very simple solution that if each of us practiced, this awful culture of systematic oppression against women would be quickly decimated.


EDIT: In looking for a photo for this post, I had a very difficult time finding one of a man with downcast or closed eyes!  I found many of women or girls, and finally gave up and chose this one of a boy with his eyes closed.  Indeed, this is real evidence that the male gaze is highly promoted in the media when hardly any photos exist of males NOT gazing!

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6 thoughts on “Lower the Gaze: the Impact of the Gaze on Females

  1. What I find particularly ridiculous are the arguments from “men” that they only stare to show their appreciation of women. Of course we find women attractive, but Islam is about controlling our desires, mastering ourselves. It’s no crime when your gaze sees a woman, but you must shift your eyes. Look down, heck, look to the sky and marvel at clouds. Anything is better than leering. As for making degrading or sexual comments, no one, Muslim or not, should be that childish.

    • Salaam Saladin,

      Thanks for your comment! You are right; if you happen to see a woman there is no harm in it, but to look at second time or continue looking is what Prophet Muhammad (saws) has advised us against. And yes, degrading a person with inappropriate comments is certainly not what a mature, self-respecting man should participate in.

  2. Asalaamu Alaikum

    The male gaze takes away your freedom. In childhood you are free to wander as you please and you feel a sense of purity and wanton freedom. Once you reach puberty you start to feel the assessing gaze and you feel constricted and the public space becomes an arena with you as the main attraction. Going out now becomes a burden and your sense of joy turns to a sense of anger.

    • Wasalaam Aishah,

      Thanks for your comment! You made an excellent observation regarding puberty being the point in which public attention begins to focus more on a girl’s body. In fact, research has shown that the age of onset in females for depression, body image issues, eating disorders, and so on is most commonly around puberty. Indeed, it is likely that as a girl’s body changes and she finds the public spotlight turned on her awkwardly and uncomfortably changing body, her psychological well-being is negatively affected as a result.

  3. Hi Sakina, Culture certainly drifts. 100years ago, even in America, women did not want to be stared at and men were embarrassed to be caught doing it. …. I might even say thirty years ago, but I have less proof of that. Now, the common mantra is: “It is ok to look, as long as I don’t touch.” That is rediculous! Culture wants to separate the mind from a physical act and you just can’t do that. I must disagree with one part of the post, though. I am finding that more women are *wanting* to be gazed at. Women friends (who are not Muslim or strict christians) have confidentially reported that they enjoy the attention of men and desire their looks…. not necessarily their coments. They want to be noticed. and, they want to be noticed above all of the other women. They feel that dressing provactively and such will get a man’s attention — and while it is attention with sexual intent, it is at least “attention” — which, by the way, something that they had not had before.
    There are lots of factors that contribute to such a situation.

    • Salaam Jamily,

      Good point; American culture used to be quite different in the not-so-distant past. When I mention this to Muslims from other countries, they are often incredulous and have a hard time believing it!

      In my post, I only talked about the consequences of the male gaze on females and not on the conscious attitudes of women regarding the gaze. Many females are unaware of the link between sexual objectification and mental health issues, and most definitely enjoy the attention they receive (if it is positive). In fact, the articles I read also noted that a woman’s appearance is her sole currency – the only power she has for social and professional success (unless she is exceptionally skilled). So, if a woman receives positive attention for her appearance, that is empowering. Yet, it is only temporary empowerment as looks change and fade. I think I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on this for a later post. 🙂

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