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Oppositional Gaze by Bell

Updated on May 9, 2015



Oppositional Gaze by Bell Hooks is a reaction to Laura Mulvey and the Male Gaze theory. According to Hooks, there are various types of gazes from different perspectives. Being black, Hooks starts by giving her own experience as a child where she would get punished for staring. In addition, she gives an example of how black slaves would get punished by their white masters/slave-owners for looking. This is because of the fact that such a behavior was regarded as confrontational to those in authority. According to Hooks, such experiences went to inform black parenting as well as black spectatorship in modern times.

As a result of being stopped or punished because of looking, Hooks suggests that the blacks acquired an overwhelming curiosity to look (oppositional gaze), which she also describes as a rebellious desire to look. Oppositional gaze by the blacks therefore served as one way of unleashing the suppressed gaze. By positioning themselves as spectators, blacks were in some way rebelling white supremacy (Bell 2003, pp. 94–105).

In this case, Hooks implies that the oppositional gaze s a form of critical look, which tends to re- interpret social ideas and media. In contrast or opposition to Mulvey's Male Gaze, Hooks also suggest that oppositional gaze can be used by females, and particularly black women as a challenge to the male gaze for the purposes of broadening what the gaze is all about. With regards to the black woman, Hooks appears to be examining the way in which women can view themselves and what is presented to them (Bell 2003, pp. 94–105). Through oppositional gaze therefore, Hooks is addressing racism in the. Through her arguments, Hooks points out that there is no or less blackness in films. By being pushed to accept their absence in films and television and accept the white woman as the ideal and more desirable, blacks were being taught through these media that the whites were superior. It is for this reason that she notes that the ideal women as presented in the media (films and television) is white, sexy and obedient to her lover. Here, the key word "white" is intentionally included.

Through oppositional gaze, Hooks encourages women, and particularly black women to reject the stereotypical representation in films and in in so doing, actively criticize such misrepresentations. This is a bold and excellent move by Hooks, since it provides other alternatives through which women can face and counter this challenge. In this case, black women do not have to associate with how they are represented or misrepresented in various media, but can actively criticize such representations instead of staying away from the cinema (Hooks 1992).

In doing so, women would not only be actively challenging the idea of male gaze, but also the issues of racism as depicted through various media. In so doing, women (especially black women) would be able to achieve and regain their identity.


Although Bell does a good job in her response to Mulvey, it is also clear that her focus on oppositional gaze is largely centered on one group that faces challenges of "white superiority". However, oppositional gaze can be further expanded to other areas in the general society where given groups of people are mistreated as unequal.


Bell Hooks. In Black Looks: race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992: 115-131.

Hooks, bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader.Amelia Jones, ed. London: Routledge, 2003, pp. 94–105.

Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliography

Aristotle. (1996) The Politics and the Constitution, edited by Stephen Everson, Cambridge: University of Cambridge

In the politics, Aristotle presents a theory of both the nature and function of the state as well as the analysis of potential constitutional structures. In addition, Aristotle explains a number of subsidiary topics including citizenship, property, justice, equality and the various causes of political stability and revolution. Being a pioneering natural and political scientist, Aristotle shows appropriate respect for evidence in his work (politics) as well as excellent precision in the analysis. Although the argument in this work lacks rhetorical presentation, the general effect of the details of the argument can be comprehended without a distorting polish.

In the Politics, one of the most significant factors for a first time reader is that his political theory is closely related to a number of claims and explanations that he uses and strives to justify in other works. This work of political philosophy has been edited by Stephen Everson (University of Cambridge), and can be found online through the following link;

Plato. The Republic. (2000), edited by G.R.F. Ferrari, trans. Tom Griffith, New York: Cambridge University Press.

According to this translation, G. R. F. Ferrari, a Professor of Classics, assumes that Plato intended for his dialogues to sound more like a conversation (philosophical) when he wrote the dialogue form to write his work. In this work, Plato centers on the question; is it always better to be just than unjust? To give an answer to the question, Socrates gives an account of a good city on grounds that such a city would be just and that by defining justice as a virtue of a city, it would be easy to define justice as a virtue of man. Although Socrates comes close to answering the question at the end of Book Four, he is interrupted and challenged to give a defense for controversial features of the city he created. He addresses this challenge in Book 5 through to 7 by pointing out that the just city and human being are in good and are also in principle possible. In Book Eight and Nine, Socrates provides three "proofs" that it is always better to be just than unjust. In addition, the participants, who include Socrates and a number of other Athenians, also discuss immortality of the soul, theory of forms as well as the roles of the philosopher and poetry in the society.

Ranciere, Jacques. (1999). Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

In this provocative book, Jacques new and very useful set of terms in to what can be regarded as a vexed debate on political effectiveness in the new world order. Here, Jacques addresses the question; what exactly is at stake in the relationship between philosophy and political? He goes on to explore contradictions that exist between the two terms and gives an uneasy meaning of their union through the phrase "political philosophy", which is in itself one of the junctures related to the older attempts in philosophy to give an answer to Plato’s devaluing of politics as the process of democratic egalitarian. From his point of view, Jacques feels that the phrase political philosophy presents a paradox of politics itself. In addition, he investigates various transformations of "truth" as well as their impacts on practical politics, and then differentiates between democracy from practices of the consensual system.

Ranciere, Jacques. (1991) the Ignorant Schoolmaster: Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation.

Stanford: Stanford University Press.

In the Ignorant Schoolmaster, Jacques gives an account of Joseph Jacotot, a nineteenth century teacher. By chance, the leader realized that the assumption of equal intelligence worked as a self- fulfilling prophecy. Although Jacotot knew no Flemish, he discovered a method through which he was able to teach Flemish students in French despite the fact that they knew no French either. With this discovery, the teacher came to a conclusion that knowledge was not necessary in order to teach. Moreover, he concluded that explication was also not essential in order to learn. Through his discovery, Jacotot announced that everyone was equally intelligent, and thus devised a philosophy and method he referred to as intellectual emancipation. Through this method, illiterate individuals/parents could teach their children how to read. In the ignorant schoolmaster, Jacques presents an analysis of these methods as well as its significance to understand learning as well as the emancipation that results from the overturning of the most subtle of hierarchy intelligence.


Aristotle. (1996) The Politics and the Constitution, edited by Stephen Everson, Cambridge:

University of Cambridge

Plato. The Republic. (2000), edited by G.R.F. Ferrari, trans. Tom Griffith, New York:

Cambridge University Press.

Ranciere, Jacques. (1999). Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Ranciere, Jacques. (1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Stanford: Stanford University Press.


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