The Male Gaze: How TikTok is generating discussion on this age-old phenomenon

Written by Una Vulevic

If you’re on TikTok, that probably means you’ve had at least one video about the male gaze pop up on your For You page. For anyone unfamiliar with this term, the male gaze refers to the psychological phenomenon where women feel the need to constantly appear desirable to the male sex, even when there are no men around.

The male gaze works in eerily familiar ways. For me, the term has helped put into words a feeling I’ve always had but could never before describe: the need to feel attractive or “presentable” at all times. After discussing the matter in detail with some friends, we were all shocked that this peculiar, unsettling feeling was not unique to each of us. One need look no further than the abysmal comment sections of TikTok for further proof of the fact that the male gaze is something most women can relate to.

Being sensitive to the male gaze does not make you insecure. Rather, it simply means that you are hyperaware of the expectations surrounding your appearance as someone who identifies as a woman. I recently saw a Tik Tok where a young woman described how, as a child, she used to practice sitting in her room in a “pretty” way, in the hopes of capturing her crush’s attention at school. The post received thousands of comments. So many people related to the sentiment expressed in that video: there is a strange, addictive element when it comes to appealing to the male gaze. Many women of the LGBTQ+ community spoke up in the comment section about how they, too, feel a constant need to seem attractive to straight men, even if they themselves are not attracted to them. Thus, it becomes clear that this is an issue that pertains to all women, not just heterosexual ones.

Discussion surrounding the male gaze emerged following the “main character” trend on TikTok. This trend involves women posting videos of themselves walking, eating, reading — basically, just existing — while trying to appear purposely mysterious. This trend stems from centuries-old descriptions of women in literature, and later in movies, where women are presented as alluring, ethereal, submissive creatures. What is less frequently discussed is how the implications of this trend are inherently misogynistic and damaging to women. It plants the idea in women’s minds that we must always try to look sexy, yet nonchalant, on the offhand chance that the man of our dreams is gazing at us from afar. More importantly, we must ask ourselves, who benefits from this idealization of women? How empowering is behaviour subconsciously fuelled by societal pressure to look or act according to an ideal perpetuated by the media and by men? These are just a few of the questions scrolling on TikTok got me asking myself. I never thought that an app like this — designed for cheap laughs and rapid-fire entertainment — could generate such a fascinating discussion surrounding gender issues in our society.

If you’re like me, you probably want to know how to stop fixating on the male gaze and start living without this added pressure everywhere you go. The way I see it, facilitating discussions surrounding this phenomenon with friends and family is a good way to start. It’s important to educate our male counterparts on the societal pressures placed upon women in all aspects, from the way they articulate themselves to the way they dress or look.

Above all, it is important to be kind to yourself. None of us can help being susceptible to the male gaze, but you can gently remind yourself that it is okay to take a breath, to live in the moment, and to simply exist for yourself alone. That, I believe, is the most important step when it comes to shifting your focus away from the male gaze and back inward, towards yourself.