“There is agency, which is to say intent, deliberation. Then there is gaze.
Unlike intent, which involves an act of thinking and deciding, gaze is societally conditioned. Gaze is a set of learned behaviors and reactions that we assume towards each other, internalized from what society tells us.
Male gaze is when men are societally conditioned to see women only as objects of desire, and themselves as agents of this desire. Women, male gaze is the thing that often makes important men in your life evaluate you first or only by how good or young you look, i.e. as sexual objects, and not as individuals with autonomous will, wishes, hopes, and dreams. We push against male gaze. We have a long, long way yet to go. But we talk about it and recognize it. Yet women as well as men buy into the male gaze and defend it, because it is the societal default and it is easier not to push against it.
When the person who is the subject of the gaze encounters a person who is the object of the gaze, the subject’s eyes gloss over. Instead of a person seeing a person, the subject sees an object. It is very hard to push against it, but it is possible with effort. You need your agency, your will, your intent, to push against societally learned knee-jerk reactions that make us glaze over people who are not like us.
Most of us are subjects of some gazes, while being objects of other gazes.
Women, we push against the male gaze because it denies us personhood.
Disabled people, we push against the able-bodied gaze because it denies us personhood.
Queer people, we push against straight gaze because it denies us personhood.
Non-cisgendered people, we push against cisgendered gaze because it denies us personhood.
Immigrants and internationals, we push against US-centric gaze because it denies us personhood.
People of color push against the white gaze, because, by golly. By golly, it denies personhood.
Most times this is not intentional. We need intent here. We need to push against these gazes. We need to do more than this: we need to examine the ways in which these different, societally conditioned, othering gazes have caused harm, often unintentional harm, but harm – that is cumulative and ongoing. It is not enough to see people as individuals and not objects, though it is a crucial first step. It is also important that we consider how each of us has been harmed by the gazes of which we are objects. How we have been cumulatively harmed by them.
Then, summon your power of decision, your willpower, to make an effort to really see people even when you do not have to, because you are the subject and not the object of this particular type of gaze.”"
Rose Lemberg, in Minimal pairs and gaze
for more context.