Okay so this is an extremely rough thought I had this morning, and I'm hoping that at worst it's just wrong, but since I'm going to be talking about social justice stuff there's a chance that I'm saying something unthinkingly awful. If that's the case, please let me know. Contextual disclosure: I'm a nonbinary bisexual white person who's generally misgendered as male.
I was thinking this morning about the existentialist idea of the other, and the gaze of the other, and how it relates to the feminist concept of the male gaze, and the larger social justice concept of othering and privilege.
The existentialist idea of the gaze of the other is roughly that when you know other people are paying attention, or even when you're reminded of the possibility that other people could theoretically pay attention, it drastically alters your behavior and forces you to reflexively think of yourself as an object within their narrative of the world, not just as the subject of your own narrative.
In social justice, the idea of the gaze is used very similarly, but with specific attention to the way different classes exercise that force on each other: the male gaze is the experience that many people* have of being objectified specifically under the pressure of gender roles and feminization; Black people in America have extensively documented the objectification of their bodies as primarily objects of violence; at the intersections, women of color from many communities have pointed out the hypersexualization of their bodies.
I think it's clear that different people experience meaningfully different amounts of gaze, not just the same amount with different qualities. Speaking as a white person, I rarely feel like I'm being noticed as being white, that there are a set of behaviors expected of me for my whiteness. People certainly do have those expectations -- whether people of color expecting me to harm or disappoint them, or other white people expecting me to validate their racism -- but the point is that I don't feel it, and the feeling part is the gaze, not the actual thoughts in anyone else's heads.
I do strongly feel a pressure towards masculinity in that way, but that's because I'm not a man. (I do think there are also many men who feel that pressure: is there a phrase for that? Toxic masculine gaze?)
I have nowhere else to go with these thoughts. I'm probably covering really well-covered territory. I just noticed a really weird-feeling difference between the hyper-individual and homogeneous idea of gaze in existentialism and the categorical and class-varied idea of gaze in social justice discourse.
*I'm trying to figure out more inclusive language than "women," but I'm having trouble sorting through a coherent list of who is and isn't affected by the male gaze. As a nonbinary person who's generally misread as male, I have no significant firsthand experience with male gaze, in the traditional sense, so I've settled on "many people" so that I can finish writing this post. If you've got any more insight than I have into who is subject to different kinds of dominant class gaze, I'm very interested to hear it.