The desire of the eyes is natural; to impetus to look is basic, to cast our eyes outwards and caress with a gaze, to fold and enclose images underneath our lids.
The eye is one of the sense organs that the majority of humans depend on heavily; of all the senses, it is one of the most formative, world-building senses we have. It is difficult for those with working eyes to imagine being deprived of it…. It is an organ which is essential for survival, for being, for pleasure.
The urge to look is not inherently perverted. The entire notion of ‘perversion’ with the voyeuristic gaze is something owed to Sigmund Freud, which he described and explained through his psychoanalytic concept of (surprise!) castration anxiety.
I simply cannot be bothered to reiterate the theory of a cocaine addict who also falsified his data. Sure, he had some interesting ideas (see: mourning and melancholia), but I do not think I can be blamed for tuning out whenever I hear the words ‘penis envy’ or ‘castration anxiety’….and I’m sure you’re not here for that either. Nonetheless, his influence on how we come to think about voyeurism (perverted, and thus forbidden; abnormal and aberrant) cannot be understated, and it is also root of dualistic thinking on the subject (active watcher/passive victim).
Voyeurism has been painted in broad strokes as: perverted, subjects of the gaze as victims, and as a male phenomenon. No, the love of the sexual gaze is not only privy to men; women voyeurs exist, and some have done so quite publicly.
American Photographer, Mary Alpern, and her infamous series ‘Dirty Windows’. Whilst at a friend’s apartment she became intrigued with the view from the transverse building, which turned out to be a private lap dance club. She spent hours, days, watching and waiting for people to have sex.
And of course, I am exhibit number one: unrepentant female voyeur. I love to watch myself, and what is being done to me. I will meet your gaze in the mirror as you run your hands across my face, rest your palms on the hollow of the throat, and fuck me from behind. This is absolutely consensual, yet according to some modern commentary and traditional psychoanalytic theory –not only am I in bondage to the male gaze and its voyeuristic fantasy, but I am the unwitting victim of your castration anxiety, and you’re the one solely deriving satisfaction and affirmation. Let’s not deny my agency at every turn; I want this too. I want us to re-think (consensual) voyeurism as an empowering (and even in circumstances –undermining of power) act, which it is certainly for me.
For to see is one of the most intimate ways in which we can grasp the world. And it is a fact that we can never see oneself outside of our selves. We are terribly contained inwards even as our eyes direct outwards, widely. It all returns as a narrow stream. But to gaze at ourselves, with others –or without, is an endeavour to apprehend the self, our existence (and our experience of it).
Even though I can only see myself as a mirage in my partner’s eyes. In my own, I am crisp: all flesh-toned edges; this is me. Looking at oneself plays a central role in identity: it centres on the recognition of the self. To look is identity-forming.
The gaze can therefore be an act of self-creation; of identity formation and identity sedimentation –whether one is the watcher or the accomplice: I know you are watching, and I am showing you exactly what I am.
It is obliteration of the hidden, unrepentant exposure of myself, honesty and frankness of my desires.