|Nice Shoes, Wanna Fuck?: Gender Construction and Performance in Formally-defined Heterosexual Space|
My area of observation at Club Egypt focused on the male gaze and the dominant gaze in society. As a disclaimer for my presentation, I am not going to talk about simply how guys stared at girls butts or guys stared at girls chests. Though this did occur in great abundance, I want to delve deeper into theory of the gaze and of the place of voyeuristic looking in the atmosphere of the club. All of the rules and codes of behavior and performance in the club focused on looking and watching. From the moment you entered the boundaries of the club, you were on display, not only for the other people there but for the club itself. You could not get away from the gaze in any circumstance. As you entered the club, bouncers, the only ones there with any authority and power, looked you up and down as a show of dominance. The first thing you saw as you entered the club was a mirror reflecting your image back to you. This mirror was a precursor for what would happen as you entered the main area of the club. It checked your appearance and made sure that you fit into the gendered codes of the club. Faces positioned around the club were placed over the people, looking down on them, positions of power. These faces ranged from Egyptian murals and statues to a large television screen on which different faces kept appearing. This display of technology specified an atmosphere of male dominance. There was not a specific show on; it was simply images of faces that watched the performance of everyone at the club. The club itself watched you and laid down the rules of gender performance which you were expected to follow from choosing to be in that space.
Also a part of the watching going on at Club Egypt was the number of onlookers present along the walls of the rooms. 80% of those people standing along the sides were male. To walk anywhere within the club, you had to walk through an aisle with guys on both sides eyeing you and completing the gaze of the club. From here on I am going to combine the gaze of the club and of the onlookers into a single term, "the Watcher" or "the audience". Most actions and behaviors that all of us observed were occurring for the voyeuristic pleasure of the Watcher. A female presence was not noticed or observed as being part of the audience. In fact there was quite a lack. All of the bouncers were men. Though female Egyptian images looked down at the club, they were highly eroticized and sexualized. At a 17-24 club, the focus is not on "getting a guy" as much as it is on performing a gender and developing that identity for that night. This identity, according to Judith Butler, is "instituted through a stylized repetition of acts. Further, gender is instituted through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self" (402). Dress, body language, and the performance of women was for the benefit of the male onlookers. While dancing, walking, and standing, girls would constantly be aware of who was watching them and in what capacity. The bar of the rape stage functioned as a place to look from and also a place to look at. It was understood that someone, whether they be pressed up against you or on the other side of the room, would derive sexual pleasure from looking at you. Voyeurism is a crucial component of the club scene.
Even though Laura Mulvey's article, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" focuses on the gaze in cinema, her ideas and theories also apply to the club scene. In both cinema and the club, gender is performed for the voyeuristic pleasure of the audience. Mulvey discusses the fascination of erotic looking and the spectacle nature of the participants. There was a noticeable sexual imbalance at the club due to the split between male and female roles. In the nature of the dominant gaze, the male gaze projects a desired fantasy onto the female body. The women's appearance was specifically designed for this visual and erotic impact. Clothing and body language are part of the fantasy world, and gender performance was watched in every instance by an audience who would either approve or reject according to the social rules that were expected to be followed.
The club is also similar to cinematic theory because the performers are not their true identities; they are wearing masks for the specific purposes of both scopophilia and voyeurism. Mary Ann Doane suggests that masquerade "constitutes an acknowledgment that it is femininity itself which is constructed as a mask - as the decorative layer which conceals a nonidentity....it works to effect a separation between the cause of desire and oneself". Women in Club Egypt were masking their true selves with adornment specifically intended to be seen and sexually desired. The gender performance seen at the club necessarily fit into the sexual and voyeuristic standards expected by those who entered.
There are avenues in the club setting for subversion of gender performance. Both men and women, however, chose to uphold these codes. One of the deviations from this ideal was Candy. Though Candy was dressed for a typical gender role in the club, including tight white clothes, bleached blond hair, and a thong which was observed when she pulled her pants down while dancing, she took control over her audience with her words, actions, and her gaze. Candyıs challenging of femaleness was accepted by her audience through flaunting her mask. She was not locked into a sexual identity, though her dancing contributed heavily to the voyeurism of the club. To conclude this presentation, I would like to emphasize that our role in this study was interaction as well as observation. Because of this fact, it should be recognized that we actively subverted gender performance though our consciousness of it and constant observations of our surroundings. By being completely aware of how our actions affected the voyeurism at the club, we actively performed gender with the realization that is was a mask. The best example of this was demonstrated by Erin and Jenna. To subvert the strictly heterosexual atmosphere, Erin and Jenna decided to go on to the main dance floor and dance with each other in such a way as to convey to their audience that they were sexually interested in each other. This defied the dominant male atmosphere of Club Egypt. By dancing as lesbians, they were defying the importance of men. They became a spectacle in the middle of the dance floor. For doing this, they were ostracized by the other females around them. Girls looked at them and laughed. Guys, however, were fascinated by this performance and watched their dancing, even over the shoulders of the girls they were dancing with. Their dancing and defiance of the club's norms drew on these menıs voyeuristic fantasies and were projections of their desires. In order to subvert Erin and Jennaıs expression of power, men put the two under their gaze and tried to physically claim them by grabbing them. Acts of gender performance are real only to the extent that they are expected to be performed for the dominant gaze. That expectation is based on the construction of sexual identities. What we found at Club Egypt was that gender was simply a role to be performed for the viewing pleasure of others.
Butler, Judith. ³Performatice Acts and Gender Constitution² Writing on the Body. Katie Conboy, Nadia Medina, Sarah Stanbury, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 401-417.
Doane, Mary Ann. ³Film and the Masquerade² Writing on the Body. Katie Conboy, Nadia Medina, Sarah Stanbury, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 176-187.
Mulvey, Laura. ³Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema² Film Theory and Criticism: An Introduction. Gerald Mast, comp. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.
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