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Chanel Contos: The Male Gaze

EXTRACT: "It's a Man's World" chapter from Consent Laid Bare.


It would be a large omission to discuss the experiences of women without addressing the male gaze, the default in any patriarchal society. The ‘male gaze’ in films and other visual media refers to situations where women are typically sexualised or objectified in order to cater to the audience of heterosexual men. As most of our media caters to the male gaze, this has become internalised by many women and men. Consequently, women often unconsciously alter their behaviour, or add things to their routine, in order to ensure that this ever-present hypothetical would be satisfied. 

Florence Given, author of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, describes the bathrooms at a club as ‘backstage’ of a theatre production. You go into a women’s only space and are temporarily relieved of the pressures of the male gaze. If you’ve ever been in the women’s bathroom of a club, you’ve probably seen women crying, reapplying their makeup, or just leaning against the wall, expressionless, for a quick social media catch-up and a mental recharge. Then, one by one, the women check themselves in the mirror, and walk out as if entering stage left – to return to performing society’s expectations of what a woman should be in that social setting. 

Simply existing in the public realm requires more energy and thought for women than men. For me, it meant that to go to university took extra time and thought to consider what I would wear than it would any male counterpart. It meant that I would never scribble down notes in a chaotic manner, or let myself fully immerse in the lecture and its teachings. Instead, my mind would be 10 per cent elsewhere, ensuring that as I documented the highlights of learnings from the lesson, I looked fine doing so. It meant that part of my brain power was always being allocated to thinking about what expression I was presenting while I took the information in. Of course, I could have just not cared, but could I really? Sometimes it feels like, with all things considered, society has made it so that male acceptance has almost become a human need in order to function.


Virginia Woolf made the point that even if women and men are afforded the same access to education, men will always reap more benefits from it as their energy does not have to be policed while in a space of education. 

It’s also expensive to cater to the male gaze, because the male gaze is a very profitable industry. It does not benefit men, and the rich, for women to be secure in themselves. It’s extremely conducive to capitalism to create irrational insecurities, and then sell solutions. 

Author Dr Gail Dines said, ‘If tomorrow women in the west woke up and decided they really like their bodies just think how many industries would go out of business – the cosmetic industry, the clothing industry, the diet industry, the gym industry – and then think of all the allied industries that support those industries. So when I say capitalism is dependent on women hating themselves, I’m not exaggerating.’

A clever two-pronged approach, by those two dear friends -  capitalism and patriarchy - tell women they aren’t beautiful enough and then sell them the solution. 



Written by Chanel Contos  



Chanel Contos founded Teach Us Consent, a campaign that mandated consent education in Australia. In order to achieve this, she worked closely with politicians from across the political spectrum, including prime ministers. 

Chanel was the recipient of the Australian Human Rights Commission Young People’s Medal in 2021, and in 2023 she was named NSW Young Woman of the Year for her persistent efforts towards eradicating rape culture. Chanel has also been presented with the prestigious Diana Award for her humanitarian work, and in 2022 she was listed as one of the BBC’s 100 inspiring and influential women worldwide. 

Chanel has a Masters in Education, Gender and International Development from University College London and was recently appointed by Julia Gillard to chair the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership’s Youth Advisory Committee.  

In 2023, she published her first book, Consent Laid Bare, (Macmillan Australia) described by Marie Claire as “a blistering, unflinching – and therefore sometimes uncomfortable – look at Australia’s rape culture.”.  Also in 2023, Chanel was a panelist at the inaugural SXSW Sydney and spoke at the National Press Club – one of the youngest people to ever do so.