Anyway, the real trouble is that gaze has been used to mean a whole bunch of different things in different contexts. First, there's the kind of gaze I'm most familiar with (as you probably are as well, Imaginary Reader), in which a gaze is a prolonged look that's usually accompanied by an adverb like "lovingly," "longingly," "tenderly," "fondly," or "sternly." That's easy enough. But of course that's not the kind of gaze we talk about in class.
In class, a gaze is not something you do, longingly or otherwise. It can, however, be something that you enter. Or something like that. This is the gaze I have the most trouble understanding. It has something to do with power relations... Actually, I think I might be lumping multiple kinds of gaze into one kind of gaze, which makes it even harder to understand.
Here's one gaze I do get: the male gaze. That's the gaze that looks at women as objects. That way of thinking about "gaze" can apparently be differentiated all sorts of ways. So there's the male gaze and the female gaze, but there's also the upper-class gaze and the middle-class gaze and the lower-class gaze, and all sorts of other gazes for things like race and... really, just about any category you can put people in has a gaze specific to it. But the one people seem to talk about most is the male gaze.
So now let me get back to that other gaze I don't quite get. Maybe rambling about it will help me understand. It has to do with feeling like you're being watched, whether you actually are or not. And when you feel like someone or something is watching you, that person has power over you. ...That actually seems to sum up most of it. Is it really that simple? Because if it is, then textbooks really need to learn how to use some clearer language.