In my refection for A4 I mentioned that perhaps, had I seen the full body of work as edited by Isabelle Mège before beginning the assignment, I might have concentrated on one or more of the few images taken by women in her collection to see if there was a noticeable difference in the way gaze comes across. Instead I looked at the question of authorship focusing on Barthes’ Death of An Author to explore something of Mège’s work. However, I continue to wonder what might be meant by a ‘female gaze’. Is there even such a thing? Or is it something that needs to be constructed to counter what we understand of the male gaze.

Does it need to be a female gaze as such? Although of course one can understand why anyone would want to take ownership of such a term. Instead, however, perhaps there is simply a need for a less violent gaze, a less divisive, less deriding, less damaging gaze. But even the word ‘Gaze’ seems violent, no matter that gendered term we prefix it with. This sense of violence takes us back to the opening sections of the UVC course when we looked at Otto Fenichel’s essay about the origins of looking. He tells us, “looking has the unconscious significance of devouring.” (Fenichel, 1954, 1999; 327) And is that a male perception born out of a male gazed world? Or a biological reality?

Do females really want to devour males in the way that males have fed on females for centuries? Really? I’m not sure but perhaps my lack of certainty about feminine visual hunger is simply down to the constructed reality in which we live, rather than anything biologically imperative. Apart from anything else, as is becoming abundantly clear, sexuality is not always so well defined, and the binaries we have existed with for so long are possibly becoming redundant.

I recently watched the You Tube video that Mandy Thatcher sent me, as mentioned in an earlier post. It is a key note talk from Jill Soloway, an American Film and TV writer, director and producer. She created, directed and co-wrote the television series, Transparent, which explores gender and sexual fluidity, amongst other things such as family, love, ambition, friendship, and loss. I have mentioned it here before briefly. I very much enjoyed watching it because it was different. As well as being entertaining it was gentle, warm, immensely funny, touching and moving. Even so, it is not aneamic or thin in any way. There are plenty of robust scenes and characters. But there are no shots, as described by Soloway, which hark back to The Love Boat genre of television; opening shot of boobs in a bikini, in front of which is Pina Colada, pan back and camera follows torso of women carrying Pina colada to the table – boobs, Pina Colada, boobs, Pina Colada, boobs, Pina Colada, boobs. And then the scene begins. (Soloway, 2016) Instead “unlikeable Jewish people become likeable” because they are surrounded, as described, by warm lighting and soulful music. (Soloway, 2016). Soloway normalises Other with a great deal of compassion throughout the series.

Her talk about the female gaze is bound to attract negative as well as positive attention. Some of the things she says are challenging and might be questioned. She is also very right indeed about much and the end of her talk is moving and honest. Soloway describes how she thinks of the female gaze in three sections.

  1. Feeling seeing – Soloway emphasises the entire self needs to be engaged in the camera work. She explains how the camera operator should be grounded and connected to the work. The opposite of this might be a detached camera person. I am certain that many camera operators have always worked from both positions and I am not sure that we can accurately claim ownership of ‘feeling seeing’. Many films made from a male gaze point of view will have been shot with a great deal of feeling. I have seen camera men working and photographers of both gender too – and they are often ‘in their bodies’, perhaps ‘feeling’ their way through the work. How the mechanical eye separates us from the scene or the picture being photographed is the interesting thing, and how people manage it too. It is possible to distance oneself from the action in front of us when concentrating on technicalities. At times that is useful no doubt. I see what Soloway is getting at here but I’m not sure it can exist only in the domain of the female gaze. The Love Boat ran for years and I suspect there may not have been much time for feeling or working from within the body from anyone on that type of production schedule. Transparent is so good because they made the time, perhaps were able to work for less than they might have done because they believed in the script and so were committed, and were led by a passionate and compassionate director.
  2. Show the viewer what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the Male Gaze. (But no more rape scenes, says Soloway, please no more! (2016))
  3. Look back. This she says is the most challenging and perhaps most dangerous.

We can look again at the pictures of the prostitute painted by Manet and included in Berger’s Ways of Seeing (2016)

olympia
Olympia, Manet, 1865

“”Shocking” was the word used to describe Edouard Manet’s masterpiece when it was first unveiled in Paris in 1865.” (manet.org, 2010)  She looks back, and it was very daring in those days. We can see things have changed since women often look out in images, although magazines are still populated by passive female faces looking either wistfully into the distance or look out alluringly, waiting with her mouth open for who knows what to be popped in it. It might be seen as challenging for a women to look directly out in some instances. And the fact the model in Manet’s picture was a prostitute is accompanied by the assumption that ‘well behaved’ women would not look directly at a viewer in that way.

There is much more to say and I will continue to explore this subject, perhaps to include in A5 where I hope to explore language and reality.  Soloway’s talk is really worth watching. It is moving and funny. She talks passionately about the way in which Others are treated in film and society. But I am not sure I have a complete picture of the female gaze yet, if such  thing exists, or if we should even call it that.

Image (c)SJField 2014

Manet.org. (2010). Olympia, 1856 by Edouard Manet. [online] Available at: http://www.manet.org/olympia.jsp [Accessed 7 Dec. 2016].

Soloway, J. (2016). Jill Soloway on The Female Gaze | MASTER CLASS | TIFF 2016. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pnBvppooD9I [Accessed 7 Dec. 2016].

Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: BBC, Penguin, p.46.

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4 thoughts on “Notes: The Female Gaze

  1. This is on my list of topics to write-up, including the recent Exhibition of Feminist Photographers at the Photographers Gallery and my reaction to one of the photographs. At some point it could be interesting to have a set of photographs by nameless photographers to discuss to see if we can ascertain whether the photographer is male or female. Could be a topic for TV group – divide us up in two groups with the same photographs.

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  2. Interesting SJ & Catherine. My UVC Ass #4 I consider (gaze maybe) the De Robertis performance of the Manat Olympia and whether she achieves her objectives in challenging the traditional way of looking at female nudes. I believe that during her performance all that happens is that spectators, and probably especially the men, gaze upon her naked body. It is only afterwards that the academic analysis begins.

    During all of this I also wondered if there is or can ever be a female gaze or whether ‘The Gaze’ is now simply entrenched. Also, of course to what extent can a male really understand and write about it. After all it is probably so entrenched in males that the prejudice will always be there. As a result I come a full circle and wonder about the true validity of my essay. (but I am not rewriting it!)

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