POISONING THE PATRIARCHY WITH “FEMALE GAZE”
by Leah Fay Goldstein
A collection of short films that confront, expose and dismantle the male gaze through a feminist, queer, trans or ‘other’ empathetic lens.
We can’t touch patriarchy with our hands. It doesn’t have a smell and it doesn’t make noise. We can’t tell when it has entered a room with the intention of stripping away power, inserting itself where it is not needed or overpowering less audible voices by answering when it hasn’t been asked a question in the first place. The birth of patriarchy was not marked on a specific date in history. Society was not changed from one thing to another by a single event, although male-serving religions and the development of androcentric language probably didn't help matters. It is his-story after all. It’s not mine, yours or theirs. There are no quantifiable or undisputed findings, charts or artifacts to explain the erection of the construct, just statistics that demonstrate the ways in which it fails to serve and treat all sentient beings equally.
For many of us, regardless of gender identity, the effects of patriarchy and the “male gaze” are felt in our bodies long before we can name or comprehend them as concepts. I was raised by parents who always strived to treat my brother and I as equals. I spent my very privileged childhood dancing at a studio that was body positive and making art in weekend programs run by institutions that were decidedly matriarchal and accepting of all people. This upbringing resulted in a specific worldview. I started identifying as a “feminist” before I knew how to spell the word itself.
When I hit puberty and started to feel watched, sexualized and unsafe, I was livid because of the context already in place around me. I knew there had to be other ways of being. This is likely what led to my decision to study contemporary dance and art in university. I had inadvertently ended up in a place where I could surround myself with a community of like-minded feminine and non-binary identifying people as well as masculine-identifying feminists. We were all emerging or established artists seeking revolution and refuge from mainstream societal norms.
By the time I graduated, I had been so up to my ears in a specific kind of comfort and privilege that I was unaware of the weight of what we were all fighting for. It wasn’t until I co-founded a band and entered the music industry that I began to experience and understand some of the ways in which people are treated and evaluated differently in white-hetero-able-bodied-cis-male dominated environments. I was lucky to have spent so many years of my life feeling like a human being. I hadn’t needed to think too much about what expectations or assumptions that were being placed upon me because of the fact that I have breasts. I wasn’t used to be being spoken to, treated, and looked at so very differently than the men around me.
The term male gaze was coined by feminist film critic Laura Mulvey in 1975 as “the way in which the visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure.” It is important to point out that this lens is also predominantly white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and able-bodied. In September 2016 at the Toronto International Film Festival, writer, producer and director Jill Soloway (Transparent, I Love Dick) delivered a keynote address exploring the possibility of a “female gaze”. She said, “The female gaze seeks to destroy all gazes, she is other-gaze, queer-gaze, trans-gaze, intersectional-gaze, she is the non-gaze emanating out from the centre of not a triangle, but a circle. Undivided. The feel-with-me gaze, the being-seen gaze, I-see-you gaze, truth gaze, she is the internet because now we can all talk to each other all at once. Collaborate. Corroborate.” She suggested that the use of this non-oppressive, other gaze, which is so much more than simply a female gaze, could enable a “conscious effort to create empathy as a political tool” and take on the role of a “sociopolitical, justice-demanding, way of art making.” She offered this concept in three parts; “feeling-seeing” which explores the idea of getting inside the protagonist and prioritizing emotion over action, the “gazed gaze” which shows us how it feels to be the object of male gaze, and “returning the gaze” where the subjects acknowledge their awareness of being seen and having been seen for their entire lives.
The following collection of video and film pieces by artists Alex Ateah, Francesca Fini, Amy Lockhart, Coral Short, Emily Pelstring, Caroline Monnet and Alysha Seriani provides a diverse group of examples of a patriarchy-corrupting approach to art making.
The female gaze seeks to destroy all gazes, she is other-gaze, queer-gaze, trans-gaze, intersectional-gaze, she is the non-gaze emanating out from the centre of not a triangle, but a circle. Undivided. The feel-with-me gaze, the being-seen gaze, I-see-you gaze, truth gaze, she is the internet because now we can all talk to each other all at once.