Female gaze. I often struggle with this term. Or is it a movement? I struggle to understand it. I tried to deconstruct it many times. Fit in. Lean in, if you will.
Sometimes my search for the right type of Female Gaze makes me mad. I frisk myself.
The Female Gaze was created as an antithesis to the Male Gaze. Male Gaze being the prevalent one, for obvious reasons that I don’t need to get into here. Stereotypically, Male Gaze objectifies women, flattens their characters, and creates one-sided vision of people who do not conform to their world view. Their masculine world view.
Female Gaze, in turn, is the golden egg. Women taking the reins, creating their characters with a full appreciation for who She, a woman, is. She is serious, she is strong, she is deep, and she is self-sufficient.
The term Female Gaze is defined by a woman observer telling a story.
I am a female photographer, I tell stories through images for a living. I am at my happiest when I can simply daydream for awhile and meditate on what I want to create, how to do it, how I want the viewer to feel when they see the result. It’s the kind of high that is as tangible as the high you get after three cups of coffee in one go. I have to admit, most times my creative high is supplied by the coffee high. It’s ecstatic to watch 3D world turn into 2D to represent your daydreams.
As with anything, once you label something, it becomes a commodity. It becomes narrow. It should be easily defined.
In this instance, Female Gaze is defined by female creators telling their own stories. It is usually a pure, virgin, representation. If you look for #girlgaze on Instagram, you’ll find an epitome of Female Gaze. There’s a lot of millennial pink. So much millennial pink. There’s a lot of fists in the air. It’s a lot of cheeks squeezed to one another. A lot of belly rolls. Mastectomies. A lot of flowers smashed between legs. Breastfeeding.
All the gorgeous marks that life leaves on our bodies. That define our lives. Not perfectly glamoured ones, but real, often painful, disappointing, ugly parts of our life that make it our own.
I am in awe of this movement. Yet sometimes it makes me mad.
The New York Times review of a new museum in New York dedicated exclusively to photography, Fotografiska, bashed a retrospective exhibition of a german fashion photographer Ellen von Unwerth. It’s called “Devocion! 30 Years of Photographing Women”. Presented, are countless photographs of famous women, often pictured as provocative, lustful. The reviewer’s opinion on it: “Ellen von Unwerth, a German fashion photographer who inherited her compatriot Helmut Newton’s vulgarity without the leavening of his originality and wit. “
She inherited Helmut Newton’s Vulgarity without leavening of his originality and wit.
I do not possess a level of sophistication The New York Times reporter and reviewer does, neither do I absolutely disagree with the statement. It saddens me, however, that this female photographer is being pinned against a male photographer, yes, one of the greatest photographers, only to be dismissed as a mere echo of Helmut Newton’s work.
Did Helmut Newton invent sex and vulgarity? Or was he the only one who saw it in a critics’ accepted way? The questions that I’ve been trying to reconcile with…
I get mad at the Female Gaze, because there’s only one way of gazing that is accepted. Female Gaze being an antithesis to the stereotypical Male Gaze is, by definition, asexual.
And that is one big problem that I have with all this. The fact that we need to bounce off of men to create our own identity. We are taking their rib to create ourselves, instead of creating ourselves all on our own.
Women are complex, and so are men.
We can generalize one and make it a trivial version of itself. Which is what, arguably, men have done to women for centuries. But what is it if not trivial to be creating co-working spaces for women that are all plush and pink, publishing feminist books that are all, once again, pink. Performing stand ups where the topic is always menstruation. And toothy blow jobs. But mostly menstruation. What is it if not trivial to sell razors, shampoos, anti-aging creams, concealers as tools for female empowerment. What is it if not trivial to be accepting all kinds of images created by women except the ones that are too close to what is traditionally deemed as Male Gaze. That is – sexy.
Men are not the only ones who have desires. Not to mention, you don’t have to have sexual desire towards someone to see and recognize their sexuality. ‘Sexy’ is not a dirty word.
‘Sexy’ is not just what men want us to be. It’s not how much makeup we put on. Not how high our heels are, or how short our skirts are. It’s an inseparable part of being human. It’s what we all want to experience as we breach pubescent years.
So if a woman portraying sexuality of other women is not Female Gaze, then I don’t want a part in it.
Look 2: T-shirt, RE/DONE; Skirt, Nili Lotan; Boots, RE/DONE
Sneakers, Model’s Own Vans
Look 3: Tank Top, Leset; Jeans, Acne Studios
Look 4: Jacket, Acne Studios; Dress (worn as skirt), Vince
Look 6: Lace Slip, Kiki de Montparnasse
Look 7: Jacket, Frankie Shop; Bra, Lonely; Jeans, Acne Studios
Look 8: Dress, Proenza Schouler; Boots, RE/DONE
Shot at The Current Residence.