Jill Soloway, The Female Gaze, 2016

This entertaining and poignant keynote speech at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival by Jill Soloway, producer of the TV series Transparent, hit a strong chord with many female and non-binary gender artists.

It was a long overdue response to Laura Mulvey’s 1975 ground-breaking essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Summarising Mulvey in 2016, Lorek explained Mulvey’s thesis: “Adopting the language of psychoanalysis, Mulvey argued that traditional Hollywood films respond to a deep-seated drive known as “scopophilia”: the sexual pleasure involved in looking. Mulvey argued that most popular movies are filmed in ways that satisfy masculine scopophilia. Although sometimes described as the “male gaze”, Mulvey’s concept is more accurately described as a heterosexual, masculine gaze.” (Loreck, J 2016, ‘Explainer: what does the ‘male gaze’ mean, and what about a female gaze?’, The Conversation)

In addition to the video of Soloway’s lecture, the full text of the speech is available on Soloway’s website, Topple Productions. Here is an extract:

“Numero uno, I think the Female Gaze is a way of “feeling seeing”. It could be thought of as a subjective camera that attempts to get inside the protagonist, especially when the protagonist is not a Chismale. It uses the frame to share and evoke a feeling of being in feeling, rather than seeing – the characters. I take the camera and I say, hey, audience, I’m not just showing you this thing, I want you to really feel with me. I have my particular methods, our cinematographer, Jim Frohna, when he is holding the camera, his body is IN FEELING, not capturing but playing an action, like melting or oozing or allowing, he plays a feeling action… Maybe you notice when you see this kind of filmmaking you FEEL MORE. You get the FEELS when you watch, as the young people say. […] As a director I help make this happen by staying in my body as the actors work, by prioritizing all of the bodies on the set over the equipment or the money or the time.  […] Part One. Reclaiming the body, using it with intention to communicate Feeling Seeing.

Part Two. I also think the Female Gaze is also using the camera to take on the very nuanced, occasionally impossible task of showing us how it feels to be THE OBJECT of the Gaze. The camera talks out at you from its position as the receiver of the gaze. This piece of the triangle reps the Gazed gaze. This is how it feels to be seen… The gazed gaze.

This third thing involves the way THE FEMALE GAZE DARES to return the gaze. It’s not the gazed gaze. It’s the gaze on the gazers. It’s about how it feels to stand here in the world HAVING BEEN SEEN our entire lives… Or, in a line I heard in a web series today, we don’t write culture, we’re written by it. It says WE SEE YOU, SEEING US. It says, I don’t want to be the OBJECT any longer, I would like to be the SUBJECT, and with that SUBJECTIVITY I can name you as the OBJECT.

This would be the third leg of the triangle and I think it’s the most important, and the one that really truly has been almost entirely NOT YET DONE. It’s less about a filmic language – although it could easily employ either of the techniques I just mentioned – but rather, this part of the female gaze is a SOCIOPOLITCAL justice-demanding way of art making.”