Production Image: 'Do You Like Me Like This?'
Film, as Rose McGowan said recently, “is the messaging system for your mind”. Whether we like it or not, what we see on screen has a profound impact upon the way we see the world - and it’s time for change.
In many ways, 2017 has been a winning year for women in the film industry. Reed Morano won the Emmy for Best Director, Jane Campion brought us Top Of The Lake Season 2, and 8 female Māori writers and directors brought us Waru.
But in so many ways, 2017 has been a dire year for female filmmakers. Most recently, the Harvey Weinstein case has highlighted the deeply entrenched sexism within the film industry.
Despite some awesome local initiatives like South Pacific Pictures’ recent commitment to 50/50 split of female directors and accessible platforms like Show Me Shorts Film Festival, statistics are dire – showing women make up just 7% of directors on the top 250 films last year.
And what does this mean for us, consumers of Netflix, advertising and Hollywood blockbusters? Put simply, it means the male gaze is embedded in the majority of media we experience.
The male gaze is defined as, “the act of depicting the world and women in the visual arts and in literature from a masculine and heterosexual point of view, which present women as objects of male pleasure.”
From a young age, we are taught that girls are princesses waiting atop a tower to be rescued, we see women idolised in bikinis on billboards or as the token beautiful woman in Hollywood blockbusters.
It’s incredible how susceptible we are from a young age to these ideals. I was always a really tall, gangly kid - much taller than all the guys at the school disco. I had learnt from the male gaze that, as a young girl, I was supposed to be shorter, smaller, and inferior.
In my adult life, I still feel myself being hyper-aware of my height, even though I’m not that tall anymore. I’ve taught myself to be conscious of this, to catch myself - and empower myself to stand at my full height.
Imagine if I had grown up in a world as seen through the female gaze? If the TV shows, films & cartoons I watched saw men and women as equals, as partners, as teammates, perhaps I wouldn’t always feel too tall, too big, too loud.
In my debut short film as a writer-director, Do You Like Me Like This?, I tried to explore the journey of a young woman testing the waters, discovering her power and standing at her full height.
There are so many unspoken rules girls and women have to conform to - which has a direct impact on how we walk, talk, act and come across – and I relished the challenge to try and capture just a slither of this in my short film.
This plight is not limited to women only. I truly believe that each and every human can benefit from the feminist movement – a great example is He For She. If girls can be the hero, guys can be the princess. It goes both ways, and benefits us all.
So I found myself asking – what is the female gaze?
Some people might say it’s simply the reverse. If the male gaze is the objectification of women for male pleasure, surely the female gaze is the objectification of men for female pleasure. Think Magic Mike.
It’s everything we want, right ladies?
I would argue – no, it’s not. It doesn’t even come close.
One of my heroes, Jill Solloway (writer & creator of Transparent) gave this amazing keynote speech at the Toronto International Film Festival. In it, Jill poses a challenge for us to define the female gaze for ourselves – to make up our own rules.
So let’s just take a moment to imagine a world through the female gaze.
Imagine if feelings came first? If the male gaze is all about objectifying, possession and dominance, the female gaze is about working from our hearts, our sensitivity, our emotions.
Imagine if films that portrayed elements of the male gaze, (cat calling, assault, sexism of any kind), ensured it wasn’t glorified? Objectification isn’t sexy. It’s real, and it hurts people.
Imagine if writers wrote for human beings – not “men” or “women”? Some recent examples include Emily Blunt’s role in the film Sicario (originally written for a man) or the latest Star Trek series – the character Michael happens to be played by a woman. And let's not forget Jodie Whittaker's recent casting as Dr. Who.
What would this look like? I have no idea. But I do know film as a medium has incredible power to bring about empathy, to allow the viewer to see life from another vantage point, to taste what their neighbour might be feeling.
It’s time we stopped imagining the female gaze, and started showing it to the world.
Miryam Jacobi’s short film “Do You Like Me Like This?” is playing in the Daring to be Different session in Show Me Shorts Film Festival.Support Villainesse