Finally saw Wonder Woman last night, and I just wanted to capture some thoughts.
I’ve been reading a lot of comments and responses about this film on Reddit and Facebook before I had a chance to see it. The one that sticks in my mind goes something like “It’s refreshing that she isn’t sexualized, none of the shots of her objectify her or the Amazons. Her thighs jiggle when she lands, there are no gratuitous shots of her cleavage, even the the sex scene is done without treating her as a plaything”. Something like that, I’m probably mashing several quotes into one. Basically I’m seeing many people who find it refreshing that this film was shot with ‘The Female Gaze’.
So what’s that about? Male Gaze vs Female Gaze(this is something I often turn over in my mind, what it is, how to change it). So, this is a thing that is ingrained in our culture so deep we can’t help but be affected by it. Everything is marketed, displayed, sold, with the male POV in mind. It’s not something people consciously think of, it’s just ‘the way things are’. Watch TV, flip through a magazine, look at anything produced for an audience. Doesn’t matter if it’s a high fancypants studio or some independent creator. Doesn’t even matter the gender of creator/s, because women often don’t even know they are doing it either.
A good example of ‘The Male Gaze’ is this video by PragerU “Men and the Power of the Visual“. Footnote about Prager University, (which is not a real university, no accreditation and you can’t get a legit diploma from there). They have lots of videos on the youtube, some with friendly popular faces like Mike Rowe and they present happy shiny graphics and present their point of views in a non-threatening way. They are in fact a tool of the Alt-Right, using appealing imagery to suck you into their misogynistic, homophobic, misleading ideologies that only present a point of view from one side. That’s what this video does. The readers digest is that basically that women are used in advertisements because that’s what men want to see. Women don’t mind seeing other women in adverts, so it’s ok. Men don’t want to see other men, so we don’t. ‘Men’s legs are not attractive’ so we don’t use them in adverts. This is what the ‘Male Gaze’ is. Catering to what men want, (or what we think men want). We think that men don’t want to see other men, at least not in the same way we see women. Another angle to view this is how women characters are described in movie & film scripts (if you want to check out Ross Putman’s twitter go here) …. (also people of color also have their own crap to deal with but that’s another rant). The ‘Male Gaze’ colors in women, all women as objects of fantasy and as tropes. If you don’t fit then you shouldn’t be seen, like hairy man legs. It fits what is acceptable to a narrow window, which is toxic for everyone really. If you don’t fit any of the acceptable groups, an adonis or financially successful man, you are also not as included in the marketing of the male gaze and what is accepted as masculinity. Sensitive intellectuals, gents who are thin or too thick, not especially aggressive or maybe have interests and jobs that are for females, some guys get a lot of flack for just not being what they are told they should be. Some of those guys get angry, because they believe the male gaze and what it promises, the attention and desire of women if you are the right kind of man. Of course that’s not how it works, because women are people not tropes or stereotypes… but tell that to Incels (Shy Boy documentary, 31 minutes). The tragedy I see here is, here are people unable to connect because the fantasy of the male gaze (for lack of a better way to explain it) gets in the way of chilling out and seeing people, especially women as… people. It takes time to get to know someone, it can take a while to find people you really can connect with. You have to be interested in who they are, and you have to be willing to share who you are, even those embarrassing shy uncomfortable bits. People in general but I see it more in folks under 30 are looking for the movie style of falling in love, fast and hard but without doing the slow work of really getting to know someone. Also a lack of not accepting people for who they are because they don’t fit within the fantasy of what kind of relationships they think they want.
If I could do one thing right now to fix the whole world, I would wave a magic wand to let people see that they aren’t alone, that they aren’t so different than they think they are, and they have more in common with other than they think, even people who look radically different from them, even people in different economic classes. This us vs them is true poison. But anyway.
Back to Wonder Woman.
I recall reading how execs had issue with producing a Wonder Woman film years ago. Even though the character has been and remains popular, they didn’t think (generally speaking) that a female superhero could make it at the box office. Disasters like Catwoman and Electra didn’t help, but I would argue that’s the issue of the male gaze. Especially Catwoman was marketed as a ‘female hero’ movie sold to females, with all the life and soul of a Lifetime Trailer (I was going to link just one but they are all just… hey I like crappy cheesy shows (nsfw) A LOT but GODDAMN so much of what Lifetime makes me want to UGGGHHHHWARGARBAL!) Sooooo yeah. Money is involved and people who have it want to lean towards what they think works. I get that… however often they miss the mark by selling characters and the audience short.
Back in 2013 Rainfall Films produced this Wonder Woman Short. It went viral, and it’s popularity seemed to help influence the inclusion of Wonder Woman as a secondary character then in her own origin film that I just saw. There are better articles about the director and the story of making the film, so I won’t bother going into that. What I generally find interesting about this continuing cultural conversation is that here’s a film that doesn’t use the male gaze as a tool to sell itself, and it also doesn’t use the female gaze as a whip. I should state I am personally not a fan of misandry either. Like I said before we all (no matter what gender or sexual orientation you identify with) have more in common with one another than we do not. Our individual path and experiences are our own, but we all have things we can relate to and share. Shutting people down because of first impressions and snap judgements based on appearance is terrible no matter how you identify. We can’t learn from one another if we shut down and don’t have a conversation. Telling someone to ‘shut up and listen to me’ is probably the best way to get someone to not listen to you.
So anyway. I don’t think this film is going to change ‘the male gaze’ thing. However I think good art inspires good art, ideas roll off of ideas, as creative creatures that’s how we do. Some people are seeing this phenomenon for the first time, where a woman director with a woman protagonist makes work that is pretty awesome with wide appeal. And the funny thing to me personally is if you look at art history women have been making art, music, and film as a strong creative force since forever. An example is how women were a major force in the silent film industry in NYC before it moved to California. I could toss in all kinds of info about the history of women painters in art (because that’s kinda what I do), and how many got shut out of institutions where they could learn, had to paint under the names of men, or did brilliant work with ‘female subjects’ as it was unladylike to paint nudes or flowers, or, how they would get shut out of recognition in organizations they helped to create. Like I said, this ‘Male Gaze’ thing is deeply inherent to our culture for longer than I can say.
I don’t know how to change things on the macro level, only to work on myself and debate and work through these ideas on the local level, and to challenge these ideas in my own work. It’s a constant conversation, one without end but that’s no bad thing. If you keep talking, you keep learning eh?
Ok, get back to work.