Girl on Girl Action: Girls and the Female Gaze
Check out the first eight installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:
July 28: Girls: Best Friends Forever-ish
In 1975, film theorist Laura Mulvey posited that cinema possessed an inherent "male gaze" that objectified women on screen. This male gaze presumably exists because film (and television) is an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry targeting male viewership. Interestingly, the theory stretches back into the history of art:
"When you look at an object, you are seeing more than just the thing itself: you are seeing the relation between the thing and yourself. ...The [Renaissance era] painting of female beauty offered up the pleasure of her appearance for the male spectator-owner's gaze. But the spectator-owner's gaze sees not merely the object of the gaze, but sees the relationship between the object and the self. He sees her as a creature of his domain, under his gaze of possession..."
Lena Dunham is one of a small but growing number of women behind the camera being praised by feminists for cultivating the "female gaze" on screen in the 21st century. However, the praise she is receiving from feminist circles isn't as liberating as one would think:
“After centuries of women being played back to themselves through the male gaze, we are being played back to ourselves through the female gaze,” [Make Love Not Porn founder Cindy] Gallop said. “I love, love, love how much nudity and skin exposure Lena Dunham goes for. That is real world body, having sex with men who find real world bodies desirable.”
Wait. Women have struggled to move into seats of real power in the film and television industry in order to... make sex ugly? That's the female gaze?
Not quite. For feminist critics, the sex not only has to be ugly, it should be fat, too:
"While Dunham’s graphic nudity and sex scenes may provoke disgust or discomfort for some viewers, watching Girls can feel subversively empowering... It is a rare thrill to see an honest erotic depiction of a television actress who not only doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model, but doesn’t want to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. You might even say that it’s aspirational."
Girls began as the story of four young women facing the challenges of entering adulthood in New York City. Feminist critics have managed to praise this potentially complex story line as being the story of a chubby chick having bad sex.
At least with the male gaze we were pretty and the sex was good.
The Bible doesn't detail the sex lives of its female characters which, considering the fact that Biblical authors and scribes were male, flies in the face of Mulvey's theory regarding male-dominated media. What the Bible does detail of its females are the character traits that made them worth writing about. Compassion, insight, modesty, kindness, and selflessness are only a few of the traits illustrated in the stories of the matriarchs, the prophetess Deborah, the heroines Esther and Ruth. The Proverbial Woman of Valor is prized for, among other things, "considering a field and buying it, and from her earnings planting a vineyard." Second wave feminism fought for this kind of economic equality. Today's female gaze sees fat, bad sex as real liberation.
Until contemporary feminism escapes the goddess mentality of valuing women for their physical worth, they will never know equality much less freedom. As for the bad sex and fat bodies, if that is the best argument for goddess feminism this movement stands to go the way of the Greek pantheon.