The Liberator

The female gaze


Gabrielle Jabour, Student Life Editor

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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I walked into my second ever SXSW session. The featured session, titled “A Female Gaze”, promised to “open up a conversation about seeing film and being seen in film for those who don’t identify with being white, cis or male.” Intrigued, I entered the room and took a seat a couple of rows in front of a large, black stage situated with four white couches.

Soon after, session moderator Alicia Malone, a Fandango correspondent and “The Female Gaze” author, came onto the stage with panelists and female directors Chelsea Hernandez, Karen Maine and Kestrin Pantera. Prompted by questions by Malone, each woman gave background about their experience in film and their view about what it meant to be a woman behind the lens.

This idea of a female gaze became the focus of the conversation for the next hour. The female gaze opposes the male gaze, a term that originated in the 1970s to describe the idea that cinema is shaped by the viewpoint of a heterosexual male that empowers men and objectifies women. In contrast, the rising trend of the female gaze hopes to deliver the perspectives of women to different viewers and affect how female stories are told. The panelists debated whether the female gaze is truly equivalent to the male one, citing the gender disparity in film and lack of representation that stills exists today.

Many of the directors on the panel recounted personal experiences of the “Serena William effect” where they felt more scrutinized than men on sets for being “hard or intense,” because some expect women to be stereotypically nice and quiet. According to one panelist, however, this wasn’t always the case. At the beginning of film, it was considered beneficial to have a female director because they were viewed as collaborative and empathetic. Somewhere along the way, the film industry shifted to favor men who had what was described as a more “militant” personality.

The panelists also mentioned that it’s an amazing time for female filmmakers to be making indie movies. This year, women-directed films accounted for around 60 percent of the films in competition at SXSW. Additionally, they mentioned the benefits that a set run mainly by women brings. Studies show that when films have a woman director, there are more women who are put in leadership roles such as production. Putting women behind the screen also allows women to bring a richness of perspective to a film or story. This gives them the ability to share their own experiences in a world where much of pop culture was defined through the male gaze that lacked a female understanding.

Even with recent conversation about encouraging females in film and promoting the female gaze, the statistics still show much more room for growth. Of the top 100 films made every year, it was said that 99 percent were made by men. In order to change the statistics, Pantera said there needs to be more of an effort to get women into the writer’s room, and to involve them in more big budget films. Her advice for young aspiring female filmmakers? Take hold of the camera sooner, learn to be unafraid of stepping into a leadership role, and don’t let fear of hearing ‘no’ hold you back.

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The female gaze