Want To Know What Hollywood Looks Like From A Dominant Female Gaze? Just Ask Jill Soloway

We hear a lot about diversity initiatives and gender quotas needed in Hollywood, an industry which is in dire need for change. And while there seems to be no shortage of the right words being said, giving us the impression that things are indeed changing and becoming more equal for women, when you see research that shows the actual number of women in positions of power and in traditionally male-dominated roles both in front of and behind the camera, you realize we still have a long way to go.

Thankfully there are change-makers who aren’t interested in the status quo or playing the “game” to stay relevant or employed. Ava DuVernay deciding to only hire female directors on her OWN show ‘Queen Sugar’ is badass and shows just how powerful it is when a woman in power decides to open the door for other women and minorities. And before you says “that’s sexist!!” you would literally not have enough hours in a day to list every single TV show in history that has only exclusively hired male directors.

Another person who is actively fighting the system is ‘Transparent’ creator and award-winning writer/director Jill Soloway. At the 2016 Emmy Awards where she accepted her second for the Amazon original show, she ended her speech with an important statement: “topple the patriarchy!”. This wasn’t just a phrase, it was an indication of what her mission in Hollywood actually is.

With the release of her second Amazon original show ‘I Love Dick’ from her (appropriately titled) Topple Productions, Jill is using her platform to show the industry, as well as audiences, that entertainment created from a distinctly female gaze is not only needed, but popular with viewers (like, duh!).

‘I Love Dick’ is based on a book with the same title by Chris Kraus, released in 1997, which is centered around a couple, Sylvere and Chris, played by Griffin Dune and Kathryn Hahn, who move to Texas. The husband, Sylvere, attends an art institute run by a cowboy by the name of Dick, played by Kevin Bacon. His wife Chris ends up falling in love with Dick but uses her newfound lust for this man to reignite the passion in her marriage, and also decides to write love letters to Dick as a form of performance art, and post them all over town.

The unfolding story and plot lines are not your stereotypical sex, lust and gender norms fare, because the writing staff was all female, enabling the show’s themes to be presented from the female gaze and about the female gaze. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Jill explains the intentionality of this right from the first episode.

“In the pilot, when they’re at dinner and Dick and Sylvere are looking at Chris together and ask each other whether or not she’s a good filmmaker, this is the moment where Sylvere leaves her and joins Dick in this corroboration of male gaze. It is the inciting incident of the whole series, where she’s like, “I will not be the object of the male gaze. I am going to try to find my own way of seeing the world.” The truth is women are used as the conduit for men to be able to enjoy sexuality together,” said the creator.

Throughout the interview, reporter Hillary Crosley Croker and Jill speak about how women such as the Kardashians, though they may think they are empowered and positioning themselves as separate from the male gaze, it often becomes a case of them doing the “male gaze-ing” on their own.

“My problem is that empowerment comes one degree away from the male gaze, because you’re trying to get a man to do something by engaging their gaze. For me, the dream…is that you aren’t actually being looked at, you’re doing the looking. The fantasy for women, for me, is to be invisible and have my work investigated,” she explained.

Jill goes on to say she regrets wasting so much time fretting over the way she looked, thinking that was her source of power, as opposed to using her brain, but now she gets to make up for this, somewhat, with the complex characters she creates on her show that are outside the gender norms of Hollywood.

“We all want power; women want it, people of color want it, queer people want it, gender nonconforming people want it. We all want the power that comes with being the default subject, that’s why we’re full of rage. No man will ever understand what it feels like to grow up other, no white person will ever understand growing up as a person of color. There’s so much rage over not only wanting to be recognized as we are, but also who we would be had we been the original subject, and not been born into this other,” she said.

This is why having an all-female writer’s room was important to her, and likens it to Donald Glover having an all-black writer’s room for his hit show ‘Atlanta’, which immediately lends itself to an authentically fleshed-out on-screen experience and story.

“Cisgender men might be unconsciously advocating for what makes them feel comfortable, and that would be versions of the male gaze. That could damage a blossoming possibility when you have a group of people in a room together who’ve never had the opportunity to do that before,” she said.

“It’s exactly the same thing with people of color. What if someone would’ve said to [Donald Glover], ‘You need to have just one white person in there. It’s their job to rein you in because you’re going be too black!’ Or, for a women’s writers’ room, there was a guy in there like, ‘Too much period blood!’ You don’t even want that physics, so that choice was to create a room without the male gaze,” she added.

Having only female writers gave the show the ability to truly flip gender norms and tropes on its head, such as the scene where Sylvere asks Dick, “You don’t like being the muse?” to which Dick responds, “it’s humiliating.” Oh the irony: an object of sexual desire, which happens to be a man, doesn’t like being objectified for the pleasure of someone other than himself. Now why does that sound so familiar to numerous women…?

If she wasn’t making award-winning entertainment, we think Jill Soloway could quite easily have a career as a feminist scholar or professor, as this is something she also spends a lot of time writing and speaking out. At the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, she gave a Master Class keynote address talking about the female gaze, which you can read in full here. There is so much meat to unpack and digest from the speech, but one part that stood out to us is the impact of the gaze on culture at large:

THE FEMALE GAZE DARES to return the 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

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. 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…

The Female Gaze is not a camera trick it is a privilege generator is positions ME the woman as the Subject. On a journey. You will be on her side. You will be on my side. My camera, my script, my word on my notes, my side. I want you to see the FEMALE GAZE as a CONSCIOUS EFFORT to create empathy as a POLITICAL TOOL…

The Female Gaze can be a cultural critic. We get DIVIDED by the male gaze — but we want our subjectivity back, we want to knit it back together, our wholeness and make it uncomfortable unacceptable to blatantly USE us as objects, to turn us into slices to push you towards your own plot climaxes, of rescue or revenge.

As for toppling the patriarchy outside of television, Jill says for her it is about shared values around love and justice, as opposed to what we are seeing in today’s political climate.

“A toppled world means that the kind of masculine, war-mongering, dominance-obsessed men that have their hold on our planet would evolve in a positive way. To me, believing that I can change the world through culture, television, books or movies, that’s how I get out of bed. I don’t see it happening in my lifetime, but I have an 8-year-old, and this could be his future,” she said.


 

 

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