Happy Lunar New Year! Today Rita Banerjee’s essay “The Female Gaze” debuts in PANK Magazine. “The Female Gaze,” an essay in three parts, is an excerpt from Rita Banerjee’s new memoir and manifesto on how young women of color keep their cool against social, sexual, and economic pressure. In her essay exploring the female gaze, female agency, and female cool, Banerjee asks:
What if women, especially women of color, were the progenitors of cool? That is, did women have to cultivate their own cool—their own sense of style, creative expression, and coldness—in order to survive patriarchy across millennia across cultures? If the male gaze aims subordinate and colonize, what does the female gaze, tempered by cool, desire? What does the female gaze cherish or hold dear? If a woman were fully aware of her gaze, would she use it to objectify and colonize, or could her gaze destabilize and decolonize?
In Part 1 of “The Female Gaze,” Banerjee writes:
In 2016, at a master class at the Toronto International Film Festival, Jill Soloway, the director and producer of Transparent who recently comes out as transgender, tackles Laura Mulvey’s famous and electrifying essay, “Visual Cinema and Narrative Pleasure.” In 1975, Mulvey introduces the term “male gaze” and describes how scopophilia fetishizes the female body on screen and transforms a woman into an object of pleasure, voyeurism, and eroticism for the male viewer.
Soloway wonders if the female gaze is simply the opposite of the male gaze. That is, is the female gaze simply “visual arts and literature depicting the world and men from a feminine point of view, presenting men as objects of female pleasure?”
Soloway digs further. The female gaze might actually have an identity of its own. An independence, an agency. “The female gaze might be…
I. A way of feeling and seeing, which tries to get inside the protagonist especially when the protagonist is not cis-male. A subjective camera. Reclaiming the body and using it as a tool of the self with intention to communicating a feeling-seeing.
II. Demonstrate how it feels to be the object of the gaze.
III. Return the gaze. Daring to say, ‘I see you seeing me.’”