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POV: You Stopped Dressing for the Male Gaze. Or Did You?

Normally, any TikTok that serenades me with a Taylor Swift “All Too Well” and “Champagne Problems” medley would be heavenly to watch. I wish I could say that for this current trend where people show how their fashion style changed over the last few years. In the videos, multiple photos are shown to demonstrate how the user has ‘stopped dressing for the male gaze.’ Most often, the ‘transformation’ just means wearing less revealing clothing. Yet, this way of thought enforces the harmful ideal that your clothes speak for you. It assumes that women wear low-cut shirts and short clothing just for the eyes of a man. It plays right into the “Well, what was she wearing?” victim blaming tactic that’s been used for years. The times, and the fashion trends, have changed. We’ve seen a 2020 VSCO girl summer, where it was common to hone in on oversized T-shirts and shorts. We’ve revisited a Y2K look this year, encompassing cropped baby tees and pleated skirts. Now, we’re experiencing a Cottage Core era, where long dresses are in, and it is no longer weird to like Taylor Swift (which is another article for another day). What hasn’t changed is this notion that our clothing is somehow synonymous with how we want to be seen by men.

It’s unrealistic to say you’ve managed to escape the male gaze: the film theory that explains how everything is portrayed by and for men. How could you stray from it? A mere one and a half out of every 10 Hollywood directors are female. As a result, men are the ones who have final say on the movies and television shows that shape our perceptions of ourselves and the world around us. Since the concept of the male gaze was developed in 1975 by a filmmaker Laura Mulvey, women have attempted to regain control over this ideal. Some have given it a go in the industry itself; in fact, the number of female directors rose 8.2% from 2016 to 2019. Others have chosen to educate themselves on the theory. Regardless, has anyone actually been successful in reversing this harmful ideology? Has anyone even been able to experience what can only be assumed is the opposite: the female gaze? My guess is no.

“The ‘female gaze’ isn’t about asserting female dominance on-screen. That’s because the male gaze isn’t just about objectifying women,” Stefani Forster wrote for Medium

Take Pixar script supervisor Jessica Heidt’s discovery for example. Heidt had been working on “Cars 3” when something felt off. After analyzing the first draft of the film, her calculations reported that 90%of the characters were male. Not to mention, one of only two female Pixar directors was fired during production because of ‘creative’ differences, and top male directors at the animation studio have been accused of sexual misconducts by several women. Pixar has a problem with women. With that said, what’s represented on screen isn’t necessarily objectification. The thing is that female fish, toys and cars in a children’s movie aren’t being sexualized or used. They aren’t important enough for that.

Forster explains that, unless there is objectification, female characters are just present to support the main, male characters in their endeavors. In the case of Pixar, this is exemplified by the mere three films they’ve ever made where a female character is the main one. This isn’t even including “The Incredibles,” despite it being a front-runner with two prevalent women: Elastigirl and Violet Parr.

So, what does this mean? To be honest, I’m not sure. All I know is that, in a society where women aren’t needed if we’re not objectified, I couldn’t really tell you what the female gaze exactly is. Psychology concepts like the cultivation theory suggest that the more time spent watching on-screen stories play out, the more engulfed we are in them. In simple talk, the more we see a man’s idea of a society in film, the more we accept that society for what it is. I for one don’t want to believe that. Consequently, here’s what we do know about the female gaze.

We know that it’s not merely whatever the male one isn’t. For example, it doesn’t mean we instantly turn the tables and objectify men. Interestingly enough, we actually don’t objectify anyone (shocking stuff!). Instead, we focus on characters for who they are. We concentrate on plots, storylines and character arcs. It can be harrowing to conceptualize that everything we think about the world is because it is what men told us to think. Still, there are positives to consider.

First, we can measure women inclusivity in the film industry. One of these measures includes The Bechdel Test. Taking inspiration from a 1985 comic by Alison Bechdel, this analysis considers movies to be at least gender progressive if it checks off all three requirements. One: the film must have two or more female characters. Two: these two characters must have names. And three: their conversations must be about something besides a man. Though it’s quite appalling and sad how many films don’t pass this test (“A Star Is Born,” “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” and “La La Land”!), it allows us to have open conversations about representation on and off screen. In 2017, FiveThirtyEight challenged women in the industry to come up with a more modern test to measure equality. In The Uphold Test, developed by writer and actress Rory Uphold, 50 of the top movies that year didn’t have a film crew that was 50%women. What this tells us is that representation has definite room to grow in this field. More than that, people are updating tests like these to further propel gender and even racial equality in the film industry. That’s a good thing!

Also making improvements is Pixar and their mistreatment of women. Heidt’s observation, along with a new software tool that automatically tracks character’s genders throughout a picture’s creation, changed “Cars 3,” and Pixar, for the better. Behind the scenes, John Lasseter, someone who’s “known as the genius behind Pixar films” has stepped down following reports of sexual advances and inappropriate, non-consensual behavior. With more room for representation all the way around, I’m not the only one who’s stoked to see what Pixar comes up with.

“What’s important is that we at the studio can look at the films we’re releasing over the next five years and say, ‘in the aggregate of what we’re doing, can we hit 50-50 over the course of these seven movies?’,” Heidt said in the docuseries Inside Pixar. “Representation matters because I think it’s important that even if it’s a fish or a toy or a car that people are able to see themselves or something that they believe represents themselves on screen.”

“If you’re faced with a problem that seems bigger than you are and you don’t know what to do with it, take a step back and think about what specific tools you have that nobody else has that maybe you can address it that way,” Heidt continued.

“I also think, go ahead and do it. You’ve gotta be fearless.”

Lauren Brensel is a freshman Journalism major at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing entertainment and identity pieces, and is trying her hand at screenwriting, too. You can find other stories by Brensel here: https://laurenbrensel.carrd.co/
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