Gender Trouble, heteronormativity, Heterosexual Matrix, Male Gaze, Performativity, Queer Gaze, Sex & Gender, Transparent

Strap-on, Strap-off

The relationship of Ali and Syd (as well as Ali’s relationship with Gender Studies professor, Leslie) represents the non-heterosexual queer relationship, where existing norms and discourses do not dictate how they live their lives as well as how they ‘do’ their relationship, gender, and sexuality.

Their relationship works as a place where Ali questions monogamy and as a safe space for her to experience with her gender identity as well as redefining phallus and what it can symbolize.

In the below mentioned scene, Ali walks in to the living room with a confident smile (as she is ‘in character’) and places herself in front of Syd. She is wearing a ‘wife-beater’, boxers (for men) and her long hair is done as if she has short hair, which makes her appear more ‘masculine’ than ‘feminine’. The entire scene appears comical and overacted – almost like a caricature. Her way of dressing is a way for her to challenge and play with the viewer’s understanding of gender while also reproducing the stereotypical understanding of a gay / queer relationship that consists of a female and a male part:

ali iført strap-on mens hun renser tænder.png

(09:40 i Mee-Maw)

Syd quickly points out that Ali is breaking the pagt (the strap-on belongs in the bedroom) and repeatedly asks her to take it off. Nevertheless, Ali continues to perform her role as a powerful (heterosexual) man, who in every way feels superior do to ‘his’ (erect) penis.

Ali puts the strap-on in front of Syd’s face to indicate that she must put it in her mouth next (this is obviously ironic):

Ali og strap-on i Syds ansigt.png

(10:41 in Mee-Maw)

Here, Ali and Syd represents a break with the heterosexual matrix and its claim to phallus (penetration), since it exemplifies how two women can have sex ‘with’ phallus, but without heterosexuality.

The way Ali parodies ‘a man’ underlines how one, by performing ‘the male gender’ almost automatically walks, talks, and acts differently according to the privileges given to you because you are born male in a society dominated by a patriarchal order.


I’m going to do everything with this on now. I’m going to do the New York Times crossword puzzle with a dick on (…) I’m going to make tea with a dick on (…) I’m going to throw pebbles in a pond with a dick on (…) I’d like to have some feelings and watch the rain with a dick on


(10:43 in Mee-Maw)

This is also a way of changing the meaning of phallus and its powerful position. This is done by placing it in other non-sexual correlations than what we are used to – doing crossword puzzle, drinking tea, being sensitive, and looking at the rain (‘with a dick on’). The mystery of phallus is hereby removed while its power is being taken away (a form of power men have defined themselves, which Transparent is trying to break with through queer gaze) by redefining it as something ‘safe’ and well known. The remarks ‘with a dick on’ underlines the fact that it is possible to perform one’s gender. The strap-on is something you can take on and off which means that phallus is redefined as something that belongs to everyone, not just men. With this, we witness another ‘fuck you’ – this time (in line with Lacan) aimed at ‘the big Other’ (phallus as the symbol of authority as well as potency (not a real organ)), whereby the series demonstrates exactly how hollow the idea of ‘the big Other’ (the flawless, metaphysical authority) is – both sexually and identity-wise (Rösing 2007: 36, 42, 49).

This is seen when Ali takes off the strap-on and throws it to the floor right before the mood goes from humorous and charictuarizing to intimate. Ali embraces Syd (without the strap-on):

ali med strap-on der ligeledes kan tages af efter behov.png

(10:53 in Mee-Maw)
syd og ali omfavner efter farvel til strapon.png

(10:59 in Mee-Maw)

‘Having a dick on’ is something you choose. It has no power in itself, but they, on the other hand, do. With this, it is clear that Transparent seeks to create a new and different societal structure when it comes to power: also in the bedroom. Ali takes on phallus (the power) in order to let it manifest itself in her, next she throws it to the floor, while still keeping the power – ‘female empowerment’ right there!


Source:

Rösing, Lilian Munk (2007): Autoritetens genkomst. Tiderne Skifter, Espergærde. ISBN: 978-87-7973-243-8


Elias, End of Male Gaze, Male Gaze, Queer Gaze, Queer Theory, Soloway

The Queer Gaze

As mentioned earlier, De Beauvoir talks about woman as ‘other’. ‘Woman’ was created and defined by the subject – the man. The woman has not always fought against this which means she has allowed herself to be defined as the object. In relation to this, De Beauvoir wonders why women are not objecting to male sovereignty (De Beauvoir(a) 1999: 16).

This question was asked in 1949, but it’s just now, with the use of new(er) streaming services and the arrival of social media’s, that something is done about it. One way of challenging sovereignty and the position as ‘other’, is through self-representation.

In feminist, psychoanalytic, queer, and postcolonial studies, the primary claim is that the subject is constituted by the gaze. You are that which others see you as, and not that which you see yourself as

(Elias 2009: 11)

A statement Elias emphasises by referring to Butler’s points in Gender Trouble where she demonstrates how our personality is formed through the repetition of our performative actions. In other words, identity is created through the repetition of social conventions (ibid.: 29).

It is therefore interesting to examine today’s media landscape in order to find out if and in what ways tv series today are breaking with ‘the male gaze’ – a term developed (in Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975)) by film theoretician and professor in Film & Media Studies Laura Mulvey. According to Mulvey, the term explains how a patriarchal society has structured the form of the film (Barding et al. 2015: 11). This is, among other things, important since film and tv-/streaming-series are structured around the intention of satisfying the voyeur. This, because it provides opportunities for identification with a powerful male hero and by offering an image of woman as object of the male gaze due to her ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ (Mulvey 1991: 69).

Producer, creator, showrunner and manuscript writer, Jill Soloway, elaborates this further while developing the term ‘The Queer Gaze’, which she also calls ‘The Female Gaze’.

The [white] Male Gaze is the way in which visual arts and literature depict the world and women from a masculine point of view, presenting women as objects of male pleasure. Mulvey names three parts of this gaze: This gaze is conducted by the person behind the camera. The characters in the film and the spectator

(Soloway 2016: 02:24)

At a Master Class, Soloway defines the Queer Gaze as part of breaking with the Male Gaze. Soloway emphasises that this Gaze is more than just the opposite of the Male Gaze (Soloway 2016: 05:12). They (Soloway identifies as a “gender non-conforming queer person who prefers to be references with gender-neutral pronouns (Freeman 2017)) divide the Queer Gaze into three parts.

  1. Feeling seen, whereto a subjective camera is used – the image is thereby used to share a feeling of being ‘in feeling’ rather than just looking at the character (ibid.: 17:33).

So this first Female Gaze might be something that you watch where you can say, ‘I can tell a woman directed this because I feel held by something that is invested in my feeling, in my body. That my emotions are being prioritised over the actions

(Soloway 2016: 19:19)

2. ‘The Gazed Gaze’. The camera shows the viewer how it feels to be the object of ‘the gaze’ (how it feels to be seen). This is not just an emotion, but a story where an intense consciousness is unveiled in relation to the growing power of the protagonist (the protagonist talk about how they become what men see, and what kind of effect they have on the world when they are being seen).

3. Returning the Gaze. As a way of telling the viewer “I see you seeing me”. With this, it becomes a way for minorities to not only be feeling seen, or show how it feels to be seen, but a way in which it is demanded that we rewrite our culture in a way, so women (or other minorities) no longer is the object, but also the subject (Soloway 2016: 22:52).

The Queer Gaze is a political platform where it is possible to break with the idea, that women’s success is limited to ‘being seen’ (Soloway 2016: 31:40). One always writes from one’s own perspective, which is why everyone is writing propaganda for themselves. This is a way to normalise one’s own experience. The Queer Gaze, then, is: “(…) a privilege generator: it’s storytelling to get you on somebody’s side” (ibid.: 28:16) and thereby a very conscious attempt to create empathy as a political tool. Soloway points to the fact that it is important to be aware of how we are not able to talk about what meanings the male and female body are inscribed, but what we can talk about is what is ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ and what these categories allow (ibid.: 44:40).

With this, we look at Transparent and Sense8. How are the creators truth(s) being told through these series? How do they create a socially relevant fight for recognition of non-normative identities?

Sources:

Barding, Antonia, Kæregaard, Marlene Bjørn, Eliasen, Kristina Maria Danielsen, Matthiassen, Anja Falkner & Stassen, Christoffer Trosborg (2015): Orange Is the New Black – Markante kvinderoller i nyere, amerikanske tv-serier. RUC, Bachelorproject. Read here

De Beauvoir(a), Simone (1999): “Første bind: Kendsgerninger og myter” i Det Andet Køn. Tidernes skifte, Nørhaven A/S Viborg.

Elias, Camelia (2009) Between Gazes: Feminist, Queer, and ‘Other’ Films. EYECORNER PRESS.

Freeman, Hadley (2017): Transparent’s Jill Soloway: ‘The words male and female describe who we used to be’. The Guardian. Read here

Mulvey, Laura (1991): Skuelysten og den fortællende film. Oversættelse af Vibeke Pedersen i Tryllelygten, Tidsskrift for levende billeder. 1. årgang, nr. 1, redigeret af Palle Schantz Lauridsen, Steen Salomonsen, Flemming Søgaard Sørensen, Jens Toft.

Soloway, Jill (2016): The Female Gaze. Master Class, TIFF 2016. See here