The Bechdal test (1985) in Film determines whether, the movie has at least two women in it who talk to each other, about something besides a man and has been used for 30 years to determine gender inequality and sexism towards women. In recent years Eurimages (2014) and the Swedish film Institute (2013) have used the test, originally devised by Cartoonist Alison Bechdal, but little has changed, especially where Hollywood film is concerned. Even before this, Feminist Laura Mulveys Essay on Narrative pleasure (1977) coined the term the ‘male gaze’ describing the sexual objectification of women in cinema as vital to the perpetuation of patriarchal society to no real effect. In 2015 The Sexy lamp test was introduced by Feminists tired of the same kind of gender bias which sees women objectified and sexualised for no narrative purpose. It determines whether women can be taken out of a film and replaced by ‘a sexy lamp’ in order to highlight the negligence of women as real characters in screenwriters’ creations.
Determining these tests and using them to our advantage on an industry level has proved incredibly slow and is still virtually unheard of within wider film culture. In fact women tend to seek the sexual validation within the male gaze as a means of survival and actresses hungry for work and exposure have historically felt little empowerment to question these traditional norms. Despite the idea of the ‘female gaze being around for many years now in opposition to Mulveys notions of the ‘male’ equivalent, women have simply not had their ideas, and stories financed for Film. As the Harvey Weinstein case has revealed, the film industry continues to be monopolised by corrupt power relations. After all if sex sells, and if Womens’ bodies are presented ‘as sex’ in our culture and women are ‘willing’ why stop? But if Film is a political tool, as we know it can be, why continue?
The film industries investment in maintaining the status quo of a powerful male club is barely penetrable, and has led to a bias in films which is intolerable. The male gaze tends to cut the female body up, dismembering it for the viewer, making the body parts worth more than the feeling of the character. Rape scenes are titillating, female scientists are undressed within 3 minutes of screen time, sex scenes are unrealistic and depict one type of body, acceptable to consumerism, no folds, no curves, no feelings; Instead uniform bodies that are young, nubile, unscarred, and perfected as well as heavily masculinised ideas of the male body as strong, powerful and full of action are consistently used to sell cinema seats. Jill Solloway in a speech made at the Canadian film festival in 2017, writer and director of ‘Transparent’ (Amazon prime), speaks of how she directs the camera with feeling, asking her crew to feel the scene in front of them and use it to create the story through camera technique. She declares the female gaze as her own, a bold statement within a culture that has neglected to embrace its’ existence for decades.
Mudbound, (2017, Netflix), Girls(2015,HBO)You were never Really Here, (2017) and Outlander (2014) are a few female directed/written/ examples of the female behind the character attempting to bring their audience a more feminine view. The camera angles are edited with equanimity, equality between men and women in mind, and the characters are rich, complex, the male inner life being expanded beyond its usual capacity for violence. There is still a way to go before we see Womens’ bodies as celebrated in a variety of shapes and sizes, and being a female film maker doesn’t necessarily mean you will depict a more feminine/female sensitivity for your characters, but it’s a start to be able to recognise the presence of something different in films and more and more female directors and writers, though still phenomenally low in numbers compared to men, are gaining work in the industry and recognition. Next time you sit down to a film, make it one with the female gaze. It just might change the world. Below is a list of ten films using female cinematographers.
1) The Neon Demon. (2016); DOP: Natasha Braier.
2) Mollys Game. (2017); DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen.
3) Mudbound. (2017); DOP: Rachel Morrison.
4) The Girl on the Train. (2016); DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen.
5) Black Panther. (2018); DOP: Rachel Morrison.
6) The Senator. (2017); DOP: Maryse Alberti.
7) Frozen River. (2008); DOP: Reed Morano.
8) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind. (2004); DOP: Ellen Kuras
9) Below her Mouth. (2016); DOP: Maya Bankovic.
10) The Rover. (2014); DOP: Natasha Braier.
Author Leia Yaniv
When Leia was a child she wanted to be an Actress and would write about all of the incredible imaginary films she had starred in. When she got older, having trained in Drama and Dance, she started to realise how representations of women in film and on TV, are ‘utterly dire,’ and she is now determined to make her living as a screenwriter to change this. Recently completing an MSc at Bristol University in Gender and International Relations, Leia also writes academically, creatively and journalistically, and in the meantime enjoys dancing, archaeological history, reading, family and cats!