Girl On Girl: What Is The Female Gaze And How Can It Empower Us?
“We need to rethink the way we look at other women,” says Charlotte Jansen, curator and editor of Girl On Girl: Art And Photography In The Age Of The Female Gaze.
She was speaking to photographer Juno Calypso – whose work also features in Jansen’s photo book – and Broadly UK’s editor Zing Tsjeng, at TJ Boulting Gallery last week, during a one-hour, live-panel discussion co-hosted by Riposte magazine.
Like Jansen’s book Girl On Girl, the talk called the female gaze into question and asked: how should we look at women? While the discussion touched on the objectification of the female form through the battle over abortion, or the sexualisation of body parts we’d forgotten we even had, this wasn’t the main focus. Instead, it was a positive reminder that this conversation can be changed – and we have the power to change it.
“Girl On Girl brings together a collective of female photographers, who choose to turn the lens on women,” explains Jansen. “These photographs were not made for men, they are images taken by women for women. They can also be used to challenge the perceptions of the media and human rights. For example, there is an image of a bum with hair along the crack shot by photographer Maisie Cousins, because hey, women have bum hair too, you know!”
Below are some of the best insights from the panelists. They help to dissect the female gaze, call out on body-based clichés and offer up a fresh – all the more realistic – perspective on contemporary womanhood.
“I spend a large chunk of my day picture researching, trying to source imagery that will support my articles. We speak to a largely female demographic at Broadly and periods are a big part of the conversation for us, so I find myself looking for images that depict menstruation a lot. It’s weird trawling through stock imagery and being faced with images of thin, white girls in their pants with a close-up of the crotch – is this the exclusive depiction of menstruation? Oh no, there’s also the images of the crotch sprinkled with pomegranate seeds – a connotation for blood. I mean, it would be nice if we did bleed pomegranate seed from our vagina, but we don’t! Not even close. I would love to see something that inspires reality, something that bares more resemblance to our lives and our actual vaginas.”
Zing Tsjeng, Editor at Broadly UK
“The first images of women I remember looking at were in magazines like Seventeen. The girls seemed to be everything I was not: carefree, glossy and polished. I’d spend a lot of time looking at these women and feeling an immediate sense of detachment. It was the same feeling I felt when looking at lad mags when I was a little bit older. The shots in FHM were so distinctive and saturated, every body part was overblown and magnified which made me naturally question, is this what women are supposed to look like? This word ‘supposed’, what does it even mean? Supposed to be what?
It’s not just physical expectation though, it’s mental. I wish I knew what slut-shaming was in Year Nine, when everyone was giving me shit for just drawing my own legs in my notebook. That’s just pencil on paper, what’s so offensive about that? But, there’s this intrinsic sense of expectation amongst young girls, it’s a gut reaction that just shouldn’t exist. It doesn’t have to either. We shouldn’t have to conceal body parts because they have been sexualized by the media. Let’s just stop setting up unrealistic expectations and celebrate what is natural.”
Juno Calypso, Photographer
Comparisons are boring
“We have compared women against each other for so long, we all need some breathing space. This is something I personally experience in my job. There are lots of publications writing about feminist-related topics right now and we are often asked ‘what will you do to lead the conversation?’ That’s just imposing more pressure and perfection. I don’t want to produce good women’s journalism. I don’t want my writing to be a good article for women to read. Can’t it just be good journalism?”
Zing Tsjeng, Editor at Broadly UK
Embrace the realities of the female body
“Instagram offers up an overwhelming quantity of images. When I was younger I would turn to monthly magazines to look at women, today tells a very different story. Young women have access to glossy digital influencers and models daily, these unrealistic depictions of perfection are at our fingertips – all day. It’s important to reject or to at least understand the filter that is in place before these images are published. They are curated and often manipulated. It’s also important to recognize how so few of them bring the most natural parts of womanhood into conversation. In my book I wanted to feature women who address the realities of the female body. They drip, they come with hair, they bleed and that shouldn’t shock, it’s a reality we need to embrace and talk about together.”
Charlotte Jansen, Writer and Curator
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