TIFF: Master Class - Jill Soloway [September 11th, 2016]



I’d love to thank TIFF for being such warm and welcoming hosts for Transparent Season Three, which we’ll show in a few hours.

So I am here today to investigate this notion of The Female Gaze


-- which I hope you READ the title and didn’t just find yourself here because if you did you might be hearing the phrase Female Gaze as Female G-A-Y-S –


in the past I’ve been talking shit about the Male Gaze they thought I meant the MALE GAYS – G A Y S.

It’s like Jill, what do you have against male gays, I have nothing against the Male Gays – I mean, occasionally I do – when they throw white parties, and I hate being told what to wear, I hate dressing up, especially in white – So yes, the Female Gaze, G-A-Z-E.


First I’ll let you know what the Male Gaze is. The Male Gaze is a term coined by Laura Mulvey in 1975 her essay “Narrative Cinema and Visual Pleasure” . My handy dandy wiki says the 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 -- the person behind the camera, the characters within the film itself, and the spectator. Wow. Okay doing this deep research for one second on the internet – makes me realize that the Male Gaze emanates out from the center of that triangle.


Holy shit it’s like an actual triangle with energy SHOOTING OUT FROM THE CENTER OF IT. Ugh I knew I hated it.


You know what’s crazy is that it’s been FORTY YEARS since Mulvey named the Male Gaze and no one has claimed being the namer of the Female Gaze yet! I really want that. I want it to be like MULVEY: MALE GAZE, SOLOWAY: FEMALE GAZE!


So what is the Male Gaze? Um, well, everything. Pretty much everything you’ve ever seen, most TV shows, all movies, super hero and action movies, of course horror movies and torture movies, movies intended to that objectify women, like wolf of wall street and James Bond


and well intentioned movies like Her or Ex Machina that dream up women who ooze ether,


Or The Revenant or There Will be Blood or Oceans Eleven for the way they ignore women…


Entourage. Two and a Half Men. Did I say everything? Pretty much everything.


My favorite Male Gaze staple, was like, a shot that you’d see a lot on Love Boat --


Scene starts, open on: a pair of perfect tits. A bartender adds the flourish to two pina coladas, said tits place the drinks on the tray, carries the tray to a table where two people are talking. Tits sets down the drinks and – scene begins. Classic male gaze.


I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, hey Jill? Is the Female Gaze simply the opposite of the male gaze?


The opposite of the male gaze, if taken literally, would mean visual arts and literature depicting the world and men from a feminine point of view, presenting men as objects of female pleasure.

So, okay, I guess in it’s most simple that would be like, Magic Mike if it were written, directed and produced by a woman.


I remember when they tried to sell us that, thirty years ago culture was all WOMEN! HERE’S PLAYGIRL AND CHIPPENDALES!!!???


And so many women were so happy to have anything, something, that they dutifully bought Playgirl – hairy man laying across the centerfold, soft penis, ooooooh.

Groups of women, going to Chippendales, screaming, laughing hooting.


(Actually it wasn’t until I set foot into a cis hetero strip club that I realized men don’t HOOT. They sit there sternly, alone, or when they show up with friends, they stay somewhat stern in groups. Sometimes if the men hoot, they hoot at their friend who is the bachelor, but they never hoot at the women.)


Anyway okay that’s one version of the Female Gaze that we have been offered:


“Hey ladies! Here’s your fuckin’ calendar!” But it’s kinda –- naaaahhh. Pass. We don’t want that. NOT BUYING IT.


Maybe another way people might interpret the Female Gaze would be to reverse the gender of the male protagonist, the placing of the women into male roles in your typical Dude Movies. The HERO is this movie is going to be ANGELINA JOLIE! Is in some very tight clothes!

Hey! Sigourney Weaver has a large gun!




No? You didn’t want the large gun?


Even with a female hero, action movies are still male gaze. They are usually -- if not always -- either written, directed or produced by cis men so we’re still talking about male projection and fantasy.


Before I go on, I want to give a couple of definitions. The first is the word INTERSECTIONALITY.


Intersectionality has been an academic word about how women and people of color and queer folk and disabled folk, ALL who get Otherized – can have intersecting oppressions or can embody intersecting oppressions within one person.


Within the current intersectional debate there exists a roiling debate on the internet about whether white feminists should make sure they include black feminists in their perspectives or should for the love of god please not speak for black feminists.

We’re at this exciting conversational moment and I really want to talk about race, but for now I decided to stick only to gender for the purposes of this speech.


Okay now let’s define the word CIS. Does everyone here know what cis means? You must by now. Some of you? No?


Cis is the opposite of trans. Trans peoples’ identities are not the same as the gender they were assigned at birth, cis peoples’ identities are the same as the gender assigned at birth.

So yes, truth be told -- we feminists absolutely throw the phrase ‘Cis Males’ around. At our Topple meetings we’ll be all Cis Males this and Cis Male that, like Cis Men dominating the ranks of the DGA or Cis Male retirees making up the voting bodies of your awards granting organizations. Oh we do go on and on.


Now how many cis men do we have in the audience?

I don’t think any of you were at my 2014 speech at Northwestern.

YES I was feeling bold, I’d recently been told by my therapist Ellen Silverstein that when prehistoric men saw women bleed without dying they thought they were magic and they got really scared so they invented male centered culture to sort of, murder the goddess – more on this from Dr. Leonard Shlain who wrote a book called The Alphabet versus the Goddess, about the written word as an invention of a new technology, a technology that was problematic for The Goddess.


The alphabet favored the left brain and favored maleness and men used it to destroy The Goddess and Matriarchy, writing these stories about a MALE god, a MALE savior,


some call it the bible I guess –


This technology was used to write books that proved problematic for The Matriarchy.

Okay this is a film festival so maybe it’s not fair to go back to FOREVER. Maybe we date it from when they started making films, let’s say men have had control of the camera more or less for 100 years.


So for there to be actual gender parity in the gaze – the kind that would actually make it REASONABLE for a reporter on the red carpet to say to me – things are getting better for women, right?


We would need the next 100 years of almost EVERY SINGLE MOVIE to be produced, written and directed by women. Like, let’s check in again in 2116, people.


And then AFTER THAT – we could start on the 50/50 thing.


It was that very math – which is perfectly reasonable math – that made me realize that not only do women have to be inspired and funded to START making a fuck of a lot of things in record numbers --


but for things to even out, well that’s why I asked that audience of cis men to please: STOP MAKING THINGS,


It did not go over well. This is probably a separate keynote, I haven’t thought through how it’s actually going to work, but if we’re going to give voices to women we ARE going to give the cis males something to DO.


I know what would NOT go well, if we were like, we’ll make all the culture, you dudes go sunbathe in central park -- I’d go to central park and see them all sunbathing and be REALLY MAD so that part needs some thinking.


I do have one thing to offer, this is not a solution this is but a TINY fix for use when talking about cis males. Cis males have told me that they don’t like being called cis males, it just makes them sad and feel bad.


I like to shove cis and males together into one word and pronounce it in a sort of Portuguese like: CISMALES. It rhymes with tamales. CHISMALES! It’s like an ingredient in like, some Italian wedding soup or something.


Cis Males sounds SO MEAN, but Cismales is saucy, it could be covered in a delightful cheese sauce for all we know, it makes us laugh – hey you chismales, give us a break with your male gaze, you sweet delicious chismales!    Stop making things.


So why would cis males hold such a tight hold on the gaze?






Transparent has been a way for me of making the world safe for my Moppa. It has a Moppa-like human at the center, it has unlikable Jewish people and they automatically become likable when I add the beautiful lighting and the haha jokes and the cool music.


Nobody’s doing it on purpose, not the chismales, not me, we just think we’re making art. It’s unconscious.


If someone sends me a pilot about a protagonist who is a gawky red headed stand up comic with melancholy eyes -- who grew up in a house where her mom ran a day care –


And then the writer comes in to meet me?


What do you think are the chances that the writer is a gawky red headed stand up comic with melancholy eyes -- who grew up in a house where her mom ran a day care?


Take a guess? The answer is 100%!


YEP, TV and filmmaking and fuck, all culture making -- is people going, I’m okay! And people who are similar to me are okay! Watch this ½ hour then be more on my side! In case of Armageddon! Zika! Trump! Hitler! We all need friends and so we make tribes with our art.


Yes, simply put, Protagonism is Propaganda.


Protagonism is Propaganda that protects and perpetuates privilege.


You would think the way I keep saying that I’m getting paid by the P’s. Jill, Tiff just called, can you do a master class, please use a lot of Ps. I said yes, I said yes I CAN do that.

If Protagonism is Propaganda that protects and perpetuates privilege, then my plan today is to inspire more women to grab hold of the gaze. Okay. Here we go. Jill just get to it already JESUS.


Now. In three parts. I wanna shoot something out of the center of this triangle by the time we’re done. Three parts, Like Mulvey’s.


Numero uno, I think the Female Gaze is a way of “feeling seeing”.


It could be thought of as a subjective camera that attempts to get inside the protagonist, especially when the protagonist is not a Chismale. It uses the frame to share and evoke a feeling of being in feeling, rather than seeing – the characters.

I take the camera and I say, hey, audience, I’m not just showing you this thing, I want you to really feel with me. I have my particular methods, our cinematographer, Jim Frohna, when he is holding the camera, his body is IN FEELING, not capturing but playing an action, like melting or oozing or allowing, he plays a feeling action…

Maybe you notice when you see this kind of filmmaking you FELL MORE. You get the FEELS when you watch, as the young people say.


Some examples of this version of the Female Gaze include Transparent, I Love Dick those are things I made – and many movies that are made by women ---


Things maybe that you watch where you say, I can tell a woman wrote and directed it


because I feel held but something that is invested in my FEELING in my body, the emotions are being prioritized over the action.


As a director I help make this happen by staying in my body as the actors work, by prioritizing all of the bodies on the set over the equipment or the money or the time.


This was written by Hannah Wilke in 1976, about her art making, but her words help me get this across, she said:


“I am concerned with the creation of a formal imagery that is specifically female, a language that fuses mind and body into erotic objects that are name-able and at the same time, quite abstract. The content is always related to my own body and feelings, reflecting pleasure as well as pain, the ambiguity and complexity of emotions. Human gestures, multi-layered metaphysical symbols below the gut level translated into an art close to laughter.”


The Female Gaze. Part One. Reclaiming the body, using it with intention to communicate Feeling Seeing.


Part Two. I also think the Female Gaze is also using the camera to take on the very nuanced, occasionally impossible task of showing us how it feels to be THE OBJECT of the Gaze.

The camera talks out at you from its position as the receiver of the gaze. This piece of the triangle reps the Gazed gaze. This is how it feels to be seen.


I think Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank did that, and Kenny Lonergan’s Margaret, Eliza Hittman’s IT FELT LIKE LOVE – yes, the female gaze can be made by anyone, male or female, cis or trans --


These films use a kind of heroines journey structure – a looping around the inside of the body – now this is not just about a feeling but about a story shape where we revel in an ever more intense awareness of a protagonist’s power – I’d even say King of Comedy is a Heroine’s Journey in this way, we fall backwards with Rupert Pupkin, spiraling in an ever illuminated self-punishing story of having enraged or engaged the male gaze. In that case it was Jerry Lewis or fame.


In those other three cases though, we were more specifically in coming of age tales – come feel with me specifically how I become as I become what men see. It’s about what I’m doing by being seen -- my effect -- this is what it causes in the world.

The gazed gaze.


This third thing involves the way THE FEMALE GAZE DARES to return the gaze. It’s not the gazed gaze. It’s the gaze on the gazers. It’s about how it feels to stand here in the world HAVING BEEN SEEN our entire lives.

Or, in a line I heard in a web series today, we don’t write culture, we’re written by it.




It says, I don’t want to be the OBJECT any longer, I would like to be the SUBJECT, and with that SUBJECTIVITY I can name you as the OBJECT.


The object becomes you. Chismales. It feels weird, right. Not a sexy calendar or a gender reversal thing.


This would be the third leg of the triangle and I think it’s the most important, and the one that really truly has been almost entirely NOT YET DONE.


It’s less about a filmic language – although it could easily employ either of the techniques I just mentioned – but rather


This part of the female gaze is a SOCIOPOLITCAL justice-demanding way of art making.


Roger Ebert said FILM IS AN EMPATHY MACHINE and this is true of television, and all story.


Like, keynotes and speeches are NOT empathy machines, not that you’re going to dislike me after this – well some people might –


To be honest I prefer to hide behind the things I write and I do think it’s a better way to get ideas across. But sometimes I have things I want to say, like this stuff

-- but it’s much scarier when it comes out of your mouth.


It’s so hard impossible for me to get up here and talk, my fear that people must be really sick of me by now. I’m sick of me, I’m sick of my constant outrage. The anger.


But then I try to put it in perspective, this feeling that I’m too much. And then I go, wait a minute, Transparent is just a TV show, that costs a few million bucks to make and a few million more to distribute,


Then I think about Giancarlo Stanton. He’s a Miami Marlin, and he recently got a $325 MILLION dollar contract for a couple of years. So all of the Transparent entire world, shooting three seasons and all of the salaries and all of the production costs

So I’m not so big after all.


I’m here repping feminism and queerness and queer story and queer gaze – but maybe it’s just my Facebook feed that makes me think I’m doing something that’s s “sweeping the nation”. All three years of Transparent and then some could fit inside this one man’s contract.

And he’s just one guy, one I’ve never heard of -- on a team I’ve barely heard of, wasn’t it like Florida Marlins?


Okay, so multiply his salaryish –- I know he makes a lot more than most but okay – there are SO MANY BASEBALL PLAYERS, at least 25 guys on a team, 30 teams, not just baseball basketball football hockey, GOLF -- men watching men do things of interest to mostly men, it is our CULTURE’S CULTURE.


Men who like sports are lucky, the culture offers them exactly what they love all weekend long, there’s a whole section about this stuff every day in the newspaper


So I say this to try to translate to women how it would feel to have the things you like all around you.


I don’t like sports but I do like, for example, FEMINIST ARGUING.


I ‘d love an Emily Nussbaum vs. a Lena Dunham faceoff, a Roxane Gay, a bell hooks thing talking about say, consent through an Intersectional lens –- Patrice Cullors and Gabrielle Union and the Glorias, Steinem and Allred –


I mean what if the thing I liked – Feminist Arguing – was on TV all weekend long. Imagine jerseys and keychains, I’m watching in my sweatpants with a beer, my WHOLE FAMILY has to watch and cheer with me? I could walk into a bar and there would be a bunch of women watching professional Feminist Arguing?


One more thing about sports before I get back to the female gaze – okay men have sports to watch, right? And talk about all weekend long -– and then DURING THE WEEK, while they are at work, on a secret screen behind the spreadsheet of whatever they are getting paid to do -- they are playing FANTASY SPORTS with other men. I’d so be into that too. When my Feminist Arguing wasn’t on TV I’d be betting on FANTASY FEMINIST ARGUING? This sounds like fun. This is privilege.


There is NOTHING close to equality while this thing called SPORTS dominates, it gets an entire section of the newspaper EVERY DAY,


The Female Gaze is not a camera trick it is a privilege generator is positions ME the woman as the Subject.


On a journey.


You will be on her side.


You will be on my side. My camera, my script, my word on my notes, my side.

I want you to see the FEMALE GAZE as a CONSCIOUS EFFORT to create empathy as a POLITICAL TOOL.


It is a WRESTING AWAY! Perhaps a WRESTLING AWAY of the POINT OF VIEW, of the power of the privilege propaganda for purposes ---

of changing the way the world feels for women when they move their BODIES through the world 


feeling themselves as the subject.

It’s about bodies again, bodies of women. Ladies. Girls. Gender non- conforming people.


Sometimes the first gasp of this re-centering of ourselves is a kind of paralysis when it occurs to us how we have been groomed to stay quiet simply by having TAKEN IN all of this work, all of our lives


of consuming such an overwhelming amount of cis male artists splashing in their privilege, by telling their stories which work like propaganda that suggest how we should act, for access to their attention. And how that stops us from gathering our own attention on ourselves.


Like -- I wish I could put into film the feeling of being eleven years old, to look around the classroom. Walls lined with presidents, looking around the ceiling of the whole damn room -- ALL of them men?

And to think, I’m going to be the first woman president, and then on that very same day, same body, walking home listening to Rod Stewart, because he was my favorite, singing along to Tonight’s the night.


Thinking I’m going to be president and then singing


Don’t say a word my virgin child / Just let your inhibitions run wild / The secret is about to unfold / Upstairs because the night’s too old


Tonight’s the night? Gonna be alright / Cuz I love ya babe / Ain’t nobody gonna stop us now.


Singing along to a pedophile grooming an underage girl to have sex with him.


When I sang along, was I Rod or the virgin child?


It didn’t matter: my presidential power dreams got lost throughout all of my adolescence, or had to do extreme high jumps throughout my life, dreams of power getting lost in being


sister golden hair sublime, sugar magnolia, being the lady in red, your body is a wonderland, you look wonderful tonight, you do, you look so wonderful night


I can’t even listen to the radio anymore, I mean, it’s a problem


This Female Gaze is a political platform, it means we start to call out how awful it is to be offered access in exchange for succeeding at being seen.


The Female Gaze calls out how the Male Gaze DIVIDES US.


It’s what I call THE DIVIDED FEMININE, and once you start to notice, you see it everywhere.


Men divide us for their storylines. They divide us so they can tell stories about us to other men.


They call us the Madonna and the Whore. The one I want and the one I want to fuck. The one I married and the one who I can’t get off my mind.


And the divided feminine does more than that, it works this way.


A male subject holds this one object – the beautiful girl – up here. Beautiful girl glows and she gets songs written about her.


If I am a beautiful girl I might get the ring, get proposed to, the beautiful girls become honored mothers and wives.


They are daughters and sisters, that’s right we can earn safety, this idealization, if we are good enough, or if we share blood, we get a pass.


“I LOVE WOMEN,” these male storytellers might say, as defense. “I put them on a pedestal.” Meant to be a compliment. You look wonderful tonight.


These good women also get privacy. If a man has proposed to a woman, she has that big rock, she is off limits. His buddies can’t talk about her. If she is sexual she is now only sexual in connection to this man.


She shares in his privilege. She is held aloft. Safe.


The divided feminine.


If you’re not up here, you’re over here. This side. And on this side are the sluts and the hookers, the strangers walking down the street, he elbows his buddy and says we can talk shit about her – she’s nobody’s wife – she’s ours.


She wants it (watch how this male gaze shames our desire, names only the desire that is okay with them, as different from the desire that is not)


And these girls down here, they are are USED by men as objects to call them into sexual congress with other men. Conversation. Location.


These girls are meant for sharing, I mean, what is porn if not an excuse for men to watch other men cum?


The slut INVITES men into a dark room where they all know something that the good women are kept from.


We’re back at the binary. The good girls get proposed to, the bad girls die, get in accidents, get killed. The drunk ones get what’s coming to them.


So The Female Gaze can be a cultural critic. We can use it to call out all of those fucking storylines on those procedurals -- that are meant to work as public service – meant to educate us about rape but they actually are just more rape.




As bell hooks said the other night at the New School, “I would like to go my entire life without ever having to see another rape scene in a movie as long as I live.”


Male protagonism privilege protection extends into the courtrooms, into the way the law understands our bodies. Transparent as a TV show invested in trans protagonism and the culture shifted, then laws changed. What if only women were allowed to craft storylines about our bodies, about rape or consent for the next 100 years?


Could we change the laws with our gaze? As we write and direct and produce our own truths about the violence on our bodies, it’s back to our bodies again.


Creating from inside of our own bodies and generating our own gaze, we can ask the important questions, say the things the dominant narratives have tried to distract us with.


We get DIVIDED by the male gaze -- but we want our subjectivity back, we want to knit it back together, our wholeness and make it uncomfortable unacceptable to blatantly USE us as objects, to turn us into slices to push you towards your own plot climaxes, of rescue or revenge.


We are not Madonna nor whore, Betty and Veronica, the Ginger and Mary Ann, sometimes we have to get smaller, choose from three, or from four, PICK ONE: are you a Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda or Samantha?


They give us names. They call us Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy.


Poor Peggy. The one no one wants. Pfeggy. What’d she do wrong? I think Peggy was like Miranda or something.


The Female Gaze inspires a collective ROAR, we fill with POWER as we corroborate one another and collaborate, blatantly ask the obvious questions about the divided feminine, call out from our muted and blindfolded object-ized humanity. We take our blindfolds off and say what we see. How your cis male narratives tend to obscure reality, like your news stories –


I read in the paper, see it says right here that a guy called up his friend to come over and fuck his passed out girlfriend? And somehow as the audience to this oft told storyline, we’re asked to focused on the ‘passed out’ part.


We hurriedly respond by asking WHY WAS SHE PASSED OUT?! Why would she pass out? How passed out is too passed out?


But the Female Gaze asks bombastic questions, it wonders why ‘he called up his friend’, which seems a pretty gay thing to do when you’re having sex. Wanting your buddy to be there too.


“Hey, you come over here, let’s BOTH get our dicks out.”


“Okay! I’m on my way!”


I mean, what Is gang rape? It’s men wanting to have sex in the same room as one another, but using this degraded half of the divided feminine so they don’t have to name and own their own desire for each other.


It’s her fault. Peggy. Passed out. You better come over. Get your dick out.


I’m not supposed to say what we see.


I’m supposed to stay divided. Weak in my dividedness. You want to keep me busy, you want me to dream of being on that pedestal you offer, dreaming using half of myself to arch toward your approval. That light filled diamond ring life preserver – it confers male privilege.


I don’t have any. I’ve been reaching for it since I understood I was a girl.


The Female Gaze is Political Protagonism and it is not afraid

to ask: What is toxic masculinity? When are we going to be done with it?


The Female Gaze is more than a camera or a shooting style, it is that empathy generator that says


I was there in that room.

The Female Gaze is that letter Brock Turner’s victim wrote. That case became famous because she was a beautiful writer.


The Female Gaze says I was there, and this is my shame, and this is my life, this is my humor, I’ll take all of it and put it into my protagonist, with music, with light, and we will all side with HER.


The Female Gaze is a baby

She is blind and one day old


the female gaze got so mad that Toronto believed me

when I said my topic was the Female Gaze

there is really no such thing not yet.


It seeks out and gathers evidence,

Buried gems

You find a movie or a poem or a person and you say

There there there – THAT’S IT


The Female Gaze is the green stuff

you find in the brain of your lobster

It is organ meat and liver and pancreas

Or that roe inside

chains of red eggs knit together

you open up your lobster

and everyone goes eeewwwwww


it has a million generations of lobster in it

no wonder it is scary


It is the Bonobos who protect each other

Even the ones they aren’t related to


It is the Female GAYS G A Y S


The Female Gaze is an absurdist

a bed bug a lady bug a speck

against five thousand years

one hundred years


My Female Gaze was terrified

Was terrified to speak today

She wakes up in the middle of the night

She says

It’s not enough and you’re too much


The voice of the patriarchy borrows her voice so she can yell at me, saying

STOP STOP STOP making things.


The Female Gaze seeks to destroy all gazes.

She is

Other Gaze

Queer gaze

Trans gaze


She is the non gaze

Emanating out from the center

Of not a triangle but a circle, undivided


the feel with me gaze,

the being seen gaze

the I SEE YOU gaze truth gaze


the female gaze is internet

because now we can talk to each other all at once




we’ll take the invention of this new technology,

and call it problematic

for the patriarchy


The female gaze is an invitation to the intersectionally aligned


It says leave my body whole

do not divide me

If on only this we can align


revolution can happen


even in my lifetime.