Posts tagged the male gaze

Responding to critiques of burlesque cheat sheet (crazy-making edition) 

It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of burlesque. I think it’s a boring, overplayed example of what you might call neosexism or retro sexism – meaning that the “vintage” veneer and claims of “subversion,” “irony,” or postfeminism are meant to disguise the fact that it’s just the same old sexism that’s been going on for centuries. When it comes to burlesque, and, for that matter, anything that looks like sexism (see: pole-dancing classes, American Apparel ads, and “feminist pornography“) but is billed as not-sexist-because-women-like-it, the most useful tests to apply are these:

1) Are dudes doing it?

2) Are dudes trying to explain to you that it’s actually feminist?

If dudes aren’t doing it but are simultaneously trying to convince you that it’s liberating, empowering, or progressive, then you can count on a 99% chance of sexist fuckery.

Having published the odd critique here and there, and, more generally, mushed burlesque in to the sexism-in-disguise category with the assumption that a phenomenon centered around women getting naked on stage doesn’t need all that detailed an explanation of the ways in which these performances still objectify women, even if these women are enthusiastically participating in their own objectification and the objectification of others, what I’ve learned is this: It doesn’t actually matter what your critique is and how well you articulate it, because the burlesque community will respond to you in the same way every single time.

As such, I’ve compiled a helpful list of every single response you will definitely get, over and over again, every time you say anything marginally critical of burlesque. I’m not sure what the purpose of this list is except to encourage you to ignore these types of responses because there is not a single thing you can say or do to avoid them, as well as to point out the absolute unwillingness of burlesque defenders to engage in any self-reflection or critique of their fav hobby.

While the arguments can be generally summed up as: “But I like it,” I’ve provided you with more detailed responses as well. Enjoy!

1) You haven’t done enough “research”

I’ve been getting this same response for years. No matter how many burlesque shows I endure, I have never been to enough, so long as I continue to critique the phenomenon. I am told that, either, I have only seen “amateur” performances ( though I have watched plenty of awkward amateurs, I have also seen the professionals, who are equally as boring and objectified), or that I haven’t been to enough “alternative” shows.

What’s the rule here? How many burlesque performaces do we have to sit through before we are allowed to decide that, not only do we never want to sit through another burlesque performance again, but that we have good reason to avoid doing so in the future?

What this argument boils down to is that those who love burlesque refuse to believe that any other human being might not love the thing they love which, to boil it down even further, is to say: “As both the center of the universe and a petulant child, everyone must like what I like. If they don’t like what I like they are wrong and offend me by forcing me to think about the things I like and why I like them, which makes my head feel funny.”

2) You don’t understand

Similar to the “you haven’t done enough research” response, “you don’t understand” stems from an unwillingness to use (or lack of familiarity with using) one’s brain for the purposes of critical thinking. This response translates to: “You don’t agree with me/like the same things I like and I can’t come up with a logical response to your argument.”

“You clearly don’t understand burlesque” is kind of a hilarious response if you think about it, because burlesque really isn’t very complicated. What they really mean is: “You aren’t inside my head/bubble and I don’t care to acknowledge that which exists outside my head/bubble.” Again, it’s that problem of thinking about things when one doesn’t particularly like thinking about things issue.

3) Anything I do that makes ME feel good is feminist! (FUCKYEAH)

I don’t have much to say about this response. It can be easily addressed by repeating this handy mantra: “Just because you like it, doesn’t make it feminist.”

Which is not the same thing as saying you can’t like it. I like all sorts of things that aren’t feminist, despite the fact that I am a feminist. I just don’t pretend like my undereye concealer is some kind of radical movement. Patriarchy does not live in my undereye circles, nor will it go away if I appear less tired/sickly.

4) But there are women in the audience! Women erase sexism!

As we’ve learned from things like “feminist pornography” and pole dancing classes, just because women are doing things that are sexist or rooted in misogynist practices, doesn’t negate the sexism.

Women internalize the male gaze. You probably notice the way you look at women on the street — I do. Women sexualize women’s body parts just as men do, focusing on their bodies and appearances in ways we tend not to with men. When we watch things like film, television, and pornography, as well as when we look at ads, we are looking through a male lens. So we all learn to adopt the male gaze. When women’s bodies are objectified on screen or in American Apparel ads, we learn to see women as objects. We do this regardless of whether or not we are men.

The male gaze is still present even when there are women in the audience. Women go to strip clubs too — does that suddenly make strip clubs feminist? Does that mean the women performing at the strip club aren’t being objectified when women are looking?

This argument makes no sense but is brought up again and again with aplomb as though it’s never occurred to us before and will BLOW OUR MINDS into little tiny pieces.

You are welcome to spend an hour trying to explain the male gaze to these people, but at the end of the day I’m not sure they care. If they did they probably wouldn’t be doing burlesque in the first place.

5) Boylesque

Repeat after me: The exception does not make the rule.

You can reuse this argument in response to classics such as these:

- but women abuse men too

- but men are prostitutes too

- but men post sexy selfies too

- but men do strip shows too

- but women take up too much space on the bus sometimes too

6) Different body types in burlesque = feminism

I appreciate the representation of bodies that aren’t skinny white ones. I really do. BUT women who are not skinny and white are objectified and sexualized too. I find it very odd that people think that, somehow, if you objectify bigger bodies or if you objectify women who aren’t white, this is somehow progressive.

In any case, most women in burlesque are still skinny and white. So whatever.

7) If you don’t like burlesque then don’t go to burlesque shows

Ok, deal. I promise to never intentionally go to a burlesque show ever again so long as you promise not to objectify women in order to sell your “art.” No deal? How about I don’t have to stare at ass while reading my local paper? Or how about every single lefty or feminist fundrasier ever doesn’t include a burlesque performance? Also no? Aw man. I feel like we’re going to have to keep talking about this then, eh?

Local “artist” promoting his “music”

8) You are turning me into an object by talking about the objectification of women

This is a tricky one. So, this is the same as telling people who point out racism that they are being racist. In talking about the objectification of women, we are not, in fact, turning anyone into an object. Pointing out that women’s bodies and body parts are treated as and viewed as things which exist to-be-looked-at doesn’t reinforce that phenomenon — rather it is critical of it.

In making this argument (that those who point out objectification are actually doing the objectifying), you are asking people to stop thinking and to stop speaking up about inequality. Which makes you a reinforcer of the status quo. Bad move!

9) I’m not being objectified because I choose to objectify myself

So, everyone makes choices. Sometimes and often those choices are limited by our place in society and the culture and systems that surround us. Choosing to prostitute oneself, for example, does not make prostitution a feminist industry. It also doesn’t mean that you are responsible for patriarchy or men’s sense of entitlement around access to women’s bodies; but simply inserting the word “choice” into a sentence doesn’t actually change the meaning or root of the action or situation. I “choose” to watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (and Orange County!). Does that mean that I’m subverting patriarchy from my couch? Just as “choosing” to post sexy selfies on Instagram doesn’t amount to a feminist act simply because you’ve decided to objectify yourself. It doesn’t make you a terrible person either. Do you see what I’m getting at here? If not, please refer back to point number three.

10) You have to be on the inside to understand/form a valid critique

Ok, so let me get this straight. In order to be critical of anything (and in order for that critique to be legit), you have to actually be the thing you are critiquing? Does this also mean that women who haven’t been abused or raped can’t be critical of abuse and rape? Does it mean white people can’t be critical of racism? Does it mean men mustn’t say anything negative about prostitution because they themselves aren’t prostitutes? Am I not allowed to say that fast food is bad for you unless I eat a bunch of fast food? Drivers shouldn’t run people over! Oh wait — I’m not a driver, can’t say that :(

This is the dumbest argument ever. If we left critical conversations only to the people who were actually doing whatever we were being critical of then nobody would get to say anything about anything ever. Ex: “Capitalism sucks!” “SHUT UP, YOU AREN’T A CAPITALIST. YOU DON’T GET IT. YOU’RE NOT ON THE INSIDE.” See what I’m getting at? Stop this crap. It’s illogical and anti-intellectual.

11) You’re a prude and you hate boobs

I also hate sex, men, vaginas, penises, and joy. Can we move on?

But seriously. I have little to no interest in engaging with this silliness because it’s an anti-feminist, cheap, meaningless trope. Accusing feminists of being man/sex-haters because they speak against the exploitation of women is what sexist, anti-feminist men do. If you want to participate in that sort of thing, again, why are we talking? We clearly have different goals in life — yours being to ensure equality and freedom is never a thing, and mine to work towards women having “human being” status some day.

 

As a general rule of thumb you will learn, if you ever bother writing anything remotely critical about burlesque (which I doubt you will because, honestly, does anyone really give two shits about burlesque anymore? I feel like a broken record at this point…), that people who like burlesque only like burlesque. They don’t bother engaging with other topics yet suddenly develop a passionate interest in whatever they’ve decided feminism is once someone starts talking about the inherent sexism in taking off one’s clothes and shaking one’s boobs for an audience. Your response should be: If you have no real interest in the feminist movement or in liberating women from patriarchal oppression, why are we talking? And then don’t talk to them anymore unless you get masochistic pleasure from being screamed at by people who once took half a Women’s Studies 101 class and left as soon as they heard the word subjectivity.

Femen was founded and is controlled by a man. Exactly zero people are surprised 

Femen, aka, CLASSICAL FEMINISM IS DEAD ALSO LOOK AT OUR BOOOOOBS, turns out to have been founded and controlled by a man named Victor Svyatski.

Outed” by Australian film-maker Kitty Green, she says: “It’s his movement and he hand-picked the girls. He hand-picked the prettiest girls because the prettiest girls sell more papers. The prettiest girls get on the front page… that became their image, that became the way they sold the brand.”

I swear I don’t want to go all “I TOLD YOU SO SUCKERS” but seriously. We talked about this.

We talked about the fact that the whole point of Femen was to capture the male gaze, thereby capturing the attention of the media. We talked about the fact that we should be skeptical “anytime anyone makes reference to a “new face of feminism” and that face is either lingerie, something about pole dancing, or boobs.” We talked about the fact that “if a dude posts a photo of boobs and tells you it’s feminism, it’s not.”

All feminists who are smart and unfooled by the self-objectification-is-empowerment crap and who haven’t come down with a bad case of burlesque-brain like the rest of the third wave also knew better than to fall for the Femen garbage. So now is the time we all join together and rub this news obnoxiously in the faces of every dumbo who fell for this crap. WE TOLD YOU AND WE ARE RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG. FOREVER. Oh do we sound gloaty? Do you not like that? DON’T CARE. Feminism needs smarty-pants gloaters more than porn-loving FEMINISM IS ABOUT LOOKING HOT AND SEXY AND DOING WHAT WE WANT FUCK YEAH mush-brains. Also! Feminism isn’t here to give you a boner. If it is giving you a boner you may want to question whether or not that’s because this “feminism” is actually porn in a verysexy nurse outfit shoddy disguise.

Green, who made a documentary about Femen (which is currently screening at the Venice Film Festival), lead her to discover Svyatski’s influence over the group. He sounds like a real gem, too.

The Independent reports that “Initially, Mr Svyatski refused to allow Ms Green to film him but she was determined that he should feature” and quoted Green as saying: “It was a big moral thing for me because I realized how this organization was run. He was quite horrible with the girls. He would scream at them and call them bitches.” “He is Femen,” she said.

Svyatski admits, in the film, that maybe somewhere in his “deep self-conscious,” he started Femen to “get girls” and seems to think the women are incapable of doing feminist activism without his leadership.

Creepily, one Femen activist in the film is said to have compared the relationship between the women and Svyatski as being like a kind of “Stockholm syndrome.” You know, like when a bond forms between victim and abuser? Or like how people who have been kidnapped develop an emotional connection to their captor?

COOL, RIGHT?

New headline: “Abusive man sells new brand of feminism under banner of boobs. All media falls for it, as per usual.”

Subhead: “Dear media, stop selling us out. Love, actual feminism.”

Pay close attention to this one, defenders of “Go Topless Day,” Slutwalk, “feminist porn,” burlesque, and sex-work-is-an-empowering-and-sexy-choice-for-sexy-empowered-women. Feminism isn’t a sexy thing to look at. Nor is it a brand. Feminism isn’t fun and sexy despite the fact that many fun and sexy feminists exist. The fun and sexy part is maybe a sidebar, but it isn’t the main event. The main event is a lot of decidedly unsexy activism and law-changing and fighting and hard conversations. The main event is about ending violence against women and rape and incest and objectification and harassment and the practice of men paying to abuse women and girls under the guise of free speech and all that very, very unsexy stuff that dudes don’t like taking pictures of or jacking off to.

Just because you like it, doesn’t make it feminist: On Game of Thrones’ imagined feminism 

Someone messaged me yesterday asking my perspective on Game of Thrones; wondering if I had any feministy links or insights to share with him.

I stopped watching GoT early in the second season, after Joffrey forces one prostitute to beat another unconscious in a horrifically sadistic and gruesome way. I’d already been having a hard time digesting the women’s-bodies-as-wallpaper theme in the show, never mind the sexualized violence, and watching this misogynist man-child force a woman to beat another bloody pushed me over the edge. It was bad enough that, in the very first episode, teenaged Daenerys is raped by her new husband and it was bad enough that the directors feel it’s necessary to include naked prostitutes roaming around in the background of scenes that don’t require porny, decorative ladies there for any particular reason, but this just did it for me. I feel like I’ve watched enough rape and violence and sexed up sadism to last me a lifetime. No more please.

To be clear, I have zero problem with depictions of sex or nudity on screen. I wrote about Lena Dunham’s non-porny nude scenes in Girls as an example of the difference betweeen pornified objectification and non-sexist depictions of women’s bodies and of sex on screen to show that, yes! it is possible for women to be naked or sexual without turning it into porn. But we just don’t much like doing that these days in mainstream media and pop culture. It’s as though we’ve forgotten how, or are simply too lazy to imagine anything different. Women are to-be-looked-at and we expect women’s bodies, in imagery, to turn us on — We’ve learned that’s pretty much the whole point of women’s bodies.

After receiving this message, I started looking around online to see what feminists were saying about GoT, having stopped paying much attention to commentary on it since I stopped watching the show.

The first thing I came across was this article at Buzzfeed: 9 Ways ‘Game of Thrones’ is Actually Feminist.” And man, am I getting sick of people trying to force feminism into places it doesn’t exist. Last week I read a post over at Bitch about how, while the actresses who play Peggy and Joan on Mad Men were reluctant to call their characters “feminist,” they (according to the writer, Yoonj Kim) actually “displayed feminist thinking” and were only rejecting the label because of negative connotations. But both actresses point out that their characters have little interest in any kind of radical movement and while they may want respect, or to get ahead in the workplace, that doesn’t necessarily equate to feminism. Why Kim feels so adamant about pushing the feminist label onto these characters, I don’t quite understand.

I get the feeling that (some) women, especially younger feminist women, really, really want the things they like to be feminist. Which is a nice thought, of course, but is also ridiculous. Just because you’re a feminist doesn’t mean that everything you do, think, or watch is, or must also be, feminist. I watch Real Housewives on the regular, for example. I really, really love it. It isn’t feminist. Not in any way. And that’s fine. I’m over it. Why do we feel like we need to look for feminism in places it doesn’t exist?

It’s how we end up desperately insisting that burlesque or porny selfies are “empowering” or even feminist. “IT MAKES ME FEEL GOOD RIGHT NOW. PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT ME. I MADE A CHOICE. TO SHAKE MY TITS ON STAGE” has nothing to do with a movement to end patriarchy. It just doesn’t. Feel free to post photos of your cleavage on Instagram all you want, but don’t call it feminism. It just makes me feel sad. Likewise, trying to force feminism on things you like — Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Magic Mike, whatever — doesn’t make it true.

The argument being made by Kate Aurthur, the author of the Buzzfeed article, seems to be that the creators of the show altered the female characters in the books in order to give the characters in the TV series more power and agency, making some of them into more multi-dimensional characters than those which were depicted in the books. And sure, that might be true, but having some forms of power or having moments of agency doesn’t equal feminism. Particularly in a show that unnecessarily objectifies and sexualizes pretty much all of the female characters. Just as, while some individual women may hold power in the world, that doesn’t necessarily equate to an equal world or work towards the collective liberation of all women.

In a post over at The Literati Collective, Elizabeth Mulhall points out that “none of the female characters demonstrate power that is not in some way mitigated by their gender.” So these characters may be allowed to be temporarily powerful in certain contexts, but we’re always reminded of their subordinate status or their role as object of the male gaze. Even in the books, author George R. R. Martin (who claims to be a “feminist at heart” HAAAAAAAAA) obsessively reminds his readers about Daenerys’ young, sexy, lady-boobs, which certainly has translated into imagery in the show. From the books (and inside the mind of a, supposed, male feminist):

“When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”

Don’t forget about her boobs, you guys. She has boobs. And she thinks about her boobs whenever she does anything. We all do. As Mulhall points out, “Her demonstrations of power are almost always balanced out by observations about her nubile body and general boob-havingness.” It’s like, ok, we’ll give you some power, but stay sexy. Which is pretty much how things work in real life too, if you hadn’t noticed. Sure, a few of you can have some money and some power, but also pose for photos in your underwear. Deal?

Martin seems to think he did his female characters (and, actually women everywhere!) a favour by letting them be humanish, but I’m afraid that isn’t enough to make the show, or the books, for that matter, “feminist.” Nor does “less rapes,” as Aurthur seems to think.

Not only that, but when confronted with criticisms about the over-the-top sexualization, the show creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss can only muster up defensiveness, saying:

I don’t know why sex and violence get highlighted so much… You don’t hear people talking about gratuitous punch lines and gratuitous politics: It’s all about what belongs in any given scene. We put in the show what we think belongs in the show.

“Wah! We like it!” Is pretty much their response. If you can’t even accept and address these kinds of criticisms, I’m not inclined to put any effort into buying some garbage about how “Oh, but the female characters are human beings!” Whatever. So a girl runs an army. Not only does the ability to kill other people or have some power over a certain number of other people not equate to the liberation of women, like, in any way at all, but if feminists are telling you you’re objectifying women and sexualizing violence and your only reaction is to defend said objectification and sexualization, you lose pretty much all your credibility in feminism-land.

I’m afraid we’re grasping at straws on this one, ladies.

'Putting selfies under a feminist lens' by Meghan Murphy via The Georgia Straight 

"Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Boston’s Wheelock College and the author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, doesn’t believe the selfie is about vanity.

“I think it’s the human desire to be visible,” the scholar and activist told the Georgia Straight by phone.

Men, according to Dines, can gain visibility in a variety of ways. “But for us [women and girls] there’s only one way to visibility, and that’s fuckability,” she said. “To call it narcissism is to take an individual, psychological approach as opposed to a sociological one which asks: ‘What is the culture offering girls and women as a way of visibility?’ ”

Girls explains the difference between porn and nudity in half an hour (nsfw) 

After all my frustrated and repetitive attempts at trying to explain the difference between porn and images of naked bodies and the difference between objectification and images of female sexuality that aren’t exploitative or sexualized, Sunday night’s episode of Girls basically did it all for me.

Go watch it, if you can, but here’s a super brief recap for those who missed it: Hannah meets a hot doctor dude (Joshua/Patrick Wilson) who comes into the coffee shop she works at to complain about the shop’s garbage ending up in his trash cans. Hannah, being the secret culprit, goes to his place to apologize, kisses him, and they spend the next two days humping. Good times.

The point I’m often trying to make with regard to pornography and pornified images of women is that objectification defines pornography and, in large part, explains why pornographic imagery contributes to the oppression of women. The thing about objectification is that, though we very much like to pretend that it’s somehow ‘natural‘ or unavoidable, it isn’t. It isn’t necessary for women to be objectified onscreen and simply seeing women’s naked bodies or being attracted to a woman doesn’t necessarily mean those women are or must be objectified. It is possible for there to be depictions of sex and sexuality on television and on film and it is possible for female bodies to exist on screen (even naked!) without those images constituting pornography or exploitation.

It isn’t about skin or sex or even voyeurism. It’s about the choices made with regard to context and, essentially, camera angles. The camera is responsible for putting the audience in the position of the objectifier and of forcing us all to see women onscreen through the male gaze. The camera can make different choices. Directors can also make different choices about the kinds of bodies (friendly reminder: all bodies can be objectified, so objectifying less conventional bodies is not radical, per se, BUT putting non-conventional/imperfect bodies onscreen and not making those bodies the butt of a joke is a good thing) that are depicted onscreen and the contexts within which those bodies are depicted.

So while everyone on the internet is busy talking about whether Hannah/Lena Dunham could bag a dude like Joshua/Patrick Wilson in real life, they’re missing the actually interesting and revolutionary (yes, I realize I may be a little overexcited about a whitey TV show about rich kids in NYC, but let me have this one, please?) aspect of the show, which is NAKED FEMALE BODIES THAT AREN’T PORNIFIED. It’s possible and it happened.

S

Yes, dudes are choked because WTF is up with women on screen that aren’t just masturbatory material and actually look like normal, real, people, but this, of course, is a sign that Dunham is doing something right. You want proof? and thought it was the worst episode ever. I, on the other hand, thought it was the best episode ever and felt swoony inside my cold, black heart after watching.

I’m pretty positive that the way to be absolutely sure that we’re doing something right as women is if a bunch of internet dudes are pissed off about it.

Defense of ‘the selfie’ confirms that this era will forever be known as the stupidest of all eras 

Clearly the world is engaged in an elaborate plot to make me LOSE MY MIND. You win, world! You are the dumbest and the worst at everything. I concede.

This morning’s episode of CBC Radio’s The Current featured a debate about ‘the selfie’. Listening was a little agonizing at times, but it provided an excellent portrayal of our culture’s mass confusion about what it means to do something ‘for ourselves’ vs. performing for the (male) gaze.

Self-centered as we are, we like to believe that everything we do is ‘for ourselves’, even it’s it’s clearly for others. It’s comforting, yes. But it’s also bullshit. It’s simply not possible that, if we put images of ourselves, or really, if we put anything at all online, that it’s ‘for ourselves’. If it were just ‘for ourselves’ we wouldn’t put it on the Internet.

Now, doing things for others is not terrible. We live in a world with other people, naturally we are going to care what they think of us, which makes it all the more ridiculous that people are so very committed to this imbecilic idea that everything they do ever is all about them.

Writer, Sarah Nicole Prickett, is given the task of defending the selfie in the debate, along with two others: Andrew Keen and Hal Niedzviecki. I imagine she felt the need to exaggerate her points because debates are often intended to be combative and inflammatory, the fear being that, without going a little over the top, the debate becomes boring. But yeesh. I’m not sure how one could put forth the idea that the selfie is just something women and girls do ‘for themselves’ or that it somehow subverts the objectification we are subjected to throughout their lives with a straight face.

Keen makes the most practical and accurate points in the debate, calling the selfie trend “an extreme form of narcissism” that will contribute to a thoroughly embarrassing legacy. Historians will surely regard our culture as one made up of a bunch of spoiled, disgusting ninnies who have an inexplicable obsession with reconstructing our faces and bodies to look like cartoonish parodies of ourselves and who are so thoroughly engrossed with our own lives that we document every single thing we think/do/put in our mouths (Henceforth to be known as #saladtweets, be sure to follow every one of these posts with ‘LOL’ so everyone knows your engrossing tale of WAITING IN A LINEUP or witnessing your baby acting like a baby is entertaining!).

Keen is right that we’re living in a narcissistic time, but Prickett points to the ways in which this ‘narcissism’, if you want to call it that, impacts women and girls in a particular way, pointing out that more ‘girls’ participate in this activity than ‘guys’.  Disappointingly, she is unwilling to follow through on her own analysis.

Prickett responds to Keen’s critque by saying “a man has not lived inside the experience of a teenage girl” and therefore, how could he possibly critique this clearly gendered phenomenon? Her response to Keen’s argument that the selfie is pure narcissism is particularly revealing: “You have not spent your life as a girl who is looked at, who is judged by how she is looked at, [and] who might have some interest in showing the world how she thinks she looks because that is preferable to how they think she looks.”

Yes! You might be thinking. But no. No because now is when we pull out all our hair.

While, yes, women and girls are constantly looked at and no, men don’t understand what that’s like and what kind of impact that has on our lives and how it shapes our view of ourselves, Prickett completely misses an opportunity to point to some of the implications of moving through life as an object of the male gaze. Instead of looking at the selfie through this lens she veers off into the well-trod ground of ‘it is what it is’, leading into the self-fulfilling ‘male gaze as opportunity for empowerment’ line.

It’s both disappointing, but also a little telling that a man (Keen) seems to understand the meaning of the selfie in a cultural context as well as in a gendered context much better than Prickett does, pointing out that it isn’t actually ‘empowering’ to perform for the male gaze, simply because this is what our society teaches us to do.

Here’s what I think (you were wondering, weren’t you?): Women are brainwashed! It’s a trick, you guys! If we think we’re being empowered, then we can forget about challenging sexist norms and trends. If we convince ourselves that we’re REALLY just objectifying ourselves and that REALLY these stilettos are for MYPLEASURE(oooooh, rolling my ankle makes me feel sexy and free!) then we don’t really need any feminist movement now, do we? Also, believing we aren’t victims of an unfair and oppressive system it helps us to feel non-shitty.

Photographer, Elena, comments that the selfie is simply about self-expression or self-love, going on to argue that we can’t judge a person or assume they are simply ‘vain’ because we have no idea what the selfie-taker’s motive is. Well OK. So it’s perhaps true that not every person who takes a selfie is being ‘vain’. I mean, at this point the selfie is a pretty common and unremarkable part of our culture. I’ve done it, we’ve all done it. THAT SAID, just because we DO THINGS doesn’t make those things universally ‘ok’ or neutral.

Can we create some kind of mantra? Like, “Just because you like something doesn’t make it ‘good’!” “Just because you ‘feel good’ doesn’t make something ‘right’!” “Just because you have a feeling doesn’t make your feeling an unexaminable truth!” Didn’t our parents drill this into our heads when we were kids? “If everyone else jumped off a bridge… blah blah blah.” Just because people do things doesn’t mean you have to do them or that those things are ‘OK’.

Prickett understands that women and girls are treated as commodities and learn to navigate their lives as commodified objects BUT STILL she is unwilling to use her powers of critical analysis to move past the ‘this-is-happening-so-it’s-happening’ analysis.

She even goes so far as to compare critique of the gendered popularity of selfies to some kind of hysterical “Victorian bullshit where we don’t want girls to get pleasure from themselves alone because it upsets the whole order” (like masturbation!). UUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGH. Do people even KNOW WHAT WORDS MEAN ANYMORE???

Clearly if we are taking photos of our faces and bodies and sharing them on the Internet, we are not doing this ‘for ourselves’. Just as boob jobs and wearing makeup and making porn isn’t ‘for ourselves’. While other panelists seem to understand this concept, Prickett continues along her merry way, trying to convince us that the selfie is about TAKING BACK OUR POWER AS WOMEN, or something. See, by learning to love and perform for the male gaze, we are empowered! It’s classic burlesque-brain logic. I’m doing this, therefore it’s for ME.

Just because you grow up in a culture that turns you into an object against your will, it does not mean that, somehow, if you ‘choose’ to further objectify yourself it is somehow subverting the enforced objectification.

Prickett says she “doesn’t want to revert to [the] first year university, ‘it’s the male gaze’ [thing]” but feels she has no other choice. And OH how I wish she’d paid attention during male gaze class (Quick plug: Learning about the male gaze is great incentive for taking Women’s Studies in college and university!).

When we internalize the male gaze, we see ourselves through that lens. So we turn the camera on ourselves, or we objectify other women, or we objectify ourselves — because that’s how we have learned to see women and to see ourselves. Simply because a man is not literally looking at us at the very moment we ‘choose’ to objectify ourselves or simply because our audience may be comprised of some women, does not erase the male gaze from our psyche.

Keen says, near the end of the debate: “If we can’t judge our culture, what can we judge.” And I wish feminists would take that into consideration before repeating the horrid and useless (yet, ever-popular) “don’t judge me!!!” mantra that pops up when anyone tries to critique any social phenomenon or behaviour.

As Keen notes, in response to Prickett’s attempt to compare critique of the selfie to ‘Victorian’ hysteria around masturbation, public masturbation is different than private masturbation. Posting photos of ourselves on the internet makes those photos public, therefore not ‘for ourselves’ (i.e. private).

The selfie is narcissistic, yes. And of course I’m not saying that people who take selfies are terrible people. It’s just kind of how things are these days. It’s a thing we all do. THAT SAID. Many girls do the selfie because they see themselves as objects of the male gaze and their selfies reflect his. PARTICULARLY (yes, I’m going to say it), when we’re posting photos of ourselves posing in porny ways, in underwear and/or bikinis, focusing on sexualized body parts, etc. It isn’t ‘taking anything back’, it’s just part of the game.