The Female Gaze – A Malaysian Alien Column #11


I am not sure where we are with Feminism these days. There has been bra burning, freed nipples (either planned or unplanned and rebellious), there have been bare-faced-selfies, and we’ve recently been smudging our lipstick for #smearforsmear. Feminism is having a bit of a revival nowadays, with more people willing to call themselves ‘Feminist’ than in the past. The high profile UN initiative He for She, where Emma Watson made an impassioned, albeit trembly-voiced, plea for solidarity towards gender equality – regardless of the gender you identify with – has definitely pushed Feminism to the front of mind. But closer to home, the Scottish Government is proposing ’50:50 in 2020′. This challenges Scotland to have an equal split between male and female board representatives across all workplaces by 2020, and not surprisingly is championed by Nicola Sturgeon (the first female leader of the SNP, and the first female First Minister of Scotland).

Equality in the workplace is definitely a hot topic (and I use the generic word ‘equality’ because getting into the nuances of gender and sexuality will double the length of this post, but I do believe these nuances are important and should be taken into consideration too. Small steps.) If you can stomach the brash American-ness of Sarah Silverman, she does put across a good point about the pay gap between men and women in this youtube video.

Bringing it even closer to home, working in an advertising agency, the question of equality is refracted infinitely. Personally speaking and to be brutally honest, the account handler role has stemmed from the role of ‘secretary’. It has grown and matured as advertising itself has over the last few decades, but there are a few lingering mindsets that rear their ugly heads now and then (ie, making sure your creative has woken up in time for an early morning shoot call). The refraction comes from the objectification of women, so you have mainly male creatives pontificating on how to address the elusive ‘female audience’, treating her like some furtive endangered species that could spook easily. It also comes from the objectification of women, by treating the audience as male (active engagement) – therefore positioning the female as an object of desire (passive entertainment). Which shows that things really haven’t moved on from the days of Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. The biggest discrepancy becomes clear when you put things into perspective: women control a huge 80% of household spend (with boomer females now being identified as the big spenders, possibly sparking the actual puppy trend – not ‘them lovely puppies’ trend on the Superbowl) but only 3% of creative directors are female*. The mind boggles because studies have shown that the female audience tends to prefer work created by female creatives, which can clearly be seen on the 3% Conference twitter feed.

Then you get the women who have skipped over the infamous ‘glass ceiling’. Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell’s ‘Lean In’ comes to mind. Sandberg, who previously worked at Google, and is now the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, advocates that ‘we can reignite the revolution by internalising the revolution’. Basically telling women around the world that they play into the inequality, and helping them overcome this with some catchy phrases like ‘have the will to win’ and ‘is fear your only restraint?’ It’s not that surprising when you find out that Nell Scovell, the co-author of ‘Lean In’ was also the writer and producer of ‘Sabrina, the Teenage Witch’ – that highly political daytime teenage drama (sic). Making sure you show up when your name is called is one thing, but that kind of thinking mainly emboldens the individuals who already have opportunities served, it does not really ignite any revolutions. What we need to do is embolden the collective.

I’ll leave you with this. Earlier this year there was a Lifetime Achievement award at the Golden Globes. George Clooney was nominated to receive this, but sitting next to him was Amal Clooney, his wife. And his wife, who is a human rights lawyer, who worked on the Enron case, who’s an advisor to Kofi Annan on Syria and was appointed to a three-person commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza strip – was probably only asked which designer she was wearing.

*Kasey Windels, “Proportional Representation and Regulatory Focus: The Case for Cohorts among Female Creatives”


Image Copyright: Victo Ngai


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