Tag Archives: fangirling

The Female Gaze: A Podcast Discussion with Carmel Cedro

In this podcast, Carmel Cedro and I discuss the female gaze. Topics include: the difference between a male gaze and a female gaze; the importance of this gaze in popular cultural texts; the potential for a fluid female gaze; and the representation of sex, desire and eroticism in contemporary screen media. This podcast ended up being a double episode because we just had so much to discuss! We hope you enjoy it x

Download via iTunes for free: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/female-gaze-podcast-discussion/id1011011620?i=360573766&mt=2

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The threat of the female gaze?

Several months ago, I wrote a brief blog post on tumblr about the female gaze, and recent television series that allow that gaze to look at male bodies as objects of desire. I wrote about how this gaze is not necessarily the inverse of the male gaze, which is predicated on domination and reduction of the female figure, but rather exploratory, looking for a subjective position to take in relation to the male body. I wrote that how throughout history, media made about men, by men and for men has denied a place for women to hold a subjective, agentic gaze because it primarily caters to male agendas and desires. I noted that in instances where a female gaze is stitched into the structure of the text, the looked-at male characters do not suffer the kind of humiliation, passivisation or domination associated with the male gaze. Many women responded thoughtfully with some challenging questions and comments, and that was really wonderful.

Fast forward many, many months later. I started receiving notifications about this old post; comments from angry, self-proclaimed conservative men. I realised they would have had to scour tumblr for feminist tags in order to find my post – on Christmas Eve, of all days, which was sort of sad. They were angry for a few reasons: firstly, that my title was ‘Doctor’ and not ‘dumb bitch’ – they did not like my authority on this matter or that my field of expertise even existed; one man was angry that I was even allowed to continue to breathe.

 

It was a violent reaction to a woman claiming a space for her own erotic contemplation. They all started yelling ‘OP THINKS WOMEN SHOULD BE ABLE TO HARASS AND MOLEST MEN IN THE STREET! MISANDRIST!’ I was stunned. Nowhere in my piece had I suggested women should do this and of course I would never say this; in fact, my post was explicitly focused on cinematic visual conventions of representation (shot structures, editing, camerawork etc.). It interests me greatly that a discussion of the female gaze led these men to immediately jump to assume this is what I meant; is this because this is what they do with their own gaze? Is this the violence they want to do when they look at women? Is this why they assumed I would want to do this as well when I claimed an active position in relation to a desiring gaze? Women do not, will not, sexually harass or molest a man in the street, because we do not have the kind of structural power that would allow us to get away with that (you know, the kind of power that men have). Furthermore, we don’t see men as simple objects that we can manipulate and touch whenever we want. That would be the male gaze. The female gaze is something else entirely.

 

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He misspelled ‘dumb wits,’ which is ironic

One poster asked ‘what the fuck do women know about “male gaze” and all that fucking rubbish you wrote? You aren’t a man. You have no fucking clue what men want or need.’ I know what it’s like to be terrified and ashamed as an eleven-year-old girl who gets catcalled by a car full of middle-aged men wagging their tongues and calling me a ‘pretty little slut.’ I know what it’s like to watch films and television shows where women are not only actively excluded from the subjective field but also treated like objects to be violated, fucked, and brutalised without a second thought. I know what it’s like to be terrified of male violence all day every day, being told that this is an overreaction, and then when something does happen, being told it was because I wasn’t careful or fearful enough. I know what it’s like to be a woman on the Internet who, when she writes about her own gaze, is sent threats and incessantly harassed. So yeah, I know the male gaze. I know it intimately. I live with it every day, just like every other woman. Our whole lives have been structured around catering to what men ‘need and want.’

These men also took issue with my argument that dominant media produces images of women that are pure objectification – I cited the paucity of speaking roles for women who are presented as objects for the male characters throughout film history. To this, Angry Men of Tumblr responded that in fact it is feminists who reduce these women to objects, that we don’t allow them to be more than to-be-looked-at spectacles. The statistics were ‘Made Up’. I’m unclear as to how feminists control the presentation of these female characters’ bodies, their stories or the amount of dialogue given to them.

But at the heart of it, I could see their incredible discomfort at the thought of women claiming a subjective desiring position that might shake the foundations of the conventional representations they get off to. That women might refuse to be simple objects for consumption, demanding a place in the scene of desire that is active and in control, demanding pleasure rather than being placidly pleasurable. I could see their fear at the thought of the gaze, that they have wielded with such authority, violence and entitlement, being turned back on them. They felt threatened. They felt like a thing they are ‘entitled’ to could be challenged or taken away from them – silent women, passive women, women who only desire when/what/how they are told to desire. We have a rise in media that is slowly shifting this representational field; furthermore, we have a lot of women actively discussing this shift in representation and what it means for their own structures of desire – they are blogging, tweeting, writing, speaking, fangirling about it. Women are getting louder about what they want, and how they want it; they are demanding more from the media they consume. And this is a threat to the dominant culture that wants to keep us quiet, uncritical and compliant.

Women’s Fandoms: Unruly Desires, Perverse Pleasures

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In fandom, the beloved text or set of texts can be read in many ways: interpretations may conform to the creator’s preferred reading or they may veer off into wilder, more unruly and unexpected territories. The latter is more often the case because fandom necessarily involves a personal reading, a way of tapping into what it is that we want from the text rather than simply what the text wants from us. In women’s fandoms in particular, I notice that a lot of women, myself included, want to carve out a space in the text that caters to our own desires, our own particular pleasures and imaginaries. This might involve imagining all sorts of character pairings that don’t exist within the ‘official’ text; it might involve writing/reading/creating new versions of the text that incorporate a wider range of pleasures (slash and smut being obvious examples); it might involve passionately sharing or discussing a particular interpretation on Twitter or Tumblr.

But when women fans create and explore readings that go against the grain of the text and spill outside its official bounds into unruly zones of desire, they are often derided. This derision is more often than not framed through a derision of femininity and female desire. The gendered language used to deride these fans and fandoms usually include words and phrases like: delusional, crazy, hormonal, irrational, embarrassing, unrealistic, ‘too much,’ ‘too intense,’ and so on. In this culture, ‘legitimate’ readings of texts are defined as cool, distanced, measured, sensible, ‘realistic’ and therefore masculine. Readings that assert unruly female pleasure pervert and disrupt these carefully guarded and policed aesthetic boundaries of ‘good’ taste, spilling over into unauthorised pleasures. Bad taste comes to be defined through a derision of the feminine and its multiple excesses which are seen as significantly inferior to masculine ways of reading and engaging in fan culture. Women are thought to fantasise too intensely, their erotic imaginaries are condemned as too unruly and in need of a ‘reality check.’ Furthermore, these expressions of pleasure are seen as evidence that women fans are stupid, vapid, and unthinking (here I am reminded of the disgusting phrase “TwiTards” used to deprecate girl fans of the Twilight franchise). So women fans are considered both too much and not enough — too desiring but not smart enough, as if pleasure overrides any capacity for critical engagement (spoilers: it doesn’t). This logic springs from a sexist hierarchy of taste in which masculine ways of reading and expressing desire  are considered ‘normal’ and ideal, while women’s reading strategies and desires are seen as deviant, decadent, indulgent, illogical, inferior, and just plain wrong. Women are called ‘crazy’ or ‘embarrassing’ for simply expressing their desire and I believe that this condemnation has little to do with the content of their fantasy scenario, and more to do with the fact that they are unashamedly, and often quite explicitly and loudly, demanding a space to declare their desires.

Vociferous fangirling emphasises and centres on women’s pleasure, and our culture never takes this seriously and frequently regards it with utter contempt. Male fans and fandoms are ‘passionate’; women fans and women’s fandoms are ‘crazy’ and embarrassing unless they adhere to the narrow, approved reading of the text. Spilling outside these boundaries into shipping ‘perverse,’ unauthorised, or queer pairings (or groupings) of characters/actors, reading the text against the grain and therefore pushing it into new and perhaps unruly territories, fashioning a space for the articulation of a range of pleasures and desires (erotic or otherwise) that we are typically not allowed to articulate in our day to day lives within patriarchal culture – these are some of the strategies that women fans within fandom. The gendered policing of the bounds of ‘good’ taste and ‘legitimate’ or ‘proper’ fandom demonstrates that these strategies for articulating women’s desires continue to be met with derision and deprecation, and that this has everything to do with cultural anxieties about women’s desire and pleasure.

Ships, Fanfics, and GIFS: A Podcast about Fandom

In this podcast, Dr Jodi McAlister and I discuss the wonderful world of fandoms and fan practices, particularly those that appeal to girls and women as a way of exploring desire and agency. Some of the topics we chat about include: shipping (shipping against the grain or with the grain; anti-ships) ; fan fiction (smut, fluff, alternative universes, and tropes); creating GIFS and fanvids.

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We love this edit so much and also we love Sterek ❤

On iTunes for free!: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/ships-fanfics-gifs-podcast/id1011011620?i=350352000&mt=2

Or follow this link: https://teenscreenfeminism.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/shipsfanficsgifstsfpodcast.mp3

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pint-sized Jamie Fraser watched over our tea while we podcasted

“My Ovaries Just Exploded!”: Fangirling’s Unruly Language of Desire

Declarations of ovary explosion, uterus throbbing, and being ‘PREGNANT, LITERALLY PREGNANT!’ are part and parcel of the online fangirl lexicon. These ecstatic utterances often refer to the enjoyment experienced at the sight of a text’s handsome protagonist in a state of undress, or doing something completely adorable like weeping silently by a campfire about his lost love a la Jamie Fraser of “Outlander”.

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Jamie Fraser says goodbye to Claire because he’s legit perfection, then cries by the campfire because he loves her and misses her. It’s cool though, she comes back and everyone’s like YAYYY

These declarations of fangirl feeling are also present in non-heterosexual representations of love, sex and desire, and I’ve noticed this happening particularly in relation to both slash and femslash fictions. Within the imaginary zone, women viewers and readers have crafted a language that allows them to speak with one another about their erotic imaginations, sensuous responses to fantasy, and their sexual desire.

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Dean Winchester gets it

Wherever this energy is directed, whatever object it takes, fangirling is so belittled because it is an often unruly expression of women’s desire, which patriarchal culture regards with contempt. Because patriarchal culture is dedicated towards fulfilling the needs, desires, and agendas of men, women are given far less space to articulate anything that challenges this prioritised language of desire. The unruliness suggested by coupling women’s pleasure with words like explosion, throbbing, pulsating, dancing, smouldering etc., gives this fangirl language a resistant edge that creates an alternative space of articulation. Resisting cultural prohibitions against women expressing desire (because it makes you look like a slut, because it’s not feminine, because it speaks of a desire that patriarchal culture does not approve of/want to fulfil and so on), this online communication seems to be looking for ways to push against or exceed the bounds of acceptability. I think this is why the language is so gleefully excessive, aggressive, playful, exuberant, and celebratory. It provides an oppositional counter to the idealised feminine sexuality that is demure, compliant, accommodating, and secondary to male desire. It puts women’s desire and a female gaze front and centre, without shame, and allows us to express things that ordinarily go unsaid.

The Politics of Fangirling Part II: A Podcast about Outlander

In this podcast, romance scholar Jodi McAlister and I discuss fangirling as political practice, feminism, and women’s pleasure on “Outlander.” Topics include: women’s spectatorship and fan practices; the representation of sex, desire, and love; sexual politics and violence; patriarchal visual culture; representations of the wounded male body; why Jamie Fraser is the ultimate TV boyfriend. Have a listen and let us know your thoughts!

https://teenscreenfeminism.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/teenscreenfemoutlanderpodcast.mp4

Download this podcast for free on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/politics-fangirling-part-ii/id1011011620?i=345426742&mt=2

(Warning: explicit content discussed and strong language deployed liberally and with great relish in this podcast. Also spoiler alert for episodes 1-11)

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Jamie Fraser, taking a moment to bask in the glory of his hotness while he shovels hay

To find out more about Jodi McAlister, check out her writing at Momentum Moonlight: http://momentummoonlight.com/ and follow her on Twitter: @JodiMcA and @JodiGetsBold

The Politics of Fangirling: On Watching Outlander

Fangirling, for the uninitiated, is a practice of fervently loving something, usually a text like screen media, music, an aspect of celebrity culture, writing and so on. There is a kind of rapturous involvement with the loved text, an envelopment in its pleasures and an unashamed expression of delight in this. A lot of mainstream discussions of fangirling deprecate this experience through a sexist characterisation of girls/women as hysterical, excessive, obsessive, and expressive of ‘abnormal’ desire – think of the disparagement of One Direction fans, or Twilight afficianados, or girls/women expressing desire of any kind, really. In essence, fangirling is really a way girls and women have found to express some measure of desire and pleasure within the public discourse, and to me, this is always a good thing because we need to claim more spaces for this. Within my own experience of fangirling, there is always an enormous amount of enjoyment and delight. But at the same time, this delight is always compromised by aspects of the text that represent women in ways that disturb, offend, and sometimes disgust me. After all, these images are created within patriarchal visual culture, so even ‘well intentioned’ texts will inevitably twist towards sexist clichés, tropes and narratives that rely on the subjugation of the female figure. The fangirl, then, is confronted with a very complicated experience of visual culture and the pleasure she takes in it.

A few weeks ago I fell deeply in love with Ronald D. Moore’s television series Outlander. A kind of historical romance/science fiction hybrid set in the Scottish highlands, the series presents spectators with a lush landscape, a strong and complex heroine, and a variety of hot Scotsmen in kilts (and out of their kilts). In other words, perfection. Jamie Fraser, man of all Outlander fan’s hearts, is first presented to us half-naked and injured, his muscles licked by golden firelight and candlelight. The representation of this wounded, exposed hero is not evidence of the male body being subjected to a sadistic gaze. Instead, I think that it creates a space of openness to a desiring female gaze. Challenging the hardness and impenetrability that usually constitutes representations of hegemonic masculinity, women characters and viewers of Outlander are invited to gaze upon Jamie’s body, and to enjoy it.

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Claire tends to Jamie’s injuries (again).

I devoured the first eight episodes and eagerly awaited the series return a fortnight ago. And then, a kind of unforgivable thing happened. In episode nine, Jamie pins Claire down on the ground and beats her with a belt as ‘punishment’ for her disobedience. This is not consensual play, and it’s certainly not sexy — it’s straight-up domestic violence. Disturbingly, he excitedly pants in her ear that he is enjoying hurting her. What is a woman viewer supposed to do with this scene, which is obscenely played for laughs, as if this is kind of funny? Do we reject Outlander, for its bullshit portrayal of violence against women? I am a feminist screen theorist, and I know that this retrograde representation of sexual politics is worse than terrible. It’s not excusable (don’t get me started on the ‘but it’s historically accurate’ line of reasoning, because lol no). While Jamie does recognise the grave error of his actions and begs his new wife’s forgiveness, viewers cannot just forget that the beating happened. And yet, I like many others, kept watching. In the next episode, luscious imagery of Jamie tenderly caressing and hungrily going down on Claire nevertheless made me quiver with absolute delight. Furthermore, I was very impressed when Jamie realised the full horror of his actions in episode 11 and began examining his privilege and how it has hurt his wife. This is good, and it’s very important — it demonstrates that the show is willing to reflect on oppressive gendered power relations and call them out in meaningful ways.

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Outlander, season one episode nine.

Oscillating between my outrage at aspects of this text, and my love of its clever moments that undermine gender expectations, its visual textures and sensuousness, I (and many other women, I suspect) struggle with how to approach this narrative. I don’t really have an answer as to how to approach it – sometimes I think ‘boycott! Death to the patriarchy!’ But other times I think if I do that, I will literally have nothing to watch.

If images of women and the position of women spectators is always compromised within patriarchal visual culture, then perhaps it is the gaps, the moments, where another possibility can be perceived and occupied, if only fleetingly. Is this what fangirling is? Perceiving and occupying those intervals of resistance and potential where things could be otherwise? For me, it seems that this may be so. So, in amongst Outlander’s sometimes-disturbing representation of sexual politics, I think my delight lies in its little pockets that turn those politics on its head. My pleasure is in the moments where an alternative, even oppositional representation of gender relations is offered. This is a complex terrain to navigate as a woman, and as a feminist. Fangirling as a politics of resistance, even micro-resistances, is important because it can push against the boundaries of patriarchal visual culture and bend it towards alternatives. Perhaps it is small, gradual, even imperceptible if we’re not paying attention – could it, or is it, creating change for girl and women spectators?

‘TAVI’S WORLD’ AT THE MELBOURNE WRITER’S FESTIVAL 2013: THE VIRTUES OF BEING A FANGIRL

We sat in the second row, eagerly awaiting Tavi Gevinson’s arrival on stage. Sitting in the row in front of us was a girl wearing a homemade tiara made of tinsel, fake flowers and costume jewels (pictured in the second image below). There were also a lot of headbands adorned with faux animal ears, and everyone looked pretty spectacular dressed up in their coolest outfits. There was a lot of glitter. I spotted some One Direction paraphernalia being sported like badges of honour (rock on). There were a lot of girls whispering ‘OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE TAVI IS HERE!!!’ I knew, from reading about the Sydney event Tavi spoke at, that she would be talking about the fangirling experience. What I didn’t really think about was the fact that Tavi herself now has fangirls of her own. They were super excited, and so was I. There were girls sitting next to us who had come all the way from Adelaide just to see her. Serious fangirls. We were a huge crowd of fangirls there to hear about the virtues of fangirling from Tavi Gevinson, who the New York Times proclaimed to be ‘the oracle of girl world.’ And yes I just wrote the word ‘fangirl’ too many times in one paragraph.

We all know the story of Tavi’s rise to success at the ripe old age of eleven when she started her blog Fashion Rookie, which then led to the super-successful and brilliantly conceived online magazine for teen girls, Rookie. Lady Gaga called her the future of journalism. And she’s only seventeen. Gulp. When she came out to give her speech, she had an air of ‘like, whatever, anyone could do this, this is totally normal.’ She was graceful and down-to-earth and witty and personable. The feeling in the room was one of utter respect for this teen girl, and also a sense of excited hopefulness, a sense that it is possible to create something and have others respond to it. I was really moved by this. When you think about how teen girls are ordinarily treated in our culture – eye-rolling embarrassment at their vociferous and passionate fangirling; concern about and pathologization of the ‘problems’ of contemporary youth; condemnation about ‘kids these days’ as apathetic, lazy, out of control – this moment of hushed reverence in the auditorium as seventeen-year-old Tavi commenced her speech was pretty special. Here was a teen girl who had something to say and we all recognised that her words were of value, that she was innovative and wise and inspiring and exciting.

She commented during her speech that without the aid of the internet, her work would most likely have never been disseminated or seen by the public eye. The voice of this teen girl found a public platform for her creativity on the internet. Usually when girls are included in public discussion, they are talked about rather than given a space from which to articulate themselves – just think about all the debates and discussions regarding teen delinquency, the ‘mean girl’ phenomenon, the hyper-sexualisation of tweens and teens, and so on, which are almost always offered from the authoritative and removed position of doctors, experts and teachers making diagnoses about the ‘problem with girls’. But with Tavi, she was speaking for herself, about herself, and I think this is part of what is so refreshing about her. And she wasn’t talking about herself or teens as a problem to be solved. Rather, she was talking about it through the lens of creative self-exploration, articulation, enjoyment, and love. And her position was one that asserted the value of girlhood as a worthy position from which to speak and create.

In her discussion of creativity, Tavi talked about how fangirling – loving a particular thing or text with fervour – can be therapeutic. Indeed, she called fangirling a ‘happying’ process, a concept I loved. She showed us dozens of her own diary entries dedicated entirely to Beyonce and Taylor Swift lyrics. But, she pointed out, fangirling is not just about the object of your love; more importantly, it is a reflection of you and who you are and want to be in the world. Loving things, what Tavi called the ‘religion’ of fangirling, is about seeking out those things which drive you, that fill you with wonder and zest for life, that earnestly creates magic in your world (NOT in a hipstery ‘oh nothing, I’m ironically just wearing this tie-dyed ripped Hanson T-shirt from the 90s because I’m so effing cutting edge’). More importantly, Tavi stressed that fangirling shouldn’t be about worship and she encouraged girls to consider themselves as having a place next to their heroes, a place where their voices and ideas and creativity was just as worthy and important.

Fangirling as a reflection on you also begs the question of identity – who is this fangirl and what is she all about? Tavi suggested that rather than define your identity as the way we imagine others see us, which brings on the attendant freak-out over whether we are worthy, or cool enough, or pleasing enough, or looking a certain acceptable way, we should instead consider our identity as the world through our eyes. It’s not about how others see you; in fact, your identity is made up of how you see the world through your eyes. In fact, Tavi advised that if there are people who judge you for your choice in object for fangirling, who consider you uncool as a result, they are not focused on the right things and are not good friends. One awesome piece of advice she gave was about reading negative or critical things about herself on the internet: she says to herself ‘would Beyonce sit here and keep reading this? No. She would close the computer and go continue being awesome.’ The world through your eyes, and the love you feel towards and through those things that you see, define you. And I think everyone felt inspired by all of these affirmations and can-do attitude.

In her defence of fangirling as a legitimate creative process through which your love can be channeled, as a ‘happying’ practice, Tavi shattered the notion that girls and their fan cultures are stupid, worthless, vapid, and silly. She created a space for it that few popular culture discourses – usually created from a removed adult perspective – ever allow for girls. The religion of fangirling that Tavi lives and creates space for within the public discourse opens up the potential for so many different kinds of ‘doing girlhood’ to emerge that run contrary to previously steadfast definitions and boundaries that dictated acceptable feminine adolescent identity, and this is really exciting progress. What is it that you love, and how do you see it through your own eyes? The answer to that question, whether super-unique or more collective and recycled, is worthy of being shared, heard, and responded to.