On The Female Gaze

    Welcome to my investigation of the female gaze! Or as I like to call it; the “feminine impulse in cinema and narrative art.” Each month I will be sharing my research and writings as I pursue my master’s on the topic. To me, the female gaze is not female body specific, it can be enacted and created by anyone on the spectrum of sex and gender identity: female, male, cis, trans, intersex, non-binary gender fluid. Each week I’ll include a link to a few relating articles mentioned in the text. I hope you’ll include yourself in the dialogue. Feel free to reach out with anything you feel or think …(within the realm of the female gaze, of course). With love and humor,

Lucy Cordes Engelman



Introducing the Female Gaze; With a little history of the  (White Cis Hetero) MALE GAZE

    Given the power that myths and narratives have to shape our political and social discourses, norms, and realities, there has never been a more important time to research, articulate, understand, and cultivate a feminine way of seeing and being in the world. For the sake of clarity I’ll be using the word feminine but in this context it simply means: another way of being, seeing, and creating that counters the dominant force of white cis heterosexual male. To you that counter force might mean a more circular as opposed to square, a more just as opposed to oppressive, or a more environmental as opposed to human made. The stories we tell ourselves matter, and in our globalized society today, narratives are primarily shared through images combined with text, sound, and dialogue--films, video, and other cinematic art. I intend to explore the contemporary female gaze as it applies to the artistic and cinematic realm and additionally as it relates to the political and social sphere. I will seek through research to explore, study and propose what exactly the female (not gender/sex specific) gaze is, how it differs from the concept of the male gaze, and how it relates. I will do this not only by researching prior feminist and queer film theory but also by cataloguing and investigating female identifying filmmakers from the earliest days of moving pictures. By engaging in the historical participation of the feminine in cinema in order to arrive at the present moment experience, I hope to come to a resting place where we can gain clarity on what the female (the feminine impulse in cinema and narrative art) gaze is and how to communicate it effectively through artistic work in a way that could possibly be a part of the much needed shift and transformation in western globalized culture.

A Still from  American Honey  (2016) Directed by  Andrea Arnold

A Still from American Honey (2016) Directed by Andrea Arnold

    Questions to consider: Where is the intersection of feminine power, creativity, emotional intelligence, sexuality, intellect, and action, in creating a cinematic experience? Is the female gaze is a way of “feeling seeing?” Other questions of most interest to me include, how does the female gaze correspond to or grow out of the natural world, ie. “wild” nature? Is objectifying the image/body the only possible outcome from the act of filmmaking? Therefore, is cinema inherently “male,” objectifying the body of the world continually? What role does colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny, play in preventing an intersectional feminist impulse to flourish in cinema and narrative art? Is there a female narrative structure that differs from the classic more male dominant narrative structure that we see today? Horizontal and circular instead of linear? Subject not object? Do we need a new language to speak about the female gaze? In terms of past artists to reference for prior exploration and process, I’ll explore the work of Maya Deren, an important early experimental filmmaker. Deren went against the dominant theory and practices surrounding art, film and social thought, and was not afraid to transgress traditional boundaries. She called for a poetics of cinema that placed high value in bold experimentation.

A Still from  At Land  (1956) Directed by  Maya Deren

A Still from At Land (1956) Directed by Maya Deren

    Modern feminist film theory has been heavily influenced by British feminist film theorist, Laura Mulvey, who is best known for her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, in this piece she articulates the (white cis hetero) male gaze, but does not expand much on the female gaze in terms of spectatorship, although she does call for a “counter cinema” to the hetero male narrative structure. Additionally we will explore Gloria J Gibson-Hudson's essay titled "The Ties That Bind: Cinematic Representations By Black Women Filmmakers," where she notes certain black women filmmakers have developed a framework or "commonalities" in response to social and historical oppression.

A still from  Lost in Translation  (2003) 

A still from Lost in Translation (2003) 

   “it is said that analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it,” - Laura Mulvey

    Others of importance to research include, bell hooks, Agnes Varda, Jane Campion, Sally Potter, Chantal Akerman, and Ava Duvernay. A signature film to immediately reference that I believe illustrates the female gaze is Daisies, a 1966 Czechoslovak comedy-drama film written and directed by Věra Chytilová. If you haven’t seen it yet, get ye hands on it!

Daisies  (1966) Directed by  Věra Chytilová

Daisies (1966) Directed by Věra Chytilová

    Jill Soloway, in their talk about the female gaze at last year’s Toronto Film Festival (in which they claimed to be the creator of the concept and coiner of the phrase), spoke about films that use a kind of heroine’s journey structure – a looping around the inside of the body – not just a feeling but a story shape where we revel in an ever more intense awareness of a protagonist’s power.

    Not be limited to filmmakers, I’ll additionally seek out other female artists in various mediums who are concerned with the female gaze (whether they’ve named and located it as such or not.) This was written by Hannah Wilke in 1976, about her art making: “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 tangible, and at the same time, quite abstract.” Eventually, I’ll also devote time to male identifying directors who have created work that speaks to a more feminine impulse in narrative cinema. Of course, this is not an attempt to contain the concept at all. There is no one single limited all encompassing definition of the female gaze. Rather, this is a conversation with the hope of opening up the ongoing conversation and a space for reflecting on a very real phenomenon; the world is in desperate need of new narratives, and new ways of creating and sharing those narratives.

Hannah Wilke

Hannah Wilke


LINK to Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey;




written by Lucy Engelman

Lucy Cordes Engelman (she/her) is a writer, artist, and actor, currently obtaining a Masters of Artistic Research at the Royal Academy of Art in Den Haag, the Netherlands. After getting a BA from Oberlin College in Ohio, with a focus on visual art and cinema, Lucy moved to Los Angeles. She has worked as the assistant to feature film directors and award-winning international documentary filmmakers. This past year she was a lead actor in the independent feature, WONDER VALLEY, premiering at the 2017 Atlanta International Film Festival. With her writing partner, Kella Birch, Lucy wrote a TV pilot, shortlisted for the Sundance Episodic Lab 2016, and a webseries, shortlisted for the Sundance/Youtube "New Voices." They are currently in development on a feature-length thriller rooted in intersectional feminist, environmental, and social justice concerns.


edited by @womenandfilm