I admit that I don’t know much about writing. But the few valuable information I know is all from my high school English teacher. He hooked me up to Pynchon (what normal 18-year-old is trying to read Gravity’s Rainbow on his own?) and amused me at lunch and in class when I didn’t feel like talking to someone else. And although I pretended not to listen, most of his maxims about writing and art will stay with me forever.
He once asked my class to read a random piece of prose and identify the narrator’s gender. Neither of us could do it – I don’t even think I understood the question correctly. He insisted that all art, and in particular all writing, is gendered and that it is essential to develop analytical tools to identify the genre with which the narrator identifies.
This train of thought that at first made no sense to me began to disclose some clarity. Reading “Bonjour Tristesse”, a novel about the hedonistic life of a 17-year-old girl on the French Riviera, I realized that it was an inherently feminine work of art. Would someone who identifies as a man be able to speak with such nuance about the female status, the inherently unique trials and tribulations of being a teenager? It’s something I keep thinking about.
In cinematic jargon, we use the term “the female gaze” as opposed to the traditional and established “male gaze”. These are theories where gender – of creator, protagonist or viewer – significantly shapes the work of art. I like the films of Quentin Tarantino, for example, but they are inseparable from the male gaze. Her discussion and handling of female characters is interesting: they usually have the power to act and rebel against the conventions of patriarchy, but at the same time are sexualized by 21st century beauty standards. I wonder if its protagonists would be taken seriously if they weren’t conventionally attractive.
As I become aware of the art I consume, I begin to see the manifestation of the genre in the smallest of ways. With the male director and therefore the male gaze serving as the standard in the cinema, when I watch a film made by a woman, I ask myself questions about what he is trying to do. More often than not, I find empathy and an understanding of what it means to be a woman.
In the movie “Shiva Baby”, directed by Emma Seligman, I loved the way sex work is portrayed – although it is an important part of the plot, it is not subject to judgment or judgment. glorification and still looks realistic. I don’t feel like sex work is accepted by the characters in the film at all – much like the real world – and the undramatized treatment of the subject in the film is just refreshing. This is the power of female storytelling – to take control of storytelling about matters that men, for centuries, have controlled.
That’s not to say that men can’t be feminists or understand the status of women – it’s just to say that they haven’t lived it. Some of the most groundbreaking or empowering stories I’ve seen in recent years have been told by women – maybe they’re groundbreaking just because they approach topics with the incision and comfort. of this same lived experience.
I also think about the limit of my own understanding of the genre. I don’t know of any non-binary writer or filmmaker. Our binary understanding of gender and our limited heterosexual understanding of sexuality unfortunately also extends to this type of analysis.
To be a great writer or artist is in large part a specificity. More and more now, I think about my writing tone. Identifying as a woman and experiencing the feminine experience in a male dominated world is a big part of how I see myself. In my writing I talk about a lot of my struggles – struggling to identify with my name, feeling lonely in urban environments, my difficulty processing emotions and living in the moment – but I have always dealt with them. experiences related to my gender like conversations. only for friends. I don’t think I ever focus on the female experience in my writing, perhaps in the effort to emulate the male writers and filmmakers that I grew up reading and watching. But part of forging my own path as an artist is thinking about how my identified gender relates to my story. I will never be able to write like the men I read, like Pynchon, or Roth or Bolano, because I am not a man.
I will never achieve true specificity as long as I try to imitate or take inspiration from other artists. For that I have to look within, tap into my own experiences and allow them to shape my tone and language. My new daily affirmation? My own feminine gaze has the potential to make my writing more powerful. I just have to accept it.
Megha Ganapathy writes the A&E Monday column about learning and growing from experiences with art. Contact her at [email protected].