I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the lens that we in Western society have become accustomed to having the world explained through; the male gaze, the male gaze, the male gaze. It has been written about many times before, for sure, but it feels now like a wind is rising, that the boxes all the other voices have been in, clamouring at the lid to be heard, have been blown from their crammed shelf, and we are exploding on screen, in ears, on the page.
I was speaking with a friend about Andrea Arnold’s recent mesmerising film, ‘American Honey’, close cropped into the face of it’s young female protagonist, the audience travels alongside her and a high spirited group of teenagers as they drive across America selling magazines. It is a story of encounters, of finding your place in the world, discovering your power, and working out how to survive without an anchor in place. It is beautiful, and sensory, and confusing. My friend didn’t get
it, didn’t understand the film, said it was about putting a girl in a variety of situations in which you were just waiting for her to be sexually assaulted. We speak about representation in narratives all the time, the importance of not have a single story to relate to. My friend is a white male in his 40s, and I understand why that was his reading of the film, but I vehemently disagree with it.
In film and in literature, the oft repeated narrative for women, written again and again by testosterone filled fingers, is one of suffering, of bodily use, and of being voiceless. The mute cadaver of a women offered as a plot device to yet another drama, the girl inevitably punished in some way for no other crime then her natural sexual appetite, the ‘strong female character’ brought down to size at some point through degradation from her male peers. In a world where the second act for a women who is aware of her sexual power, is often to encounter something terrible, what other narrative could my friend have expected to play out?
Whilst watching ‘American Honey’, I was sucked into this same trap too. I can remember actively forcing myself to relax, reminding myself that Arnold does not make films to simply shock, or tell stories that follow the established pattern. She simply represents people on screen, with their beauty and foibles tangled together, just as in life.
And this, this is why it’s so important for there to be a multitude of voices, fingers of every colour, creed, orientation and background tapping out their stories, exposing different experiences of the world other than white and male, and that these are valid, and true, and glorious, and necessary. Just look at the recent box office success of films like Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Get Out - we are hungry and waiting. Stories are powerful, they can be consumed in the private spaces of ones home, secretly devoured on phones or laptops, hidden under beds and in drawers, delivering their power, and the promise of another way. They can lay golden in the minds of the lonely, folding their wisdom into a growing being, whispering their mantra, ‘you are seen’.
I hope Salomé’s spirit ruffles down the centuries to blow gently on the sparks of this awakening, creating warmth to nurture your words, and light to illuminate them, until they glow fierce.
Emma Crouch is a storyteller using film and writing. With a natural curiosity to explore the world around her, she can be found helping others stretch their narrative out into the world, or playing with words to help make sense of the subtleties of life. A proud graduate of Write Like A Grrrl, and on the steering committee of Salomé, she recently launched Métier, a film and podcast series celebrating women and their work.