The Male Gaze of Female Photographers
In 1975, Deborah Turbeville’s fashion editorial “There’s More to a Bathing Suit Than Meets the Eye”, or “Bathhouse” for short, appeared in the American Vogue, marking her breakthrough. Two years later, The New York Times described the rising star as
the only American photographer in the triumvirate that has changed the direction of selling clothes from pleasant images to eeriness, shock and alienation. The other two are men who live in France, Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton. Her work is more romantic than that of her male colleagues, who have been described as producing erotic fantasies that flirt with danger. (Taylor 27)
It is rather ironic that even during the decade of the second wave feminism, the only way to make sense of Turbeville’s approach to fashion photography — a field traditionally dominated by men (Aspers 40) — was to juxtapose her work with that of her male counterparts. Based alone on the fact that Turbeville was a woman, critics seem to automatically classify her work as “romantic” (Taylor 27) and “delicate” (Cochrane) — in other words, as distinctly but also stereotypically feminine.
As Laura Mulvey, a feminist theorist, described in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, published in the same year as Turbeville’s “Bathhouse”, this conceptualisation of femininity has little to do with a female perspective. Instead, it is a product of the “male gaze” (Mulvey 11). Mulvey argued that when visualised, women tend to be portrayed as passive, fragile, and sexualised objects meant to be looked at and, consequently, used by the male spectator, who can be either present or implied (11). Using Freudian terminology, Mulvey explained that this “fetishistic scopophilia [i.e. drawing pleasure from just looking] builds up the physical beauty of the object [i.e. the woman], transforming it [sic] into something satisfying in itself [sic]” (13–14). Accordingly, rather than an independent individual, a woman and her identity are constructed in the (audio)visual media as a consumable product designated to please the male spectator.
Since most directors and photographers were (and still are) men (Aspers 40), Mulvey’s theory might have been interpreted as a suggestion that the objectification of the female and her body could be easily subverted if the artist observing the models and actresses were a woman herself. The idea that a photographer fully controls the image production has led to the conclusion that a woman behind the camera has the power to change the conventionalised patterns of the “male gaze” (cf. Deborah Solomon). Due to this presupposition, Turbeville’s photography was widely embraced as a representation of the “female gaze”, implying that her work embodies an authentic female view of the world and the women in it.
This public opinion remains largely uncontested until the present day. After Turbeville’s death in 2013, The Guardian, for instance, also compared her work to that of her male contemporaries
Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, whose glossy, sexy and confrontational pictures unsettled the still-stuffy world of fashion. Turbeville’s aesthetic was different — dreamy and mysterious. It doesn’t feel as if you’re invited in to an urban erotic underworld, as with Newton. Instead, hers was a more delicate — more female — gaze. (Cochrane)
This example shows that even in the twenty-first century, “female gaze” in everyday speech is still mainly understood as “women looking at other women”. However, such simplified definition fails to consider the fact that photography, and especially fashion photography, stems from a centuries-long tradition of how the human form is represented. This subject representation is frequently based on gender stereotypes, created mostly by and to the advantage (as well as for the pleasure) of men.
In 1972, John Berger discussed how the portrayal of women in modern advertisements does in fact not differ from their depiction in canonised paintings throughout the art history (53). Similarly to Mulvey, Berger suggests that, once visualised, women become the passive surveyed ones while men fulfil the role of the(ir) surveyors — a pattern which he argued was inherited by modern advertising campaigns from historical portraits (47).
Expanding on these findings, Erving Goffman conducted his own study on “gender display” (1). In 1979, Goffman collected a sample of four hundred magazine advertisements in order to compare how they portray women as opposed to men. As a result, he identified patterns of the so-called “gender posing” (Butkowski and Tajima 1037). These can manifest as hand gestures, facial expressions, different postures, etc. Goffman concluded that, whether consciously or not, these stereotypes reinforce hierarchies that oppress women and privilege men.
The patterns of visualising femininity cannot be broken by simply letting a female photographer control the camera.
Surprisingly, more recent studies applying Goffman’s framework found that despite the increase of female photographers, gender posing in advertising campaigns not only remains prominent, but has even intensified (cf. Mee-Eun Kang; Chelsea P. Butkowski and Atsushi Tajima; Kimberly Sultze). As these studies demonstrate, gender stereotypes are deeply rooted in society. Since they have solidified over centuries, they have not only influenced the way men look at women but also the way women perceive themselves. According to a 2017 study by Döring et al., which employed Goffman’s framework to assess women’s self-presentation via selfies posted online, women not only perform gender posing when taking pictures of themselves, but also do so with a greater intensity than magazine advertisements (961).
When introducing the term “male gaze”, Mulvey, too, was aware of this “ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structured like a language […] while still caught within the language of the patriarchy” (7). Hence, Mulvey might have been the first one to question the existence of the “female gaze” in a society where women cannot help but inherit the gender stereotypes of the patriarchal “male gaze”.
Thus, the patterns of visualising femininity cannot be broken by simply letting a female photographer control the camera. Consequently, the public opinion claiming that Deborah Turbeville’s photography presents a new image of femininity, and is, therefore, immune to gender stereotypes inherent to the advertising industry, will be contested. Since Turbeville’s “Bathhouse” serves not only as an artistic expression but also for advertising purposes, Goffman’s framework will be applied. Hence, the conventionalised gender displays discussed in this essay focus on Goffman’s concept of gender posing.
Goffman’s Model Applied to Turbeville’s “Bathhouse”
According to Goffman’s gender analysis, advertisements present the so-called “commercial realism” (15), a pseudo-reality that is highly idealised. However, he also points out that commercials are not just mere fantasies, but are also based on ideologies, discourses, and relational patterns of the real world (9). To describe this “hyper-reality” that advertising creates, Goffman coined the term “hyper-ritualization” (84).
As he argues, gender displays found in adverts are based on ritualised poses and gestures that are exaggerated and intensified for various advertising purposes, such as the consumer’s identification with the portrayed subject (27). Goffman’s categories of gender posing relevant to this essay include: “feminine touch”, “ritualization of subordination”, and “licensed withdrawal”.²
If Turbeville’s editorial does not correspond with the abovementioned gender posing stereotypes described by Goffman, it can be said that she truly found a new, empowering language of visualising femininity. If, however, the opposite is true, then so is the hypothesis of this essay that Turbeville’s work mimics the conventionalised gender representations, as she is, even as a woman, unable to free herself from the socially internalised “male gaze”.
In the following subchapters, the series “Bathhouse” will be analysed according to Goffman’s categories of gender posing³. The Vogue fashion editorial consists of seven pictures⁴ that show women posing in bikini, bathing suits, dresses, and related summer wear in an old bathhouse.
 See for instance “Fashion Photographer Deborah Turbeville and New Images of Femininity in Vogue, 1975–1981” (Bomey 2014).
 Not all of Goffman’s categories could be applied to Turbeville’s work, since there were no men present in her photographs. Thus, “relative size”, “function ranking”, and “the family” were excluded.
 Due to the scope of this essay, other elements such as lighting, camera angle, colours, etc. will not be discussed.
 The photographs are included in this essay and numbered 1–7.
As Goffman’s study showed, “[w]omen, more than men, are pictured using their fingers and hands to trace the outlines of an object or to cradle it or to caress its surface (the latter sometimes under the guise of guiding it), or to effect a ‘just barely touching’ of the kind that might be significant between two electrically charged bodies” (29). In contrast to men, the female “ritualistic touching is to be distinguished from the utilitarian kind that grasps, manipulates, or holds” (Goffman 29). Thus, the feminine touch signifies passivity, “as it merely delineates material possessions without the agency to manipulate them” (Butkowski and Tajima 1048). As a result, it acts as nothing more than a pointer to the product featured in the advertisement.
Another form of the feminine touch identified by Goffman is self-touching. This gesture can be “readable as conveying a sense of one’s body being a delicate and precious thing” (Goffman 31). Hence, a pose involving a self-touch reinforces the traditional idea that women are vulnerable, soft, weak, and helpless creatures in need of man’s protection. Furthermore, this gesture also suggests that the female is inviting others to look at her by purposefully drawing attention to her body. Thus, a hand touching the face, the collar bone, or laid on the hip evokes the notion of the woman as a beautiful, sensual, and luxurious “object for voyeuristic consumption by both male and female viewers” (Butkowski and Tajima 1049).
Among the “Bathhouse” photographs, all but the sixth one display the feminine touch. Although in most pictures it manifests as self-touching, there are some exceptions. In the first photograph, for instance, the model kneeling on the floor touches her collarbone with her left hand while pulling on the bathrobe with the right one. The result is a sensual baring of her shoulder, which draws the viewer’s attention both to the model’s body and to the advertised product. Consequently, the boundaries between the female body and the product become blurred. Moreover, the model’s touch lacks the masculine power to manipulate and instead acts as a mere pointer to both the consumable product and the objectified body. Hence, the model lacks any meaningful agency, which corresponds to Mulvey’s claim that a woman is mainly portrayed “as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” (7).
In the second photograph, the feminine touch serves as an indicator of female vulnerability. A crouching woman in the background places one hand on the front of her neck and the other on her forehead in a dramatic pose reminiscent of a suffering martyr. Her low position on the ground intensifies the notion that she is somehow weakened, while her hands protectively cradling the most vulnerable parts of the body — the face and neck — suggest that the female body is fragile.
In the third photograph, two models stand next to each other in a mirrored pose. Both have one hand gently laid above their breast while they place the other together above their heads. Again, neither the mutual touch nor the self-touch serves to fulfil some sort of action, such as to grasp or to guide something or someone. Instead, the gesture is static and passive. The fact that there are two women touching themselves and each other also amplifies the male voyeuristic fantasy, since the female objectified and consumable body is doubled.
In the fourth picture, the model in the foreground supports the back of her neck with her hand, implying that the female body is weak and needs to be “held together” and protected. Similar patterns are repeated in the fifth photograph which demonstrates the “just-barely-touching” gesture as identified by Goffman. In this picture, one woman outstretches her hand towards a lower-positioned woman kneeling on the floor. The latter model lifts her chin towards the reaching fingers that fail to touch her face. The role of this gesture is twofold: firstly, it perpetuates the stereotypical idea that women are fragile and vulnerable beings that need to be touched with extreme care. At the same time, it emphasises the powerless nature of the feminine touch that, apart from serving as a pointer towards the female body or an advertised product, does not fulfil any real purpose or action.
In picture number seven, all five models engage in self-touching. One, for instance, lays her hand on her bikini bottom, highlighting the advertised clothing as well as her hip. Furthermore, as she stretches the other arm above her head, her top lifts in the process and lets the audience glimpse more of her skin. All of the other self-touching poses, too, seem to be strategically chosen in order to draw the spectator’s attention to both the summer wear and the models’ different body parts. This constant shift of focus between the sexualised, passive female body and the products advertised in the campaign results in the blurring of the boundaries between the models and the commodities.
As Goffman states, “[a] classic stereotype of deference is that of lowering oneself physically in some form or other of prostration. Correspondingly, holding the body erect and the head high is stereotypically a mark of unashamedness, superiority, and disdain” (40). While lowering oneself is typical for women, Goffman’s study showed that men in advertisements are more likely to assume a head-held-high pose (43).
There is also an important difference when it to comes to where in the picture women position themselves as opposed to men:
Beds and floors provide places in social situations where incumbent persons will be lower than anyone sitting on a chair or standing. Floors are also associated with the less clean, less pure, less exalted parts of a room — for example, the place to keep dogs, baskets of soiled clothes, street footwear, and the like. And a recumbent position is one from which physical defence of oneself can least well be initiated and therefore one which renders one very dependent on the beingness of the surround. (Of course, lying on the floor or on a sofa or bed seems also to be a conventionalized expression of sexual availability.) The point here is that it appears that children and women are pictured on floors and beds more than are men. (Goffman 41)
As Goffman explains, lowering oneself in space is not just a gesture of submission and sexual availability; in fact, it also likens women to children. According to Goffman, advertising applies the parent-child model to the relations between men and women, so that women are identified with children subjected to the authority of the patriarch (5). Furthermore, such comparison suggests that what children and women share is naivety, which supposedly renders them defenceless. As a result, women in advertisements tend to be depicted as comfortable in their lack of defence either because they have a male protector to rely on or simply because they are too trustful and childishly unaware of lurking dangers. This unawareness and vulnerability manifest in their posture and suggest that women are dependent on men for protection.
One such pose that can be frequently found in advertisements and is performed mostly by women is the so-called “bashful knee bend” (Goffman 45). As Goffman explains, “the knee bend can be read as a foregoing of full effort to be prepared and on the ready in the current social situation, for the position adds a moment to any effort to fight or flee. Once again one finds a posture that seems to presuppose the goodwill of anyone in the surround who could offer harm” (45). Thus, this position signifies not only submissiveness but also childish ignorance.
Next to the knee bend, female models often perform canting postures (Goffman 46). Goffman distinguishes between body and head canting, explaining that in a head cant “[t]he level of the head is lowered relative to that of others, including, indirectly, the viewer of the picture. The resulting configurations can be read as an acceptance of subordination, an expression of ingratiation, submissiveness, and appeasement” (Goffman 46).
Moreover, the bending of the whole body, for instance into an s-shape, is both “submissive and sexualized — particularly emphasizing the natural curvature of the female form” (Butkowski and Tajima 1046). Angling of the body also “signal[s] instability in an advertising context because [it is] frequently exaggerated to unrealistic proportions” (Butkowski and Tajima 1047).
Hence, women are presented as instable, less rational creatures than men — a stereotype used to justify patriarchy and the disempowerment of women.
Goffman also points out that women are often represented as being “less serious in social situations” than men (51). In ads, this idea is embodied by what Goffman calls “body clowning”, i.e. “the use of the entire body as a playful gesticulative device” (50). For example, a picture of a laughing female playfully kicking one leg high above her hip can be considered an instance of body clowning. Body clowning serves as another way to oppress women, since it suggests that females are childish, and thus not worthy of being taken seriously, unable to lead with responsibility, and not deserving of the same amount of respect as men.
Since Turbeville’s pictures feature only female models, it is impossible to determine whether she would indeed assign men the standing-tall positions rather than the crouching ones. However, many of her models squat or sit on the floor, as if the ground were a natural place for a woman. Needless to say, it does not seem very realistic that anyone visiting a Bathhouse would find themselves a spot on the floor. Hence, it is likely that by mimicking the already existing range of images showing women lowering themselves, Turbeville subconsciously adopted and reinforced this type of gender posing to create her own commercial realism.
The knee bend, too, found its way into the “Bathhouse”. In fact, with the exception of the third photograph, all of the standing models perform it. In Turbeville’s work, however, these poses reflect not only Goffman’s idea of unpreparedness and in many cases instability — such as the model in picture number seven who stands on one leg while leaning slightly backwards and touching her bend knee in a contorted, off-balance pose. Instead, they also signal apathy, laziness, and passivity.
The image number five illustrates this lack of agency and interest particularly well: the model in the background bends her knee in order to lean against the changing cubicle and, half collapsing to one side, traces a finger along the wall, as if trying to kill time. As becomes apparent, Turbeville chose to portray the model as bored, passive, and unable to support her own body.
Head canting is another gender pose that often occurs in the “Bathhouse”.
There are two different types recognisable: one is the lowering of the head, as described by Goffman, whereas the other is the angling of the face upwards. While the first type can be observed in all of the pictures, it is perhaps the most prominent in the second photograph where it is performed by a model sitting with her back against the wall in a slouched, exhausted manner. Since her eyes are closed and her head falls forward as if she were asleep, she appears particularly vulnerable and passive.
In contrast, the second type of head canting might at the first glance appear as the “head-held-high” pose which, according to the research, is mostly reserved for men. However, all the models lifting their chin do so in combination with their eyes closed or averted from the camera so that instead of confident and powerful, they once again appear vulnerable, passive, and lost.
On the other hand, body canting is mostly performed by Turbeville’s models to signal sexual availability. In the first photograph, a model in the foreground kneels with one knee on the floor while her other leg lies outstretched. She supports her upper body with her arms, performing a sort of sideways cobra pose that emphasises her natural curvature. At the same time, the model looks directly into the camera, sending a clear message to the spectator that she is not only aware of being watched, but is also actively inviting such attention.
A similar scenario occurs for example in the picture number two, in which a model standing at the very left of the photograph pushes one of her hips out in an exaggerated manner that enhances her feminine form. In the same photograph, another model stands with her back angled towards the camera while twisting her upper body to suggestively turn her face towards the spectator.
Body clowning is also performed in the series. In the second photograph, a model at the centre does a sideways split while simultaneously stretching both of her arms above her head. Although she does not smile, her behaviour can still be read as playful, since she engages her whole body in a way that seems childishly inappropriate in public showers. Another example is picture number four: a model grand-pliés with her legs turned out in the first ballet position, holding her arms and hands like a ballerina. Again, she does not smile, but the fact that she imitates a dancer while showering can still be interpreted as ludic behaviour.
As Goffman claims,
[w]omen more than men, it seems, are pictured engaged in involvements which remove them psychologically from the social situation at large, leaving them unoriented in it and to it, and presumably, therefore, dependent on the protectiveness and goodwill of others who are (or might come to be) present. (57)
Goffman argues that this withdrawal is evoked by women being portrayed with their gaze and/or head averted from the camera or from other subjects present in the picture:
The lowering of the head presumably withdraws attention from the scene at hand, dependency entailed and indicated thereby. The gain is that one’s feelings will be momentarily concealed — although, of course, not the fact that one is attempting such concealment. (As in head canting, height is reduced, contributing to a symbolization of submissiveness.) Mere aversion of the eyes can apparently serve similarly. (63)
Just like the ritualised subordination, averting one’s gaze embodies childish naivety and defencelessness, since the “momentary blindness to everything around oneself [is] a particularly empty and maladaptive response” to one’s surroundings (Goffman 57). As Goffman explains, “the individual can withdraw his [sic] gaze from the scene at large (with the dependency and trust that this implies) […]. [H]is [sic] mind has wandered from everything in the situation; psychologically, he [sic] is ‘away’” (64). Hence, female models are often portrayed as mentally absent. The mental absence, in return, emphasises the female body present, which results in more objectification and fetishization.
Goffman also takes facial expressions into consideration, concluding that, in advertising, women smile more and more ecstatically than men (48). Once again, women are delineated as childishly joyous, and their “smiles, then, seem more the offering of an inferior than a superior” (Goffman 48). In other words, women smile to please and to show how pleased they are, whether in relation to the advertised product or to the fact that they are being looked at.
Furthermore, expressions of exaggerated enthusiasm also perpetuate the withdrawal stereotype. As Goffman adds,
in ads women, more than men, appear to withdraw themselves from the social situation at hand through […] emotional response. Significant here are the responses of pleasure, delight, laughter, and glee — states of being transported by happiness. Perhaps the implication is that a woman — like a child with an ice cream cone — can find some sort of final satisfaction in goals that can be fully realized in the present. In consequence, a consummatory ‘flooding out’. (68)
Hence, advertisements depict women as both tied to the present moment and absent from it, absorbed in their own inner world while only able to draw pleasure from superficial highs of the here and now offered by the advertised products.
An interesting aspect of Turbeville’s photographs in regard to the licensed withdrawal is the fact that the models hardly ever interact with each other. Despite always being photographed as a group of at least in pairs, the women do not meet each other’s eyes in any of the pictures. In fact, some of them even have their eyes closed, others look at nothing in particular, and a few exceptions stare directly into the camera. Although Turbeville admitted that she photographed her models as a collective solely for practical reasons, as Vogue required her to put as many models into one picture as possible (Gross 234), it still does not explain why she staged the models in space as isolated, distant, and lonely figures.
One possible interpretation is that the lack of interaction further emphasises that the models “are not in action” (Sultze 285), but instead are part of the space of the Bathhouse as static objects. Sultze, who analysed various advertisements in The New York Times Magazine, pointed out that portraying women not as “individuals interacting with other individuals” (Sultze 285) is a recurrent trend, described by Mulvey as “to-be-looked-at-ness” (11).
According to Mulvey, women are frequently visualised as objects to be looked at and consumed, and not as active actors with their own subjectivity in the narrative. This is particularly true for the “Bathhouse” models, since the majority of them appear mentally absent due to their gaze withdrawal, but at the same time draw the viewer’s attention to their bodies by using touch as a pointer and by emphasising their natural curves through canting. Thus, the models’ bodies are objectified, whereas their subjectivity and agency are absent.
In those few instances when Turbeville’s models actually look straight into the camera, the otherwise powerful gaze is weakened by the accompanying gender posing. This is well illustrated by the second picture where a black model performs both body canting and the bashful knee bend while touching the back of her neck and locking eyes with the viewer.
According to Butkowski and Tajima, a direct gaze in advertisements that target mostly female readers “extends and elevates an invitation to consume. It invites [the readers] to take the model’s place — visualizing a reality in which they own the advertised product and the luxurious lifestyle represented” (1050). Thus, a direct gaze in connection with ritualised gender displays should not be automatically interpreted as a sign of confidence and empowerment. Rather, it should be viewed critically as an invitation to identify with the concept of femininity proposed by advertisement.
It is important to note that a model performing gender poses while looking straight into the camera and inviting the female reader to identify with her is still defined by the male gaze, even though she actually communicates with a female-only audience. Despite the male spectator missing in Turbeville’s photographs and although the fashion campaign itself is aimed at women, “when a female reader views and identifies herself with a model performing gender poses in an advertisement, an imagined male gazer is likely a vital component in completing the narrative” (Butkowski and Tajima 1050–1).
Accordingly, even in a woman’s magazine, a female model exchanging a look with the viewer while engaging in gender displays performs the gender posing for an implied male spectator. This pathological need to be looked at and to please the male voyeur stems from another deeply ingrained gender stereotype that “to be feminine, in one commonly felt definition, is […] to attract” (Sontag 22).
However, there is a significant difference between the “Bathhouse” models’ facial expressions and those of the majority of women represented in advertising. As has been already mentioned, none of Turbeville’s models smile despite some of their playful and absurd poses. Although this could be read as a further sign of lethargy, the lack of joy on the women’s faces still counters gender stereotypes of the ecstatic, overemotional, and childish female. In fact, the models’ void facial expressions even evoke something dark, threatening, and, consequently, powerful. As such, the paucity of smiling in the “Bathhouse” is the only aspect that does not coincide with Goffman’s gender posing, and thus subverts the stereotypical representation of women as dependants.
As has been illustrated in the previous sections, Turbeville entered the hyper-ritualised, highly gendered commercial realism by portraying her models in accordance with the three gender posing stereotypes identified by Goffman: feminine touch, ritualization of subordination, and licenced withdrawal.
Apart from one exception — Turbeville’s models display no childish enthusiasm about the advertised products — the “Bathhouse” fashion editorial does not escape the “socially ingrained way of seeing and way of looking” (Sultze 287). Therefore, this qualitative study proves that the problem of gender displays in advertising — and other (audio)visual media — does not necessarily lie in the comparatively low number of female (fashion) photographers. Rather, it is due to the fact that the male gaze is a representation strategy “both men and women are socialized into as they grow up in our visual culture, and so may well participate in reinforcing” (Sultze 287, emphasis in the original). Thus, Turbeville can hardly be blamed for adopting conventionalised patterns of female representation, just as her contemporary critics cannot be blamed for failing to decode them.
After all, what Turbeville’s advertising campaign was trying to do is what every other commercial does: to sell the advertised products by highlighting how possessing them “elevat[es] one’s status and prestige” (Butkowski and Tajima 1052). In order to connect the product with luxury, however, one needs to appeal to traditional ideologies of how women — and men — should act. As Butkowski and Tajima explain,
[w]hen one critically looks at how luxury is represented in the female consumption sphere, it is often expressed through various codes that indicate female subordination. Thus, performing vulnerable poses that serve as indicators for gender subordination can be simultaneously recognized as a means to elevate female status. (1052)
This deeply-rooted idea that being feminine depends on the subordination to men and that this is the only way a woman can achieve a high status and prestige in a male-gaze-oriented society is what makes reinventing the visual language of fashion photography so difficult. As a result, “advertising messages about women are often stereotypical (e.g. […] women do not make important decisions or do important things, women are dependent and need men’s protection, and men regard women primarily as sexual objects)” (Kang 981).
This in turn has a negative impact on gender equality: while fashion photography does not represent inherent truths about females and males, but rather mirrors gender as a social construct and distorts reality into commercial realism, the real-world perceptions and behaviours of both genders are nevertheless affected by this hyper-ritualization. Consequently, a vicious circle of socially constructed identities and hierarchies, in which women often find themselves disenfranchised, is created both within and outside of the advertising industry.
Since the publication of Turbeville’s editorial not much has changed. Although there has been an increased effort to highlight photography by women (see for instance The New York Times Magazine fall 2001 issue titled “Women Looking at Women”), the underlying structures leading to the stereotypical, conventionalised gender posing remain more or less unchanged. For instance, this is currently exemplified by Amanda de Cadenet’s online campaign titled Girlgaze. Launched as a website in 2016 as well as a hashtag #girlgaze, the project was designed to promote female photographers in the otherwise male-dominated world of photography (Looft 892).
However, scholars, such as Ruxandra Looft, who discuss Cadenet’s project in regard to the fourth wave feminism “raise the question of performativity and authenticity in photography and whether we can rely on this medium to offer any sort of ‘truth’ about how girls — or any agent behind the camera — sees the world” (Looft 893). In fact, when one scrolls through the top posts tagged #girlgaze on Instagram, the majority of them are guilty of the same gender posing patterns as Turbeville’s editorial forty-four years ago. Since the representation techniques identified by Goffman remain unchanged in contemporary photography created by both men and women, similar “female gaze” campaigns are rightfully questioned by academics. As long as the underlying ideologies about femininity and masculinity stay in place, female gaze will remain an empty promise.
To conclude, it cannot be denied that Turbeville’s photographs are indeed romantic, delicate, and above all feminine — but this conceptualisation of femininity is nevertheless a highly stereotypical product of not the female but the male perspective. Thus, as Leslie Devereaux pointed out when discussing visual representation of women, “[f]emale experience, like female desire, is absent in th[e] record of male visual pleasure” (67).
You might be also interested in my other article on “female” gaze “Why Female Photographers Still Mimic the Male Gaze”.
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