When cultural theorist Laura Mulvey coined the term “the male gaze” in her article on psychoanalysis and cinema, she described it as an objectifying lens reducing female characters from subjects to objects. This heteropatriarchal gaze is threefold: a film’s author or director (more often than not a white man) shapes the way the film’s protagonist (more often than not also a white man) perceives and interacts with any female characters, which then informs the way the spectator perceives this character (usually as a sexualized, two-dimensional plot device). On February 1 at Roulette in Brooklyn, Fresh Squeezed Opera attempted to reverse this objectifying gaze, offering up a program under the title of “The Female Gaze: new music for female voice & electronics.” The program featured three world premieres composed by women for female voices and centering female perspectives, experiences, and representations.
“The Female Gaze” is an ongoing initiative curated by Jillian Flexner, the director of Fresh Squeezed Opera. The project “aims to put women on an equal level to men in the performance of operatic works by flipping the male gaze: the creator is a woman, the characters are women, and the spectators are women.” Although I was initially excited by this description, I became skeptical about the reversal of an inherently objectifying force during the pre-concert talk, when the composers were asked “what do you feel is particularly female about your work?” This sort of talk only serves to further reify the gender binary and risks devolving into dangerous biological essentialisms. I felt like I was being fed pink vitamins as I listened to each composer justify the “femaleness” of her work.
Whitney George’s Lost Without You was a repetitive and pensive sonification of the process that George describes as a “rumination and meditation on the inner dialogue we have with ourselves.” George rigorously conducted a chamber ensemble consisting of voice, bass clarinet, viola, cello, percussion, and piano; the piece also integrates live processing (“in the form of additive and subtractive loops”) meant to convey the experience of getting inside someone else’s headspace. Unlike some composer-conductors