THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: RETHINKING GENDER

A gender studies major (Scout) on artists who find beauty in blurring gender.

Nir Arieli is a former military photographer for the Israeli magazine Bamachane. Now living and studying in New York City, his portfolio “Men” captures the lithe, slender ostensibly ungendered bodies of young male models.

Robert.

Robert.

These images have none of masculinity’s conventional phallic strength, stoicism or supremacy. Their gender is neutralised: even though they are clearly male, their bodies are feminised. In each shot, the young subject is vulnerable. They are passive, covered or obscured by their surroundings, surrounded by potent symbolism: water, flowers, bedding and sheet music. Each image is clean, soft and cool. Arieli draws the viewer in with a lens as tender and gentle as his subjects.

Hanno.

Hanno.

Tal.

Tal.

Matt.

Matt.

Mike.

Mike.

Brodie Lancaster is a Melbourne-based writer and editor responsible for the zine Filmme Fatales, Rookie Mag’s twenty-something film-student sister. Although FF has only two issues under its belt, Lancaster has been fruitful elsewhere. She has collaborated with Speakeasy Cinema‘s Ghita Loebenstein to present two international films this coming weekend that examine sexuality and gender in children – Tomboy (France, Céline Schiamma) and She Monkeys (Sweden, Lisa Aschan).

“In the tradition of Boys Don’t Cry, Tomboy is a look at a young French girl, Laure, on the cusp of adolescence, who moves to a new town and takes to opportunity to introduce herself as Mikael and be treated as a boy. Swedish drama She Monkeys is a slightly darker exploration of gender roles, political correctness and female friendships in the coming-of-age genre.” – BROADSHEETMelbourne

Having seen stills and the trailers from each of these films, I am struck by how female filmmakers can handle such a fragile topic as infant sexuality with care and precision. These images of children in all their magnificent honesty and frailty, as they uncover truths about the world inconsistent with what they feel within themselves.

I want to pay particular attention to Tomboy’s protagonist Laure/Mikael. Played by child actress Zoé Héron, Laure transforms into Mikael but cutting her hair, going shirtless in the playground, acting gruff with the other boys in the neighbourhood and wooing a local girl. As I see images of Mikael swimming – only in trunks – I wonder at how children are often allowed to run naked. They are not sexualised yet.

Zoé Héron is able to blur the lines distinguishing boyhood and girlhood.

Zoé Héron is able to blur the lines distinguishing boyhood and girlhood.

They can still revel in their pre-pubescent gender ambivalence. Is Mikael’s behaviour innately gendered? It is not a matter of a girl pretending to be a boy. It is a child acting out their natural inclinations towards aggression, assertiveness and physical exertion – traits characteristic of masculinity, which would be unseemly in a girl and therefore must be acted out as a boy.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 9.03.27 PM

One of the boys.

It is interesting to compare Mikael to the similarly provocative – and it could be argued, equally “beautiful” – French Vogue cover of child model Thylane Loubry Blondeau.

Blondeau presents a childish, petulant version of femininity.

Blondeau presents a childish, petulant version of femininity.

Blondeau is playing “grownups”, but more importantly, she is mimicking ideal adult femininity. This begs the question – does the infantilise women or force children to act out adulthood? The answer; a bit of both. Blondeau and Mikael are both essentially blank canvases. Where Blondeau has been painted with rouge to look like a woman, Mikael has fashioned himself a plasticine penis to mimic a boy. These are all props in a performance of gender.

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