Some events cannot be explained away as cosmic coincidence.
Hours before yesterday’s votes were counted, I sat discussing with my producers Soumyaa and Robert how best to present the feminist voice in our movie, Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond. Soumyaa suggested we employ the “oppressed gaze,” a well-worn trope used in film/literature theory to represent the idea that there is intrinsic power awarded to the person who gets to do the looking. In traditional novels and movies, the “male gaze” dominates. As spectators, we share that gaze with the camera, director and leading men. The primary recipient of the gaze, the objectified female, has no reciprocal “gazing” power.
We talked about the fact that women were not allowed to look through major telescopes until the 1960s. That American women were not allowed to view the Earth from space until the 1980s. That no matter how capable, how prepared, how passionate or how hard they work, there have been dreams that women could not achieve, just because they were women.
We never thought to discuss that a woman could not become our president in 2016. That came later, last night.
When the space age began, both Hillary Clinton and I (along with many other girls of our era) expressed our desire to become astronauts, but were told we could not. This was more than an escapist fantasy, I think, but rather a desire to enter and explore uncharted territories: deep space, the oval office.
How is space exploration different from the U.S. presidency when, historically, both have been denied to women? How is any quest to achieve a long cherished goal any different when nonsensical barriers like glass ceilings are placed in the way?
To reach a goal, some one must first be able to look at it. Gazing at the proverbial glass ceiling is next to impossible. The glass is transparent, not restricting the view of the dreams that lie beyond it, but preventing progress toward the goal nonetheless. It’s a profoundly false view.
My own brand of feminism, emanating from the same generation as Hillary Clinton’s, fights the oppressed gaze because it makes us angry. The inability to look at whatever we want, whenever we choose, should not be gender-dependent.
The post-election detail that upset me most this morning was reading that Clinton had planned to celebrate with her supporters beneath a glass ceiling that would symbolically shatter. Instead I think workers carefully removed the elaborate prop and stored it away. The glass ceiling remains intact.
Glass ceilings are always there and always will be, whether represented by the lens of the telescope, the window of a spaceship, or the view looking out into the White House Rose Garden.
If the barrier can’t be shattered, then it’s the dream that’s in danger of being shattered to pieces. But there’s another way to look at it: the glass, whether in the ceiling or in the sky, can also be used to focus the view more clearly.
Our awareness of such a barrier – even if we are not able to break it – is painful but necessary. We have to take a long, hard look to see what the barrier reveals, then refocus our gaze toward finding ways to explore what lies beyond.
By Jan Millsapps, Director of Madame Mars: Women and The Quest for Worlds Beyond.
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