There was a time when TikTok was just for fun. It used to be a platform to view entertaining clips that were 15 seconds or less. But now, it’s home to videos that school you on life. Some even come in (annoying but usually addictive) multiple parts. (Who else hates it ends with, “Follow for part two!”) But there really are topics that make you go, “That’s very interesting.” One of those is the talk about the “female gaze.”
How the “female gaze” is perceived on TikTok
As of this writing, the topic has amassed 508.5 million views worldwide. The term has been around for years. But it trended because it was supposedly mastered by an “unconventionally” attractive guy, “Strange Kevin”. He lip-syncs to Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend.” He acts all nerdy and shy at first but during the line before the chorus, he looks straight into the camera confidently and sweeps you away. Some women interpreted it as a “look” that’s all about “you” (the woman) and not about “him.”
@vickylissaman #duet with @kevin #rawrxd THE CONFIDENCE #fyp #trending ? original sound - ? ?? ?
@ektwrites #stitch with @wheresthetamale Kevin and the fame gaze—It comes down to power dynamics (and is often what certain critics of the romance he genre misunderstand!) #femalegaze #strangekevin #booktok ? original sound - Author Emily Thiede
Strange Kevin is now banned on TikTok, BTW. But the slew of videos that stitched the original, made blind-react duets, attempted thirst trap imitations, or ~analyzed~ it lives on. Legend has it that he made a series of similar videos after that first viral one until someone uncovered his “strange” past.
Here’s a summary of the tea of why he was banned: Girls loved how he seemed to have perfected the female gaze. Even hot guys on TikTok who made duets with him couldn’t get it, so Strange Kevin got 15 minutes of fame as the female gaze guy. But then, someone unearthed his old dark humor videos with domestic violence as the theme. Everyone started getting creeped out and now, he’s canceled.
Anyway, back to the female gaze. This concept is related to women's empowerment. To really understand this, let’s define the “opposite” first.
Is there a “male gaze”? You bet.
This is actually a filmmaking term coined by Laura Mulvey, a feminist who drew inspiration from psychoanalysts. The “male gaze” refers to how women are objectified or sexualized in movies and other media.
The film theorist observed that films are created in a way to appeal to heterosexual males. Women serve a more passive role, usually revealing skin or curves without any relevance to the plot. In short, misogyny at its finest. Mulvey theorized that filmmakers initially intended to appeal to the majority (men) and the rest of us were brainwashed into thinking it was okay. Salem Tovar, a YouTube vlogger, dives into how the male gaze makes women feel ugly.
The male gaze can be observed not just in action films like The Avengers or The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, you’d see it in several music videos, advertisements, and even fairy tale movies (read: those fictional princesses we grew up loving didn’t really need to have tiny waists and hourglass figures). The toxic effect of it was, Princess Jasmine, Ariel, and the rest became the (impossible) standards that little girls aspire for.
Now, what is the “female gaze”? Is it just the opposite?
Well, not exactly. It’s not how some scenes are inserted in movies or dramas, where a ripped guy is topless and takes a shower before or after a pivotal event (although that should be a thing we also frown upon, right?). But the context of the female gaze is more on creating films and other media where the women are not passive elements.
The keynote speech of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) gave a pretty solid definition. It was given by a writer, director, and producer who has won Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her work, Joey Soloway. (Note: They are a non-binary and gender non-conforming individual, whose name was previously Jill). They describe the female gaze first as a way to tell a story from the perspective of a woman.
Soloway said, “The Female Gaze is not a camera trick. It is a privilege generator, It positions me, the woman, as the subject. On a journey. You will be on her side. You will be on my side. My camera, my script, my word on my notes, my side. I want you to see the Female Gaze as a conscious effort to create empathy as a political tool.”
They further emphasized the socio-political power of the female gaze, which demands women be seen and heard. “This Female Gaze is a political platform; it means we start to call out how awful it is to be offered access in exchange for succeeding at being seen. The Female Gaze calls out how the Male Gaze divides us…” It brings back the narrative to women—who were “there in the room” with their own truths and not just “placed in the room” to support the male perspective.
What are some examples of the “female gaze”?
One of the recent series mentioned by various sources is Netflix's Bridgerton. The pilot season, specifically, was focused on Daphne Bridgerton’s journey in old British high society. It’s one of those mainstream shows that aimed to put a spotlight on the female perspective: Her aspirations, unique traits, and her pleasures.
In the Philippines, there have been a number of films that do this while tackling other important issues in society. For instance, Antoinette Jadaone’s Fan Girl back in 2020 takes you through the adventures and raw feelings of a girl (played by Charlie Dizon) who obsessively admires an actor, Paulo Avelino.
Erik Matti’s BuyBust starring Anne Curtis, on the other hand, tells the story of a rookie female cop who survives and retaliates against the slaughter of her anti-narcotic elite squad.
Recently, there have also been a number of Marvel and Disney movies that have been attempting to do the same. Notice how a lot of the original Avengers are being replaced by female superheroes now? Or how some storylines celebrate strong, independent women like those in Frozen, Encanto, and Disenchanted? These and more will hopefully reverse the brainwashing of how women are seen in society—not just as damsels in distress but as real heroines.