“I like to rouse, but I thought today I would talk to you guys about something a little more personal: the body, our bodies,” writer and director Jill Soloway began her speech at the MAKERS Conference on Tuesday.
Soloway, best known for creating the groundbreaking, critically acclaimed Amazon show “Transparent,” gave a 14-minute speech that expertly used her own exploration of gender identity and presentation to make a powerful point about how gendered expectations can limit women in profound ways.
“Where did that girl with the long brown hair go? Who is this much dykier looking person on stage in front of me?,” Soloway said, referring to the way her own look has evolved over the last several years. “Hashtag #DressLikeAWoman,” she added to huge cheers.
Soloway spoke about her own realization that femininity and its required presentation was not a structure that allowed her joy ― in fact, it was a structure that stifled her. That realization led her to not only let go of those rituals that constricted her own sense of self, but to think critically about how performing gender can limit women writ large.
In patriarchy, men see and women are looked at. And that subtle code also implies that the man does, the woman is done to. Jill Soloway
“Men get to be wholly unattracting, while still commanding lots of power, because in patriarchy, men see and women are looked at,” said Soloway. “And that subtle code also implies that the man does, the woman is done to. And when we continue to offer up these signals and symbols that say we like being looked at, are we consenting to being looked at? Are we consenting to granting men the privilege of enjoying being the lookers?”
She told the audience that her journey of self-exploration has not ended, and that she still hasn’t quite found the person she wants to be or the gender she identifies with. But what Soloway does understand ― and articulated quite beautifully ― is that every one of us needs to feel empowered to be the subject of our own life rather than the object.
“What if all humans equally understood ourselves as viewer and viewed what would this holy balance look like?,” Soloway asked. “Because for the coming resistance ― the revolution, the evolution ― we all get to be as comfortable and grounded as we can to do whatever it takes to see more, worry about how we look less, to emulate male privilege if we need to, so that we can march all day and scale walls all night. Boundaries and borders, both real and imagined ― inside of the places that matter in the world, like Washington, D.C., and the whole planet ― and the places that might even matter more, like inside of our bodies.”
#DressLikeAWoman... or Man... or any gender (whatever the hell that means to you), indeed.