Date of Submission

Spring 2012

Academic Program

Film and Electronic Arts

Project Advisor 1

Benjamin Coonley

Abstract/Artist's Statement

In order to make My Rifle, My Baby, and Me, I thought in depth about the stock female characters of cinema and came to realize that most of them, whether weak or strong, fit nicely into the mold of the masculine gaze.

The characters in my film do too. In their fantasies, they are hyper-sexualized evocations of Seventies Sexploitation cinema, and in their waking lives, they are fetishized as little girls, at best. They align themselves with various female myths in order to gain power—which comes in the form of revenge upon the hyperbolic masculine myth of the cowboy. The cowboy in my film, who is a figment of the characters’ imagination and who appears in shadow when he appears at all, embodies the issue of the masculine gaze in that he can see them but they can’t see him.

I made this film in order to explore how women both use and rely upon the masculine gaze to achieve success. I was also curious to understand the limitations of such success.

I have cast myself as both maker and model in a large portion of my work in film in order to at once challenge the conflation of the apparatus of the camera with the masculine eye, and also, to reconcile my desire to be seen through it. On set, my chosen duality was particularly daunting for me: straddling the gendered line between actress and director, I grew frustrated by my own female identity. I found myself wanting to sit pretty and be fawned over for my work—to be treated the way I saw my co-star being treated by my almost exclusively male crew—but I had to keep hold of the firm grip necessary to make my piece. At odds with what I consider to be the inherently male and female presences within all of us, I entered into a power struggle with myself wherein I stumbled into a somewhat gendered limbo.

When I began editing my film, I finally came to understand that this gendered limbo was not only present within my own aggravation, but that it was also at the heart of my characters’ conflict.

From the start, I had written these characters within the framework of a gender binary. While I aligned Paula’s character with normalized notions of masculinity—she shoots, she drives, she makes the rules—I chose to unite Baby with accepted notions of femininity: she pours tea, she dreams of love, and is utterly dependent upon the masculine presence in her life. The fantastical world they have created together is shaken when Baby eventually comes to feel subordinate to Paula and attempts to rectify her subordination by appropriating the symbols of Paula’s power.

At the end of my film, my characters’ end up killing their fantastical alter ego in lieu of the imaginary cowboy they set out to from the start. In this sense, they both succeed and fail all at once: they murder the more overtly sexualized versions of themselves they once believed would bring them power but return to the real world, empowered as who they really are.

What both myself and these characters came to understand through this film was the ubiquity of such gazing: it is not just the cowboy who is guilty of it, but everyone, even me, and even them.

I chose this bittersweet ending for my characters as a gesture towards this question of how women can take power. This story line is honest to my intentions: after all, this piece does not set out erase the presence of the masculine gaze in cinema or elsewhere, but rather, to acknowledge it’s presence and to potentially bring about new ways of gazing, if you will, at women and their representations.

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