Alexandra Wuest’s chapbook “The Female Gaze is Cool” advocates for the elimination of tunnel vision, for a new perspective that shouldn’t be so new. The female gaze is so often an internalized male gaze, a reflection of how other men (and women) see women. But the female gaze should be its own gaze, and these poems are a guide toward fostering an aware and self-determined gaze, whether the reader’s physical eyes are female or not. These poems suggest how to, and how not to, look at women, and perhaps how women should and should not look at things.
Woman is portrayed as a paintbrush to paint with, a forest to burn, a stump to sit on. Wuest’s poems are full of unique images of women as objects easily used to make something better, or destroyed to make room for something else. Woman is also more familiarly compared to the moon, but in a more powerful, celestial mystery way – “I will finally tell you the truth / that there are parts of the moon / we can never see from earth / and I will never stop being / impossible to get to know.”
Women are also shown being catcalled from cars. Being defined by men, the male gaze and the male mouth is a part of everyday life for many women, and Wuest addresses this frustrating phenomenon. “There are a lot of names for / ‘I want to consume you’ / but very few names for / ‘I am not up for consumption’ / You see I was taught it is men who / do the naming / You see I was taught the best kind of mouth / a woman can ever have / is an ear.” For women, silence can be disempowering and a sign of submission. For men, words are not even necessary, because mere noises and whistles can assert threatening strength. Wuest uses enjambed, to-the-point lines of poetry to challenge this gender imbalance.
That is a dangerous game, often a heteronormative competition with other women, how-many-things-can-I-do-to-make-myself-more-desirable-to-men-than-other-women.
Wuest also challenges financial inequality, dependence, and various female-oriented industries. The money that women have to spend on make-up and fancy accessories to be considered valuable is ridiculous – especially when they are still not even considered valuable then, they are just women with valuable things. It’s like what is valuable about a woman is only what can be extracted, physically or emotionally, like she should only be used for sex or support. It’s like when there is nothing to see but the woman herself, bare with nothing extra added, there is nothing worth seeing at all. That is a dangerous and snobbish societal stereotype to absorb. That is a dangerous game, often a heteronormative competition with other women, how-many-things-can-I-do-to-make-myself-more-desirable-to-men-than-other-women.
Sometimes the things that aren’t the prettiest are the things that are most real, and that is repeatedly emphasized in Wuest’s poems. Sometimes her word choices aren’t the prettiest either, but they make so much sense – “We didn’t call it love / the same way we don’t call cheeseburgers / ‘dead cows’ / but we all know what we’re eating.”
Sometimes the things that aren’t the prettiest are the things that are most real, and that is repeatedly emphasized in Wuest’s poems.
As a bonus to the writing, there is also art in this book, feminine faces and little animals like manatees at the end of some of the poems. And the pages are all outlined about an inch from the edges with a dotted-line frame, as if each page were a mirror reminding you to read the poems with a female gaze, so how cool is that? What more could you really want?
There is always something more that we need, something more we can have, even if we don’t say it. Wuest’s poems are all about the importance of safety and confidence in saying it. Keep up with what else she’s saying at http://bagelcat.tumblr.com and @allie_kw.
(Bottlecap Press, Poetry, Paperback, 2015)
BETHANY MARY is a meditative tea snob studying gerontology in Minnesota. She was once the poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and now reads submissions for Spark: A Creative Anthology and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. As an asexual advocate for a sexual assault center and blogger for Resources for Ace Survivors, she focuses on boundaries and mental health in her own writing. Some of her work is out in the world, and she rants on Twitter @bethanylmary.