Three women on the Female Gaze
By Sara Litzén
I met up with three alluring ladies on a Thursday morning in Stockholm: fashion designer Anna-Sara Dåvik, and artists Cajsa von Zeipel and Anna Uddenberg – three self-employed women who are breathtaking and whom I truly admire. All three of them were a bit late, and arrived with shades covering their eyes. Cajsa wore a pair of neon green plastic Prada shades, Anna-Sara had a pair of brown round sunglasses and Anna was wearing a pair of big baby pink shades.
Anna-Sara Dåvik graduated from Central Saint Martins in London in 2006. She designs womenswear under her own label A-S Dåvik. She makes everything by hand and it is made to measure, by appointment only. The label is based on elegance and movement. She knows how to dress women with dignity and respect. It’s feminine and completely empowering.
Cajsa von Zeipel got her master’s degree in fine art at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm in 2010. She makes her sculptures by hand in Styrofoam and plaster. The references to classical sculpture are obvious, but her figures are supernatural slender female teenagers in platform high heels. The oversized sculptures create a new hierarchy between observer and object. Cajsa explains that by inverting the relationship, and letting the scale of the sculptures become larger, the viewer is taken by the object’s role.
Anna Uddenberg graduated with a master’s degree in fine art one year after Cajsa. In recent years she has worked with performance art, installation and moving large-scale sculptures that involve questions of identity, networking, role-playing and personal marketing. She is interested in the transition between person and product, and how sexuality plays into the perception of oneself as a brand.
We sat down at a round table in Anna´s studio, and the discussion began. I wanted to know what they thought about their own work, if being a woman plays a large part in what they do and if so, why they think it is important.
CvZ: I think that you wouldn’t make the same type of work, or you might but it would be read in a very different way, if you were a man. I think belonging to a certain sex both comes with its limitations and advantages.
AU: I feel that much of what I do would be considered very sexist if I were a man; I would be criticized for being a sick old man. I’m kind of already accused of that. But being a woman might make it easier for me to get away with it. I think that the female gaze can be as filthy as a dirty old man’s gaze, and that I have the advantage of being allowed to talk about those things in a more open and direct way than a man can.
ASD: There is probably a lot that I don´t question in myself, but that´s just the way things are. It’s a matter of being in a female body and to see women around you that do not know the obvious strength of it. And I’ve realized during my time working creatively that it is a driving force, which is amplified by being fed by everything you see, all the “weak” women you see. I have understood that this is something important that not everyone quite simply has. Being strong means stating who you are; being weak is to fail to show who you are.
AU: That is something very common among females that you constantly need to be analytical and justify your work.
CvZ: I think it’s very complex. Different people see different things in one’s work. The first question I usually get thrown at me, particularly in the past, is: are you a feminist? Just because you work with femininity doesn’t automatically mean that you need to be dealing with that subject. I can certainly appreciate really girly women. They are an inspiration to me because the general image of them is so simplified and flat. There is an idea that an independent woman should not be overly self-conscious about her looks. I think that this comprehensive idea that one should cover up is quite interesting, and I like to deal with it in a different way. You can play with this type of girly role and create an uncertainty in different contexts, for example by looking a bit vulgar in serious situations.
AU: It’s simply different kinds of roles. What a woman says is regarded differently for example if you’re a feminist. There is a kind of hierarchy among the different types of female roles, which are more or less respected or taken seriously in different contexts. And what I find extremely funny is to be able to experiment with the different approaches and different roles. Then you will have access to a fairly large range of ways of being, and you simply have the freedom to do what you want.
ASD: It’s important that you show who you are, it doesn’t matter how it is labeled. It could be vulgar or androgynous as long as you are true to yourself. You are strong as long as you follow who you are and show it.
AU: Of course! And it can vary in different contexts, as all other social roles do.
CvZ: So far I have only worked with female sculptures. It is what I can relate to. And I think that women are more interesting than men, they are much more complex when it comes to social situations. I would say that my work is about communication, although it is expressed by certain characters. And I think that this duality that you learned early to find in girls, I don’t know if it is typically feminine but there’s a way to socialize and talk to each other, which I think is very interesting, and everything but logical. It is something that I think occurs when I hang out with girls rather than with boys. There is a layer of understanding that makes it possible for you to talk around a subject with metaphors, probably without you even knowing it. It’s completely different and has a lot to do with competition between women.
AU: You can always make use of these different values.
ASD: I find this concept difficult to approach, because if you are going to talk about who you are, I would probably say that I have many male attributes, but they are female characteristics for me.
CvZ: I agree. I don’t believe that they are determined by sex. It is rather a matter of stereotypes, the male role have patented many of the best features. A male is considered being an energetic, straight forward and active. That’s what you learn is the difference between men and women. And this is something we need to demolish at all times. An acknowledgment is when you get encouragement from “real” male craftsmen. When they first underestimate you and you prove to them that you have skills, and sometimes even better than them, that is the best feeling! It is almost cinematic in a way, like a feminist who makes it in an American movie.
ASD: I would never feel that way in a situation like that. I feel so odd as a human being in the sense that I don’t see myself belonging to any kind of type with certain properties. It might sound weird, I haven’t really thought about it myself. I wouldn’t even react if a craftsman looked at me because I was a woman, because I’ve already turned that way of thinking off. I’m just a human being that does not appeal to most men and women. I see myself only as a specific character, regardless of gender.
AU: I remember when I became interested in feminism at the beginning of high school, and I said to my mother “I am a neuter.” I simply wanted to explain that I was just a human being.
CvZ: I have been taken for a guy ever since I was little. And when I was younger it was heartbreaking, even though I only was a child. The first time it happened was in a ski slope, my father had bought my clothes on the boys department instead of the girls, so it was perhaps not so surprising, but it has haunted me ever since. When I am dressed up people have taken me for a transvestite.
ASD: Yes, I can relate to that. Nobody has said it to me but that is the way I feel. Either I feel like a transvestite or as a 40-year-old kindergarten mom.
AU: Those days when I feel like a man I don’t feel especially sexy. Or maybe I do?
CVZ: I certainly do! I have gotten over the fact that people take me for a transvestite, and I actually like it. I can se a strength in it, which is really weird but I think it’s really nice when you become the idea of what a woman looks like. That’s what happens when you are like the image of a woman. When your hair is too blond and you wear too much make up, you become a parody of a woman and taken for a man and then the circle is closed in a way. If you feel like an object you have in either way a freedom to objectify others.
AU: That’s really interesting. I think it’s fun to objectify myself and you shouldn’t necessarily pity people who become objectified. For me it is sexual, I like being a sex object. I think I see things better from that position. It’s about you and me choosing to play with different roles in certain contexts. One’s sexuality can be so many things and there is an immense strength in that.
Without me even noticing it time had run out and they all had to go back to their different lives. Spending time with them made me think about me as a woman and how important it is to be true to yourself as a human being. Before we went our separate ways we took each other’s pictures, and here is the result.
Sara Litzén studies fashion at Stockholm University.