Women-led serials have been getting a lot of attention lately for bringing “the female gaze” to the small screen. Jill Soloway—the television auteur behind Transparent (Amazon, 2014–) and the recent adaptation of Kraus's novel, I Love Dick (Amazon, 2017–)—even taught a class on “The Female Gaze” at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, defining it as “an intersectional gaze” and “a SOCIOPOLITICAL justice-demanding way of art making.”
But the female gaze is actually a very vexed concept. Since it was first invoked via exclusion in Laura Mulvey's foundational “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in 1975, it has been haphazardly defined more often by what it is not than by what it is.
Three current series—I Love Dick, GLOW, and Insecure—all explore how women empower themselves through experiences of abjection: states of vexation and alienation that disrupt their expectations of or participation in social life. All three shows demand respect for their characters by figuring defeat, failure, and desperation as stages women must pass through to challenge patriarchal cultures. While all three shows feature diverse casts and strong female leads, I Love Dick and GLOW introduce characters of color only in supporting roles that contest but never destabilize the white protagonists' racial solipsism. This strategic but facile gesture reveals how far these shows have to go to confront the entangled injustices of social inequality. To incorporate the experiences and insights of women of color meaningfully, their creators would have to abandon the narrative commitments and familiar pleasures of white feminist television, which still needs to decenter whiteness both narratively and figuratively. Insecure's trenchant comedy thus provides a model for future feminist television. Its self-critical but antiracist humor challenges white feminism's and television's historic neglect of black women.