The Daily Beast ran an article earlier today exploring the phenomenon of young female models who don’t shy away from their same-sex romantic relationships in public.
It was titled: “Cara Delevingne, Ireland Baldwin, and How Sexually Uninhibited Models Are Bucking the Male Gaze.”
The lede read: “Cara Delevingne and Karlie Kloss have matching tattoos and kiss on the mouth. In a fashion industry geared toward turning straight men on, these models are bucking the male gaze.”
And the photo was this YSL ad featuring Cara and Ondria Hardin:
So like, let’s unpack all the things that are wrong here slowly and with care.
First of all, the queer community at large would likely have some issues with female queerness being equated with being “sexually uninhibited.” There are lots of sexually inhibited queer women. Just because you’ve decided that you’re attracted to a non-hetero situation doesn’t mean you’re a free-loving orgy mistress.
Second of all, popular, famous models embracing their sexual fluidity is a huge deal — but certainly not because it “bucks the male gaze.” In fact, framing their fluidity in terms of the male gaze is literally part of the problem you’re claiming it bucks. The reason it’s a big deal has nothing to do with men. The reason it’s a big deal is because it shows female queerness and/or fluidity as a legitimate option, both as a role model to other potentially queer/fluid young people and as a “hello, this exists and it’s real” to the people who think it’s bullshit.
Third of all, that YSL makeup ad is absolutely geared towards men and making women marketable to The Male Gaze. “Hey ladies, are you sexually uninhibited enough to make out with your hot blonde best friend in order to get your man off? If not, don’t worry. Buy this sassy makeup and create the illusion that you are!” That is literally the message being conveyed by that image.
Fourth of all, “Cara Delevingne and Karlie Kloss have matching tattoos and kiss on the mouth”? A) Cara Delevingne and Karlie Kloss do not have matching tattoos. Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn have matching tattoos. And B) Cara Delevingne and Karlie Kloss pecked on the mouth in greeting once. They do not have an “ambiguously sexual” relationship. Karlie Kloss has a boyfriend and Cara Delevingne was dating actress Michelle Rodriguez but the couple has since split. So while her sexuality may be fluid, there’s nothing “ambiguous” happening here.
Yes, it is really excessively fantastic that Cara Delevingne and Ireland Baldwin — who make a living being beautiful and a brand of being stylish — are diverse in their sexual expression. But that’s not about men. It isn’t a “fuck you” to The Male Gaze because it isn’t about men. Pop Quiz: is it about men? If you answered no, then you’ve earned a score of 100%. It’s about two individual, but highly visible women shaking of the reins of heteronormativity in an industry where that’s uncommon. It’s to be celebrated because they’re setting what is ultimately a pretty brave example casually and without fanfare. They’re effectively saying that it’s cool if you, sixteen-year-old girl, find another sixteen-year-old you want to swap soft lady kisses with on Insta. It’s cool if you used to do that with boys, it’s cool if she’s the only one you ever do it with, and it’s cool if you exclusively do it with girls for the rest of your Instagram-loving life.
It is so. Not. About. Men.