Gentlewoman tells a story about a male ballet dancer taking part in a dance audition held by Jolin Tsai. This music video can be divided into two sections to make an argument that it constructs a new gender identity in two steps. Firstly, it deconstructs the most conventional patriarchal system. Secondly, it dissolves the concept of gender binary and puts forward a new idea of gender identity.
In history, what early feminists most concerned themselves with were gender order and the differences between men and women. Different schools of feminists took different approaches to challenge the conventional patriarchal system that men dominated everything including women. This music video proposes a deconstruction of the phallocentric system.
According to film theorist Laura Mulvey, the classical Hollywood phallocentric cinema mode makes women become passive ‘being looked’ objects and men who held the dominant discourse form an active ‘male gaze’ role in the cinema. The camera to attract audiences’ attention usually captured women body figures. However, in this music video, we can see that the direction of the ‘gaze’ has been reversed—the gaze is from female to male. Jolin, as the dancing judge, held the dominated power. The male dancer’s body figures like muscles and countenance have been exposed under the close-up shots and extremely close-up shots. Jolin’s corporeal and facial images, in contrast, are inscribed by backlight that makes her images become vague and mysterious. Besides, in traditional narration, women are weak and passive and waiting for men’s salvation. Men would do sadism on women to eliminate their castration fear. However, from these two scenes, we can see that Jolin entering into the male’s world in an active, controlling and dominating position.
Nevertheless, postmodern feminists criticize early feminists’ challenges on patriarchal system as what they have done just reconfirms a gender binary. In postmodern feminist views, all the dual structures including the concept of men and women, high hierarchy and low hierarchy, powerful and weak, masculine and feminine attributes are problematic. We argue that this music video, in fact, does not simply reverse the traditional male discourse and so confirm the gender binary. In contrast, it produces a new gender identity throughout dissolving the gender binary.
First, as we have mentioned, postmodern feminists stress unfixed identity. They emphasized the process, the instability and transformative acts of gender identity. This can be found in Jolin’s video through study of the dancer and singer-dancer.
The male ballet dancer wears only knickers and a suspender belt with black stocking, and dances and stretches his body softly and tenderly. This image is clearly a feminized male. By contrast, Jolin, the female singer-dancer, covers her body with metal bra and leather gloves, looks like a masculinized female. At first, they dance separately; gradually, they start to dance together and finally camera switches between them showing the likeness of their body figures and movements. The images of them even coincide in a shot.
The sequence indicates that the binary of gender is not absolute but relative. Both males and females can have the characteristics of the other sex. Also, the gender difference between males and females may be less than the gender similarity between them. The identity of female and male may coincide into one under some circumstance.
Second, there are lots of shots about mirrors. People use mirrors to observe themselves, find out what they look like and who they are. . The two actors use mirrors to inspect their looking and body figures. The song sings “for imitation and for what has lost” when Jolin looks at herself in the mirrors.
These elements show the instability and uncertainty during the process of seeking and developing one’s gender identity. In post-modern context, gender is no longer fixed, individuals have their freedom, and also the need, to identify their own genders. Since gender is a construct, everyone can have their own special gender. A person may form a certain idea of her gender and wants to realize it on herself, so she behaves in accordance with the idea. But she needs to observe herself, reflects on her gender identity as is shown through her body and behavior, and then make necessary adjustment to build her gender identity as what she likes. The dancer and singer in MV can be seen as seeking their gender identity through practice.
Thirdly, this music video dissolves the gender binary by conducting gender parody. Gender parody is a good manner dissolves gender binaries because it challenges the structure of a fixed and unchangeable identity. It makes the recognition of the mimicry at the base of any structure of identity, and the absence of any authentic source.
Gender parody is a way of gender performance. According to Judith butler, gender is not natural. Gender roles are constructed by society. Masculinity and feminity are not inherent. It is just culture coerces you to conduct that gender performance. Butler argued that gender is performative: we are not just acting it like in a performance but rather actively constructing it as we act it out. It is real only to the extent that it is performed. If we refuse to perform our gender script, then gender will cease to exist. There are no fixed feminine and masculine attributes that women cannot wear suits and men cannot wear underwear and high heels. Nothing is natural or inborn but you decide who you want to become and how your body performs.
In conclusion, throughout the process of performance, self-reflections, gender parody, and literary expressions, this music video embodies a new idea of gender identity. In postmodern society, everyone can have his or her own gender identity. Gender is an individual thing. We have the freedom to construct our own gender through personal development. We adjust our gender idenity in the process through reflection on our selves. Gender is plastic. In this video, Jolin first conceives a new idea of her own gender. Then she acts and dances in accordance with this idea to rebuild her gender identity. In this process, she observes herself, reflects and then adjust the idea to construct the gender identity that is suitable for her.