Jill Soloway is not just "making television," as she said during her acceptance speech when she won the Emmy Sunday night for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series. She calls making Transparent "a revolution."
What is being hailed as one of the biggest moments of the night is what Soloway said during her speech: "Topple the patriarchy!"
After Soloway used the phrase, the camera shifted to a shot of the audience reacting, which showed a man rolling his eyes as Soloway voiced it. It echoes a talk Soloway gave weeks earlier during a master class at the Toronto International Film Festival, on the "female gaze." The talk centered on how the "female gaze" is about making objects into subjects, and she explained how male filmmakers make women into "objects" through their male gaze.
To put Soloway's theory on the "female gaze" to work on her own speech, she was speaking from her experience, her gaze, one could say. And yet that perspective cannot stand alone without being filtered through the eyes of a man -- in this case, a man who was sitting next to Patton Oswalt, clearly not into what Soloway was delivering onstage. He rolled his eyes as she said "Topple the patriarchy!" a second time, this time louder.
Moments later, Emmys host Jimmy Kimmel joked, "I'm trying to figure out if 'topple the patriarchy' is a good thing for me or not. I don't think it is." Though Kimmel was trying to get a laugh from the audience, he was not exactly joking.
But toppling the patriarchy is a good thing for men, according to Soloway. A radical feminist manifesto authored by Soloway and her girlfriend, the lesbian poet Eileen Myles, addressed men and how they are also affected negatively by the patriarchy. "We want to invite men to enthusiastically join us in the toppling of this artificial masculinist hierarchy. We know the current cultural, sociological, political, and spiritual expectations and definitions of maleness have robbed you of your manhood, of your strongest heart," the duo wrote in January.
During her speech, Soloway thanked Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO, for giving her a chance to create Transparent for Amazon. She told the audience she always wanted to be a part of something big.
"I always wanted to be part of a movement -- the civil rights movement, the feminist movement -- this TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes," she said.
But Soloway's message shouldn't be new to anyone who has been following her work. Yet it seems to have awakened the entertainment world to radical feminist thinking that doesn't usually get talked about in mainstream culture.
It's not just a catchy phrase that Soloway is repeating to follow a trend. Her production company, Topple, for example, takes its name from the phrase Soloway used at the Emmys. The manifesto Myles and Soloway authored, which can be found on ToppleThePatriarchy.com, calls for reparations for women and a 50-year ban on men making art. The duo wrote that the ban is necessary because it is the "only method through which we can experience what authentic female representation would truly look like." There's no doubt that her master class on the female gaze was influenced by coauthoring this manifesto.
Soloway maintains optimism about her efforts. During a talk with the feminist scholar bell hooks at the New School September 6, Soloway told the audience, "I live in a fantasy world where I believe the patriarchy will be toppled any minute now." Soloway is tireless in her efforts to make the patriarchy history, but in her pursuit of that goal, she's also making history, as the first person to call for the end of the patriarchy onstage at the Emmys.
Soloway is well-placed to advance this conversation. In addition to her success with Transparent, she has directed a pilot for Amazon, I Love Dick, an adaptation of the cult feminist novel written by Chris Kraus. Amazon users will vote on whether the service should pick up this or abother pilot to develop into a series -- the same process that led to Transparent becoming a series. Because of Soloway's platform in the entertainment world and her skill as a storyteller, she is able to bring conversations that many women are having about radical feminism and LGBT politics into the mainstream. In doing so, she can bring more women and more LGBT people with her.