The Male Gaze is smashing the patriarchy with the power of rock

Photos by JP Talapian

What do you get when you put designer Mich Dulce (formerly from Death by Tampon and Us-2 Evil-0), filmmaker/writer Mariah Reodica (The Buildings, Brain Twins), guitarist Ymi Castel (Flying Ipis), and drummer Ristalle Bautista (Duster) together in a band? A sonic powerhouse of strong female personalities who kick ass at what they do.

The Male Gaze was formed last year, after Mich and Mariah were introduced by editor Erwin Romulo. “He set us up and he was like ‘If she was a bit older, she would’ve been in your band,’” says Mich. “When we met, we got along. It was magic. Parang Tinder date.”

It took a while before they were able to get Ymi and Ristalle on board, so it was only last December that they started practicing and writing songs together. Everyone brings something to the table in terms or writing, with Ymi and Mariah on guitar, Ristalle on drums, and Mich with vocals.  

From L-R: Ymi Castel (guitar), Mariah Reodica (guitar), Mich Dulce (vocals), Ristalle Bautista (drums)

Last January 25, they made their debut at the Scary January gig at Mow’s Bar in Diliman. We caught them at Matunog Studio beforehand for their rehearsal, and it was as if we jumped right into the action. All the members were decked out in girl scout uniforms sewn by Mich, complete with the whole shebang of white-collared blouses, yellow bows, and patch-adorned sashes (spot our favorites: “Keep your politics out of my uterus” and “My body is not public property”).

Amidst the tangle of wires and props, the band churned out hints of surf, punk, funk — adding in whatever they felt like adding, really. There was coordinated leaning, wild banana shaker-shaking, and screaming into a pink megaphone. One of their songs even sampled one of Duterte’s rape jokes.

It was loud. It was fun. It was… a lot. But it was also pretty amazing, given how, according to Mariah, the essence of The Male Gaze is all about having fun while still making enough noise to “break heteronormativity and sexism through form.”

Because of this, they put less concern on labels, and more emphasis on getting people to wake up, get out of their bubbles, and think about the issues they sing about, including everything from female orgasms to gender roles and perverts. Essentially, songs that make you feel empowered as a woman.

But with The Male Gaze, they only hope to help women find their own forms of feminism in their own ways and to open a more progressive discussion. They want women to know that it’s okay to fight for policy over their own bodies.

I think we’ve all kind been making music too long to make pa-cool,” says Mich. “We’re not in there to be like ‘let’s stick to this style.’ For example, I’ll be like, ‘let’s clap.’ […] Everyone just gives in if someone has a stupid request.”

The result is riot grrrl with the packaging of twee, but not in the deliberate sense. Mariah stresses that everything came together organically, thanks to their different band backgrounds and similar advocacies.  

And this works, given that they are aware of how feminism can be co-opted. But with The Male Gaze, they only hope to help women find their own forms of feminism in their own ways and to open a more progressive discussion. They want women to know that it’s okay to fight for policy over their own bodies.

 Case in point: When asked to describe their sound, they go through a number of options (“Dapat sobrang pretentious,” says Mich, laughing. “Yung parang ‘experimental feminist sentimental’…”) They almost settle on “Estrogen Rock,” but decide that it doesn’t consider women who don’t have high estrogen levels, so they junk it.

Grrrl Gang: The Male Gaze put less concern on labels, and more emphasis on getting people to wake up, get out of their bubbles, and think about the issues they sing about.

When the subject of female musicians in the local music scene comes up, the band is quick to debunk the suggestion that there aren’t many. “I’ve been going to gigs since I was 16 — and this doesn’t apply everywhere — but that’s where I saw that there are so many people doing their thing and not giving a fuck. Women whose energy makes you feel empowered because you see that there’s this space where you can do these things.”

“I think representation is important,” says Mariah. Citing LGBT documentary The Celluloid Closet as an example, she stresses that “it’s also important for women to see themselves represented onstage.” It is for that reason that they hope that The Male Gaze increases the visibility of female musicians locally.

Once the practice is over, they pack up and put the finishing touches on their uniforms, adding button pins and discussing their plans. Mich ends the interview with these parting words. “This is just one message. There are different ways to get a message across. There’s not just one way. I hope that people don’t discredit that. There are other ways. There’s art, there’s film, there’s music. For me, it would be great if other female (or male) musicians were like, “let’s write songs that are political”.  

This is The Male Gaze, and we’re glad we had a peek at how they plan to shake things up.  


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