Tag Archives: Gender

Reading magazines: A poem by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

I am in the kitchen, dressed all in black

My feet on fire and flailing; running up slippery staircases

Because a job is a job.

A single lingering fingertip; a tap, a knock, a pinch

Of my skin. Reminds me that you think me inferior.

“But cheer up, it might never happen.

Are you dirty enough between the sheets?”

 

I am walking down the street, being rained on

By a constant hiss- the pluck of thirsty lips

That hunts my own body for kicks.

 

“Clever little girl.

He’s a lad, it’s a laugh- we didn’t mean to cause any offence,

She’s a slut, she’s a wench- don’t take it personally.

Don’t be frigid.”

 

You don’t need to be a misogynist to be a man.

 

“But she’s a bitch, she was asking for it-

Did she drink too much, was she wearing a skirt?”

I cut my hair short regardless of my sexuality,

Maybe being a lesbian isn’t solely for your voyeuristic pleasure,

I am sick and tired of imaging if it were my sister, my daughter, my mother:

 

It is me.

 

“Lighten up, get over it.”

 

“I’d smash her back doors in, I’d pound her pussy.

Keep calm and rape on.

You wanted it because you didn’t explicitly say no.

If you’re happy and you know it show us your tits.

Make her a sex addict.

Very capable woman, if such a thing exists.

Women’s Running; lose weight, look good.

Men’s Running: get strong, run faster, be a better athlete.

She’s probs a dyke.”
Boobs are not news.

 

I am in the kitchen, dressed all in black.

My feet on fire and flailing; running up glass staircases

Because a job is a job.

Yet, we are so much more capable-

 

Than just being looked at.

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Gwen John- A glance at a private painting by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

Gwen John (22 June 1876 – 18 September 1939) was a Welsh artist often cited as a classical example of a woman artist in a male-dominated environment. The focus has frequently been invested in her private life, focusing on her isolation and personal relationships.  During 1895 to 1898, John studied at the Slade School of Art alongside her brother Augustus. The Slade School was said to welcome women students with a degree of equality, allowing her to make an independent career. In 1898 John made her first visit to Paris where she studied under James McNeill Whistler at the Académie Carmen. John settled in Paris in 1904, painting three-quarter length portraits of young women and girls seated in bare domestic interiors. The subjects are often slightly off-centre or leaning, half-way between sitting and standing. Distinct details of dress or background are obscure, with the unity of surface and depth acting as the principle harmonizing components of the paintings. Features of her work such as extreme delicacy of coloring were also often taken as ‘feminine’ yet; as David Fraser Jenkins argues they could also apply to an artist such as Seurat with no such concentration on gender.[1]

It has been argued that John had no interest in political issues and her withdrawal from society signified a withdrawal from the avant-garde groups invested in the expressing experiences of modernity. Suzi Gablick argues that her work expresses, “a dedicated concentration, a private incandescence of spirit that is enthralling.”[2] However, during her years in Paris she met many of the celebrated artistic personalities of her time such as Matisse, Picasso and Rainer Maria Rilke and had an affair with the sculptor Rodin.  John exhibited in Paris in 1919 at the Salon d’Automne yet only had one solo exhibition during her lifetime, in London in 1926.  As David Peters Corbett states, she was the artist “responsible for defining a poetics of the privatisation of modernity.”[3]

Gwen John’s Nude Girl is a three-quarter length portrait of a young girl in what appears to be a domestic interior.  The composition of this piece is stark in its simplicity; the figure dominates the entire canvas in front of a plain background. This minimal setting gives no indication of biographical details or context, directing the attention solely on to the naked body and the character of the model Fenella Lovell. According to Carol Duncan, the representation of the nude female body during John’s lifetime was not ideologically neutral, but instead “when an artist had some new or major artistic statement to make, when he wanted to authenticate to himself or others his identity as an artist, or when he wanted to get back to “basics” he turned to the nude.”[4]

John’s model looks directly into the eyes of the spectator; her features are distinctive and individualistic. This gaze aligns the spectator to the position of the artist meaning we become involved in a human exchange. We acknowledge her humanity, her sociability, her personality. Her back is upright and dominant against the chair, instead of lying down submissively, yet her shoulders are hunched slightly inwards, her hands are clasped together defensively and placed across her body in front of her crotch, acting as a direct barrier. The hand also pins down the piece of fabric, as if she is preventing it from falling down entirely.  This fabric appears transitional, between modesty and exposure. It makes the figure look vulnerable and uncertain, caught between two contradictory gestures.

The effect is paradoxical, the figure is both monumental and static, but her movements are vulnerable and defensive.  This emotional aspect is highlighted by the de-saturated tonal colours and textural brushstrokes, which are used as a way of expressing the volume of the body rather than as a mode of self-expression. The more you look at this portrait, the more unsettling and challenging it becomes; a potential refusal of the female nude body as an ideological site of masculine sexuality.

Image

Gwen John, Nude Girl, 1909-10


[1] David Fraser and Lisa Tickner, Lisa Gwen John and Augustus John (London: Tate Publishing, 2004) p.35

[2] Jenkins, p.35

[3] Lisa Tickner, Gwen John and Augustus John, p.97

[4] Duncan, p.98

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Gender and Movement: Sincerely Hana by Hana Pesut

I have been reading a lot of Judith Butler recently which has led me to thinking about gender and the way we navigate and experience our bodies. The way we move, the way we walk, how we feel when we open our mouths and the words tumble out. I’ve always believed, and still do, that gender is a social construction. As a woman, I am taught to be pretty, to be delicate and gentle. Remember girls, it is not very lady-like to go stomping around heavy footed, legs akimbo with a wide gait. Of course that is a difference experience to living in a male body. Furthermore, how does the pressure of the patriarchy affect the way we move as women? When I am out say in a club, or at a bar, then I am aware that my body, and movements, are being watched and judged. I am aware women’s bodies have been seen purely as sexual objects for centuries. That has infiltrated into my conscious and made me more likely to stick my hips out in a ‘feminine’ manner or cross my legs politely.

An art project posted at Sincerely Hana by Hana Pesut explores ideas about gender and movement. Men and women change outfits and are photographed. It is interesting to see how the clothes affect the movement of the models. Their poses change instantly, the men sticking their hips out or the women crossing their arms. Is gender just a piece of clothing? A fabric that can be taught, be glued together, be learnt and be experienced?

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The Trope of the Body and its Gendered Representations- PART TWO by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

The 1975 work of Carolee Schneemann Interior Scroll was performed in East Hampton, New York and at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. This conceptual piece saw Schneemann standing naked on a table and covering her body ritualistically in mud. She then proceeded to slowly extract a paper scroll from her vagina whilst reading from it. In this piece, Schneemann is performer, subject and artist, both the image itself and the maker of the image. By using her own body in performance, she dismantles and challenges conventional masculine ideologies, contemplating the objective of her work as “the need to see, to confront sexual shibboleths.”[1]

Schneemann faced criticism for being overtly erotic, borderline obscene and narcissistic but these are the taboos she wishes to address and destabilize in this piece, resisting dominant paradigms of patriarchal thought by presenting the internal image of the female genetalia. In stark opposition to Titian’s Venus Pudica gesture, here the act of the scroll being pulled from the most internalized space of the female body denies the historical restriction that has persistently denied, hidden and refused to depict even the external image of the vagina and therefore, female sexuality. This exposure resists covering the void left by this omission in the conventional canon of academic, ‘high’ art.

In Freudian terms, the female body becomes a source of anxiety for the masculine viewer due to the lack of a phallus. Therefore, the female body becomes a representative of castration and domination, fetishized and defined as ‘Other’ by this phallic lack.[2] When Schneemann pulls this scroll out of her ‘lack’, she blankly refuses to be dominated. The scroll comes from within the vagina, the internalized female space which Schneemann views as “a sculptural form, an architectural referent, the sources of sacred knowledge, ecstasy, birth passage, transformation.”[3]

Furthermore, the control of the gaze renders a person capable to objectify and dominate the subject of the gaze. As we have noted in Titian’s Reclining Venus, the complicit and flirtatious outward gaze of Venus invites the masculine spectator to fantasize about her naked body. Schneemann’s scroll, however, acts as a physical object of otherness which has the power to disrupt the masculine controlling gaze. The action and removal of this object becomes the centralised focus of the gaze, controlled and created by Schneemann herself, so that her female body is no longer an objectified site for fetishization or sexual invitation. Interior Scroll breaks conventional parameters constructed to confine and control the feminine and refuses assimilation into dominant masculine theories and ideologies projected and elevated to the realm of art. Schneemann emphatically makes visible the invisible. The bodies we live, breath, sleep and eat in are not always perfect and flawless, polished and perfected but can very well be, “defiling, stinking, contaminating.”[4] Her work is not obscene or narcissistic but opposes restricting gender binaries by what has previously been omitted- the actual living experience of sexuality in a female body.

 www.caroleeschneemann.com


[1] Carolee Schneemann, “The Obscene Body/Politic.” Art Journal 50 (winter 1991):  p. 28-35: p.31

[2] Sigmund Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex. (New York: E.P Dutton and Co, 1962).

[3] Carolee Schneemann, “The Obscene Body/Politic.” Art Journal 50 (winter 1991):  p. 28-35: p.33

[4] Carolee Schneemann, “The Obscene Body/Politic.” Art Journal 50 (winter 1991):  p. 28-35: p.28

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The Trope of the Body and its Gendered Representations- PART ONE by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

“Our understanding of the body, our reading of it, is only possible with a concurrent reading and understanding of gender.”[1] The construction of the naked female body in the history of Western art has created a social and cultural emphasis on difference and gender. This female body when translated into the language of art is no longer simply ‘naked’ but elevated to the higher, superior status of the ‘nude’. However, the gestures and attributes of the female nude are often idealised, flawless and perfected (or on the other hand, monstrous and grotesque) working as a site for the masculine gaze, for fantasy, desire and fetishization. The Venus Pudica is a classical figural pose that has been passed down in the history of art and has worked to create an ideological notion of ‘femininity’ and the ‘feminine.’ This gesture sees a naked female with one hand covering the vagina, drawing the spectator’s eye to the point being hidden. Therefore, is this gesture covering or pointing- is it inviting the masculine gaze or endowing the female body with shame?

Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538, is perhaps one of the most famous examples of the Venus Pudica pose, although here we see her reclining horizontally instead of vertically. It is possible to note many iconographical features in this allegorical painting- the notion of loyalty and fidelity expressed the depiction of a dog connoting marital love and desirability, however, what is most apparent is the use of the Venus Pudica pose, her left hand placed over her groin that transforms the spectator into a voyeur. Venus gazes directly into the eyes of the viewer, a slight, flirtatious smile playing across her face. She becomes the object of the gaze, her central position and dominance of the frame inviting the (masculine) viewer to fantasise about her unblemished, sexually clean body. The gaze focuses ultimately on the covering hand, inviting the masculine imagination to contemplate what we do not see. What we do not see becomes eroticised, the image of the vulva itself. There is a complete blank denial of the female form, it is simply erased and ignored. The female form is reduced to an object of masculine desire, a repository of male fantasy that does not express the daily reality of their bodies that women experience.

The female body is idealised and distorted, the clean, smooth perfection portrayed becomes naturalised. Women artists working in the 1970 saw this construction and representation of the classical body, of the Venus Pudica, of Titian’s erotic and sexually inviting Venus and worked to reclaim female subjectivity, taking the cultural heritage presented to them and attacking it, reversing it, using it for their own purpose.
Part Two will focus on a specific reading of an artwork that serves to  deconstruct this trope…. coming soon…. !

[1] Hilary Robinson, “Border Crossings:Womanliness, Body Representation” in New Feminist Art Criticism edited by Katy Deepwell (Manchester University Press, 1995) p. 138-146: p. 138

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