Read all about it

The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Speaking of bodies

There is a debate occurring on the internet. That isn't news. Neither is the subject matter of the debate. It concerns women, their bodies and objectification of same. The objectification of women and their presentation as naked subjects for consumption by the male gaze has been going on for hundreds of years. It's been given various names over time such as "art", "porn", "comics", "lap dancing" and many more besides. Traditionally it's worked like this: women were represented (or presented) by men for men, whether as artists' models, employees or made up imaginary women that only ever existed in the progenitors head. Women had very little input in the process or the output, so the theory goes, they were just there.

Now, things are a little different. Alongside all the rest, we now also have women making representations of women for the consumption of others, including (but not exclusively) women. Take Katie West, who I'm using as an example because her recent post is the subject of debate on Penny Red's blog. In a nutshell (although please read the links as I'm paraphrasing for brevity) someone wrote a nasty note to Katie West complaining about the submission inherent in her work and stating that, because of this, she was not a positive role model for young women. Penny Red, whilst acknowledging the bile in the note and saying some interesting points, admits to sympathising with this position - because she believes that such representations of self-objectification contribute towards the unpleasant societal attitude that makes a woman's body more important than the woman herself.

Which it might well do, but that is a societal prejudice that needs to be dealt with by society at large, not by castigating individual female artists who want to portray their own bodies in their own way. The problem is not just about women and their bodies. It's about women and how they are seen as representing themselves. When a man does something it is not considered as representative of his gender. He's just a person doing something. When a woman does something she is a flagship of womanhood, held up for all to see as an example of how all women act. And that's the real problem - the real tension that underlies these arguments - that each woman in the public sphere is somehow held accountable not just to herself, her own wants and desires, but to every woman. How ridiculous is that and how outlandishly old fashioned? And yet this is what is happening in the mind of whoever wrote that original note. The idea that one woman's decision to produce so-called "objectified" images of herself on the internet reflects upon all women, upon all women's bodies.

Obviously, women should not be defined by just their bodies. Equally, neither should women be told what they can and can't do with them, even if it upsets other women, even if it upsets other feminists. Take me, for example. I enjoy sexual objectification, it gets me off, it makes me hot. I love images of it, especially ones that include me. I write publicly about it. The reason I did it was because I wanted to and because I enjoyed it. I'm interested in what it says about me, what it says about those who interact with me and what people think about why I did it. And I'm a feminist.

If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution.


Mark said...

I deal with this one quite often, usually I deal with it in a 'feck off' kind of way, and sometimes I feel like educating the ignorant.
Terms like 'artistic representation' and 'freedom of artistic expression' are a general kick-off, followed by such gems as 'a womans right to freely express herself however she chooses' being connected with the ultimate goal of feminism as I understand it. How can I understand it? I'm a man? see above, 'feck off'.

electronic doll said...

True, hadn't thought about how a male artist might receive criticism like this (though I doubt anyone is expecting you to represent all male views on the subject).

Do you get similar grief with work where the models are male?

Mark said...

My photos of females in bondage attract the most criticism, not done alot of male bondage and no negative comments so far.

An interesting note in point is that I hear alot of women shouting about respecting female models in the comments on various websites (deviantArt is a good case in point), which I am all for, when I show a photo of a female nude I consider it a piece of art, I don't want to see comments about the desirability of her boobs. However when I showed around some male nudes a few months ago I got alot of comments about the desirability of various parts of his anatomy, and from some of the same people demanding respectful comments on female nudes.
Those double standards really pissed me off for a few weeks.

Starting off on my own little rant there, so... No, most people love the work I do with women, occasionally a misguided feminist takes issue with my demeaning of women, never had a guy say anything of that nature about my work with men.

electronic doll said...

Yes, I remember you saying about how annoyed you were on about the comments you received on the male nudes.

Certainly if these were pieces in a gallery or similar, they probably wouldn't attract those types of comments - did anyone ever stand in front of "David" and go phwoar? so perhaps it is to do with context?

There is a real lack of both decent male art and decent porn of men for women, so that might be one reason why reactions are so conflated - we have such a limited range of images of men that we perhaps don't have the visual toolkit to actually being able to contexualise them as "art", "porn" etc?

Similarly, most of the time when we see images of naked and semi-naked men they are being used in advertising as "attractive bodies to be desired".

I'm not saying that the comments you received were not inappropriate, just that might be the reason why.