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‘He is the Subject, he is the Absolute- she is the Other.’ (de Beauvoir 1997: 16) Reading further into the Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes about women being an extension of a man, “thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him.” (de Beauvoir, 1997: 16) De Beauvoir’s main argument is
that men basically repress women by portraying them as the Other, defined entirely in opposition to them. Man is the
role of the subject and woman is the object or the other. John Berger also had similar claims in his book, Ways of Seeing, ‘Women
are depicted in quite a different way from men — not because the feminine is different
from the masculine — but because the ‘ideal’ spectator is always assumed to be
male and the image of the woman is designed to flatter him.’ (Berger, 1972: 64)
Berger’s comments imply that man is thought to automatically be the lead and
woman would follow, similar to de Beauvoir’s theories. The Second Sex provides insight into the
thoughts of a woman in the late 1940’s, in particular to how she saw herself in
contrast to a man. Has anything happened to change these thoughts since then? The
feminist art movement of the 1970’s is a prime example of how women tried to
change the imbalance of genders.

 

In
the 1970s, women photographers and artists began to create work as a visual response to what
they thought it meant to be a woman. Did the feminist art movement of the
1970’s have any impact on how women were seen in the art industry? An article
by Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic magazine suggests that is not the case. Titled
‘Art by Women Sells for 47.6% Less Than Works by Men’, Sutton’s article points
to a study by the University of Luxembourg that found that art by women is
continuing to be undervalued. The study included analysis of auction data discovered
that perception of an artists’ gender regularly affects how their work is
valued. “Crunching
numbers from 1.5 million auction results between 1970 and 2013, representing
works by 62,665 artists, the researchers arrived at a mean auction
price of $48,212 for works by male artists and $25,262 for works by
female artists.” (Hyperallergic, 2017). This is a staggeringly huge difference of
nearly double the amount between the sales of male and female artists’ work. These
figures seem to reflect the views of the Verbund website, “To date, the important Feminist
Avant-Garde movement, a term which was coined by founding director Gabriele
Schor, has attracted little interest in the history of art.” (Verbund, 2017). An exhibition of the
Sammlung Verbund collection held in Vienna documenting the previous works of
feminist artists in the 1970’s was the subject of editor and curator Gabriele
Schor’s book, The Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970’s, Schor states “Women
artists made works that were provocative and radical, poetic and ironic. They
questioned the one dimensional roles of mother, homemaker, and wife imposed on
women and devised forms of representation in which the- often naked- female
body was neither a natural fact nor a sexual object but, in the performative
act, a work of art.” (Schor, 2016: 13) Schor explains the female artists of the time made work to challenge the
stereotypes of the female image in the eyes of men during that time. Women
were continuing to be overshadowed by men as Liz Wells states in The
Photography Reader “Feminism, in the 1970’s challenged patriarchal values
within liberalism and within Marxism, thereby clearly contributing to critique
of totalising theory. However, debates within postmodernism continued to be
largely dominated by masculine voices and perspectives.” (Wells, 2003: 149) Wells
creates a good point arguing that whilst feminism in the 1970’s tried to
challenge the views of society at that time, masculine views dominated over the
work feminists tried to create.

 

FIGURE ONE

Guerrilla
Girls, 1989. Do women have to be naked to
get into the MET museum?

 

As
illustrated in figure one, nearly 20 years after the feminist avant garde
movement the image by the Guerrilla Girls called Do women have to be naked to get
into the MET museum? states less than 5% of the artists in the modern art
sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female pointing out yet another
fact backing up de Beauvoir’s theory that women are objectified and seen less
than men. John Berger’s Ways of Seeing also notes “She is not naked as she is.

She is naked as the spectator sees her.” (Berger, 1972:50) Berger studies many
art works in which females appear nude, adding that females who are depicted
nude are judged upon their so-called vanity. “The mirror was often used as a
symbol of the vanity of woman. The moralizing, however, was mostly
hypocritical.” (Berger, 1972:51) Woman was created in many images as vain by
many artists, Berger is keen to point out, “You painted a naked woman because
you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and called the
painting Vanity thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had
depicted for your own pleasure.” (Berger 1972:51) This notion was challenged
during the 1970’s as part of the feminist avant garde movement, women were keen
to claim back their own bodies and create a new image for themselves.

 

FIGURE TWO

Sherman, C. 1977. Untitled Film Still #3.

 

Cindy Sherman is a prime example of the feminist avant garde movement of the 1970’s, challenging the stereotypes of women within her images. These images, in particular highlighted within Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, are reflective of the scenes from 1950s and 60s Hollywood. The stereotypes from
Sherman’s work have been created with the huge amount of makeup Sherman used, bullet
bras and the high heels indicate back to the Hollywood of the 1950’s instead of
the natural appearance preferred in the 1970’s. Margaret
Iversen states ‘Sherman’s photographs present the female body in the third
person: “she” poses as object of the gaze in relation to “he”, actively taking
up a passive, exhibitionist aim’ (Iversen 1988: 57). This construes that
Margaret Iversen thinks Cindy Sherman is permitting herself to become an object
of the male gaze by posing for these photographs in this specific way as she is
underlining the stereotypes, for example a simple housewife or using the female
body as a sexual object. In Laura Mulvey’s A Phantasmagoria of the
Female Body, Mulvey notes that “Sherman-the-model dresses up into character,
while Sherman-the-artist reveals her character’s masquerade.” (Mulvey, 1991:3) Mulvey
is suggesting that there are two sides to Cindy Sherman when creating her Untitled
Film Stills, a model and an artist and both have different roles to play within
the work. In 1975, Laura
Mulvey wrote an essay called ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in this
essay she understands two pleasures of looking, Scopophilia and Voyeurism.

These pleasures of looking were predominantly concentrated on the two genders,
active meaning male and passive meaning female. This showing that Cindy Sherman
has depicted her untitled film stills as passive females as they never look exactly
at the camera. In David Bates’ book, Photography: the key concepts, he states ‘The narrative, Mulvey argues, stops when a woman appears on screen,
so that there is a division of labour between man and action, women and display,
narcissism/exhibitionism’. (Bates 2016: 220) This means that Mulvey has recognised a noticeable gap between men and women, and Mulvey’s central argument is that Hollywood films use women to direct
a pleasurable visual experience for men. Cindy
Sherman is also featured within the Feminist Avant Garde of the 1970’s book
edited by Gabriele Schor in which Schor speaks of Cindy Sherman, “Sherman’s art
is a dazzling kaleidoscope, unfolding a variety of female identities amid which
the authentic person disappears. Such camouflage of the self may be read as an
act of subversive resistance against the straightjacket of one-dimensional
identities.” (Schor, 2016:456) Schor notes that Cindy Sherman includes many
identities within her work and displays them for her audience, giving more than
a one-dimensional view to her images.

FIGURE
THREE

Calypso, J.

 

Comparing
the avant garde to contemporary photography, Girl on Girl, Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze, a book by Charlotte Jansen, examines how women are using the
internet and in particular photography to uncover feminism and concerns of
female identity, and the influence that this is having on modern art. Forty
artists feature in the book, one being contemporary
photographer Juno Calypso, who is seeking to challenge the feminine ideal. (Time,
2017) Comparisons with Juno Calypso and Cindy Sherman are constant, with
Calypso’s work reflecting Sherman’s, in an extract from Girl on Girl by
Charlotte Jansen, Juno Calypso says “Working as an artist, it is interesting to
interpret my work in relation to that of other artists, but there is no direct
parody or pastiche”. (Jansen, 2017:112) Whilst similarities can be seen between
Calypso and Sherman, Calypso’s work also has its own contemporary take
including physical masks unlike the metaphorical ones used in Cindy Sherman’s
work. It seems that even though it has been almost 40 years after Cindy
Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills, the irony within the images by Sherman and
Calypso’s goes unnoticed by the mainstream population in particular, men. An
article in which an interview occurs with Juno Calypso, she states “They don’t
think women are funny, they don’t think women are capable of irony, they just
think women are silly and self-destructive.” (Studio International, 2017)
Calypso is talking about critics responding to her work and claiming that it is
misogynistic, however they are incapable of picking up the irony behind her
work. From an interview with Alexandra Genova for Time Magazine, Calypso says “Before, women were trapped in the
kitchen and they could slam the door and run away and leave. But now we’re sort
of trapped in our own bodies and there’s no escape from it.”  (Time, 2017) Juno Calypso makes a good point
here with a contemporary perspective that due to the extensive progression of
the internet and female portrayal in the media that women cannot escape their
objectification by men and the “feminine ideal”.

 

Looking further into
the contemporary perspective, feminism has been transformed more recently as a “fourth
wave” feminism has developed with technology and associated platforms such as
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. In an article by Emily Steer for Voice
Magazine, Steer writes about a journalist, Suzanne Moore, speaking at Bath
Literature Festival. Steer says, “Like the weather, the internet is an unpredictable
force of both good and bad, creating a space for vicious, anonymous misogyny,
but also creating a space for women to protest back. She pointed out that the
root causes aren’t created by the internet, but that the internet just provides
a platform for feelings that might have been present in society before, just
not so explicitly expressed.” Steer has noted that the internet has helped misogynists
spread their prejudice against women to a wider audience, but it has also
helped feminists do the same in order to argue back for equality of the sexes,
whilst this has been present before the invention of the internet it has made a
wider audience range become available for both parties. For example, a campaign
called This Girl Can was started in 2015, funded by the National Lottery and developed
Sport England as a platform to overcome the stigma attached to women and sport
as women have thought to fear judgement over playing sport, whether that be
over their confidence in how they look, having the skills to play, being fit
enough or the right size. The campaign’s website features several pages linking
social media platforms, further spreading the campaign to a wider audience. Another
campaign launched by Always, #LikeAGirl and became a huge success after
becoming viral on the internet. The campaign aimed to highlight the stigma
around the phrase “Like a girl”, the videos were viewed more than 90 million
times on YouTube. The HeforShe campaign also highlighted the aim for both men
and women to become equals, with famous faces backing the campaign, social media became a huge driving
force behind it Similar to this, according to the Guardian newspaper, “Facebook
caved in to pressure last week and promised to “do better” to tackle anti-women hate
pages on its site. A campaign by three women succeeded where many previous
efforts had failed, forcing Facebook to take action over content celebrating
rape and domestic violence.” (The Guardian, 2013) This is a huge step forward
for women all over the world as more companies should follow in Facebook’s
steps to tackle hate and content fuelling misogyny. Social media has helped
feminism take a huge step forward
for women all around the world with celebrities

 

 

 

To conclude, it
seems not that much has exactly changed within the industry of art and
photography in terms of men viewing women as an object since de Beauvoir wrote
The Second Sex and it seems to have been enhanced further with the invention of
the internet and social media. Contemporary works of artists like Juno Calypso
try to challenge stereotypes of women being an extension of a man. Yet as
included in recent articles, not many people seem to understand the irony
behind works such as Juno Calypso and Cindy Sherman. With the progression of
the internet and social media, images are much more widely accessible today and
in turn it has been made easier to make women sexualised within this imagery.

In The Photographic Image Daniel Rubinstein Katrina Sluis say “Online, there is
no point at which the image ends; rather, there is an endless succession of
temporary constellations of images held together by a certain correlation of metadata,
distribution of pixels.” The idea made by Rubinstein and Sluis is that once an
image is online it cannot be removed, it will always be somewhere on the
internet and multiplies constantly. Therefore, images that appear on the
internet will be seen forever and will continue to have an audience for decades
to come, resulting in the images as a part of this essay will be shared wider
with a future audience.

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