Wednesday, February 17, 2016

societal depictions of women

To be honest, I don't understand most of what Laura Mulvey is talking about in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema". The "male gaze" is something I had heard of before and I was interested in reading it in the original context of Mulvey's work, but I found the article to be hard to comprehend and the points didn't make much sense to me. In the article, she says: " psychoanalytic terms, the female figure poses a deeper problem. She also connotes something that the look continually circles around but disavows: her lack of a penis, implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure." I feel like this is completely ridiculous and I see no evidence for this anywhere- I guess I just think she should have explained the reasoning behind this more clearly. Another difficult aspect of the article for me was that I hadn't seen the films she analyzed in it, which made understanding her examples more difficult.
I liked Belle's talk about use of women in art. A lot of it related to things I had read in Ways of Seeing by John Berger in its explanation of early portrayal of women using a cultural emphasis on voyeurism. It's true that it's very rare to see pre-modern paintings with depicted women facing the "camera". The categories of mother, virgin, and sex object infiltrate more than just art; this trichotomy can be seen in advertisements and films as well, and it leads us to dismiss women by putting them in categories and refusing to acknowledge their personhood.
The "art or porn" question is also something I've thought about for a long time- it's probably just because I like drawing and painting a lot, but I don't think I've ever considered a drawing to be porn, no matter how sexually explicit it is. I think it's because I feel like it takes talent to create representational drawings, while anyone can point a camera at a subject and click the button. An interesting example of this dilemma is the Brooke Shields picture taken by Richard Price. The picture depicts Shields at age 10, made up and naked, and it was actually taken down from a gallery because it was deemed child porn- the interesting part is I think nobody would question its art-ness if it was of a grown woman. We define the boundaries of art and porn so loosely that we only create black and white lines when we are afraid of crossing into the realm of what society deems unacceptable.
Caroline Heldman's Ted Talk is okay- I think she lost me a little bit in the later part of the video (it got a little less interesting as time went on). The part that engaged me the most was her list of 7 ways to tell if an image treats a woman as a sexual object, including whether the picture shows the whole body, whether the picture treats the body as a canvas for advertising, or whether the body is a stand-in for a literal object. What I had a problem with was when she complained that society pretends there is empowerment in being a sexual object. I feel like this was an insult to female celebrities who show off their bodies a lot, which is something I wouldn't classify as consenting to being a sexual object. Embracing your sexuality and choosing to be a sexual woman is different from allowing yourself to be thought of as a sexual object, and this is a distinction Heldman never makes. I have never really heard of anyone arguing that it is empowering to be objectified, and I think Heldman is undermining women's ability to present themselves in whatever way they choose, whether it is sexual or non-sexual. It's okay to choose to be a sexual woman; it's not okay to be societally forced into being a sex object.

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