Feminism

Feminism theory arose from the theories of Marx about social class and inequality being created through society. What is feminism but merely an ideological construct created through binary opposition, seen as anything that is not masculine. These binary oppositions show up everywhere such as the difference between western and non western cultures. We make the orient to be a foreign exotic place when in reality this is just a cultural construction that is created throughout history. This idea of the orient can be related to the female figure with oriental sapphism where the women is seen as an object to the viewer as well as an object of eroticism. Females have been seen as inferior to males throughout history thus not receiving the same opportunities as males and used as merely an object to be looked upon by the male figure. The ideas of the gaze and feminism can be observed through the ideas of the psychoanalyst Lacan and Freud in relation to film as well as all forms of art. Once we truly understand the positioning of the female within the framework of the gaze we can switch the position of the female to the male.

Nochlin’s very influential essay on “why have there been no great woman artists” talks about how most feminist who try and answer this question in the long run usually just reinforce its negative implications. By saying woman are great in their own way is in itself expressing that there is a feminist style, thus exemplifying the fact that masculine and feminine art are two separate things. For example Georgia Okeefe painting flowers that resemble the female sex organ is giving into the split between masculine and feminine, Nochlin then asks what is this feminist style of art ? Well throughout history a feminist style would be perceived as delicate paintings with imagery of flowers and domestic life. However this subject matter that would be classified as feminine can be seen in many of the male artists of the time as well. This idea that the feminine styles can also be seen in the masculine works is reinforcing Nochlin’s ideas that their should be no split between what is masculine and what is feminine. Art is primarily determined great by its technical and formal qualities. Nochlin describes that the primary reason there are no great woman artists is because of the educational institutions favoring of males. The woman artists could not receive the proper training to excel in the technicalities of painting and thus not living up to the greatness of the male artists.

Rather then being the artist throughout history, the female usually is then placed in the role of the object being looked upon. In Laura Mulvey’s Essay she draws on the ideas of the psychoanalyst Freud and Lacan to describe how film puts the viewer, regardless of gender in a masculine viewing position with the female being an object of desire and eroticism. Film is a way to satisfy the pleasure we all get from looking at other people (scopophillia) Mulvey talks about how there are two ways that the male gaze performs, voyeuristic(Watching without being seen) and Fetishistic(focusing of erotic desire on some inanimate object with sexual connotations). In the movie Peeping Tom, the male character is seen as a voyeuristic gazer with pin ups and prostitutes as the primary subject of his gaze. Marks voyeurism stems from his own childhood trauma of being a subject of the gaze to his father. When the character Helenis introduced, we see a different form of feminity in which she refuses to be watched. Throughout the movie a masculine viewing position is taken, Marks. Mark kills the woman with the gaze demonstrating the objectivity of the female subject.

Once the gaze is understood artists begin to play with the positioning of the gaze with such artists as Mapplethorpe and Ana Mendieta. In Mapplethorpe’s work he positions the male as an object to be gazed upon. One example of this switch of gaze includes the portraits Mapplethorpe took of Arnold Schwarzenegger. However the switch in gaze isn’t the only way one demonstrates these ideas of feminism, the lack of gaze is even more impelling. Ana Mendicant was a famous earthwork artist whom played on the absence of woman from history by just leaving an imprint of the woman artist, refusing the gaze on her physical body.

Femininity is an ideological construct developed within society. When we perpetuate the stereotypes with such things as “feminist” art we just affirm the split of masculine and feminine. This split between masculine an feminine leads to the position of the female within society as being inferior thus not receiving the same training as men. Throughout history the woman has been an object to be looked upon. Woman have been positioned in film as the object of the Voyeuristic males gaze. Only when we can understand the positioning of the woman within the gaze can we switch the gaze onto another subject.

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