This piece is a personal reflection on how my immediate circles are microcosms of the social sphere. I believe I have been influenced by the white, male dominated society that has historically, sexualized women. Because I am visibly female, I feel pressured to comply to these social standards and expectations. Women’s sexuality is marketed for the male viewer. She is meant to pleasure her man. I am meant to pleasure my viewers.
Over the past 4 years, I’ve studied many feminist artworks that involve nudity, and wonder if they (the artist or subject presenting their nude body) could ever successfully challenge the male gaze.
An argument is that since these artworks are produced by the feminine eye (instead of by a male artist), it challenges the objectification and allows women to embody their own narrative, create their own identity.
Honestly, I’m still unsure on whether or not exercising the female nude as a woman artist challenges the male gaze, but I’ve become aware that taking ownership of my femininity and sensuality feels damn empowering – especially when female pleasure/reproductive health etc. are censored or hidden from direct view.
Lesbianism: a political movement where women seek empowerment through female interactions/relations; also, a sexuality assigned to 'girls who like girls'... BUT what contributions do lesbian identities make in art?
Women artists, such as Short, McLeod, Dempsey and Millan, redefine their feminine identity through their technical approach, medium and content. The performed jouissance highlighted by lesbian feminists allows women to tell their story by separating themselves from male influences. The feminine persona displays a fetishism to appease the male gaze, which applies to lesbian identities as well. Arlene Stein quotes Jill Johnston in stating “that a ‘conspiracy of silence’ insured that for most women ‘identity was presumed to be heterosexual unless proven otherwise. … There was no lesbian identity. There was lesbian activity’” (155). The outburst of lesbian feminist movements in the 1970s allowed queer women to use their voice and remind people that they exist outside of sexual pleasure. Yet, the movement was a means for all women to share their experiences. Lesbian Feminism is political. Through the political standpoint of lesbian feminism, women artists are able to use activity to create a lesbian identity that is separate from sexual orientation.
Life is equated to a game through countless metaphors; sometimes it is a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ and other times it is based on predeterminism (entailing the course of life events have been chosen at conception or before your birth, typically due to the power of a higher entity/creator). I like to amuse the thought that life is a slight combination of both, where we are given the illusion of free will to choose the course of live events, but social constructions have limited our choices through standards and expectations. For example, my intersectionality – as a young, white woman born in a first world, patriarchal society and raised in a Catholic, educational environment – has deeply impacted my social perspective. My intersectionality dictates how people will expect me to perform, as well as how they will treat me based on learned behaviours. I have learned to embody an identity through my reflection of social norms.
Through my identity as female and living in a society that oversexualizes women and their feminine attributes, I have inherited beliefs of self-worth which are influenced by sexual availability and aesthetic appeasement; both of which must cater to the male audience. And so, I ask myself this question.
To be naked or to be nude?
I wanted to further my exploration of whether using my body as a female artist is challenging the male gaze or conforming to it. I question whether I am naked or embodying the nude subject admired by the male viewer.
In my work entitled, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (diptych) (2019), I pose in front of my camera once again in my nude bodysuit, no pants and I’m wearing the sweater that I was holding in My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (diptych). I stand against a beige wall. The neutrality is repeated in my porcelain skin, the fair tanned bodysuit and the tone of the blank walls. I almost blend into my surroundings, disappearing from sight. The focal points become my head and sweater, which are the bold shades of brown pushing forward in contrast.
In the left panel (viewer’s left), my arms are raised, elbows bent and hands tucking my loose strands of hair behind my ears. The pose imitates a shy and sensual body language that is often flirtatious.
Similarly, in the right-most panel, my hands are caught lifting the ends of the sweater up the length of my torso. Even though, comparingly, the sweater covers the same amount of body in both panels, the gesture in the right hints at an attempt of removing the article of clothing.
Although I stand in the image alone and naked, I am simultaneously nude in the eyes of my male spectator. I seek to make eye contact; I stand looking forward, confronting my audience. I am subject to the male gaze.
Throughout my studies as an art major who is minoring in Women Studies, I have analyzed other people’s experiences and reflected on my own. I came to the conclusion that a common theme seems to be: repressed women’s sexuality. I wanted to comment on the gendered oppression of sexuality, and how turning the light off tends to make some comfortable – because when the lights are off, women can seek their forbidden pleasure (Sexual pleasure!); no one can judge what they can’t see, right?
But as FKA Twigs says, “when I trust you, we can do it with the lights on”.
After I spent a month of interviewing, examining, illustrating, and painting other people, I realized I wasn’t documenting my own experiences. I was asking my family and friends questions based on gender, identity and their perceived social pressures, but I wasn’t answering those questions myself.
And so! I began to think about my experience as female.
I began to think about how people treat me a certain way because they look at how I present myself, and they assume that my gender matches my biological sex. Similarly, my feminine presentation dictates how I will be treated in intimate settings. Typically, women are pressured to suppress their sexual needs. Their role is to tend to the needs of their man. Their position is on their knees, and as Michelangelo portrays it in his painting (The Fall of Man), she’s about 90 degrees away from finishing him off.
Although Michelangelo’s masterpiece is considerably sexualized, I wanted to overtly sexualize the imagery. I want to expose the forsaken female pleasure.
This is my muse and friend, Gareth. The best thing about our friendship is that he gives literal zero fucks about anyone else’s opinion on where he stands. He’s just Gareth. And I think that’s just grand.
In our relationship, he’s helped enable my own sort of freedom that comes with individual expression, which seems to flow through fashion for me. I love how clothing manages to bring art into reality. Each human being their own characters, taking the chance to express who exactly they are through aesthetics, regardless if the pieces come from the ‘mens’ or ‘womens’ sections, is truly beautiful.
I hope this shoot is able to inspire anyone to run free with themselves and their own true expressions. Become Gareth (of sorts). Release yourself Hunny Bee.
The entire shoot was produced by Viiein Dampier
Model: Gareth Iveson