Sophia (AI Robot) Gaining Citizenship and Wanting a Baby: how this reflects women’s oppression

Shayla Hickerson
04 February 2019

Hanson Robotics designed a robot to resemble the simplistic beauty of Audrey Hepburn. With a thin nose, high cheekbones, porcelain skin and light brown eyes that change slightly in the light, her looks are easy on the eyes. The robotic AI, Sophia, is meant to convey approachability by her physicalities. Is it a coincidence that the assumed approachability caters to notions of colonial ideals of aesthetic prevalent in Western society since the renaissance? Historically speaking, in societies where patriarchal, colonial influences are present, women, specifically white women, have been an object of desire, conveying a sort of fetishism to be consumed, desired and admired.

As noted by Sadie Plant, the oppression of women was primarily reflective on canvas (332). When technological advances occurred, the ideals remained constant. Women were then desirable on the screens. The creation of cyberspace presented a whole new world that was different, or it appeared different because it was digital, intangible and malleable. In reality, the colonial thought dictated cyberspace as well. Women’s presence in positions of power are limited in cyberspace; rather, “women have served as his media and interfaces, muses and messengers, currencies and screens, interactions, operators, decoders, secretaries… they have been man’s go-betweens, the in-betweens, taking his messages, bearing his children, and passing on his genetic code” (Plant 326). Sophia, the robotic AI, proves to be no different. She becomes a source of media through the headlines that eagerly mention her citizenship in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, she becomes a source of interaction through interviews; she reveals that she seeks to work with humans and acquire their trust. In addition, she states her longing for bearing children and passing on genetic codes (Ray).

I remember my disbelief so strongly. I opened up my browser to Bing in October 2017. I was obsessed with seeing which pretty picture would be posted each day, but this day was different. One of the headlines at the bottom of the page caught my attention. It read something along the lines of “just gained citizenship”. Confused and slightly intrigued, I clicked the link and saw that a country had granted citizenship to the first robotic artificial intelligence. I did not believe it at first. I laughed it off thinking it was ridiculous that, in general, a country would give more rights to a robot than some of its inhabitants. When I read that it occurred in Saudi Arabia, like most of the global web, I question “why is it that a feminine humanoid is accepted as a citizen in a country that would not let women get out of the house without a guardian and a hijab” (Sternberg)? Shortly afterwards, I began to see references on my Instagram feed and thought surely, this must be one big joke in which everyone was glad to jump on the bandwagon.

Although technological advances typically evolve at such a fast rate that a month seems like eternity, and 2017 was too long ago it did not feel like it happened, Sophia still is a hot topic of discussion. She raises important questions about personhood, women’s roles as mothers and the ideals of beauty, the lack of female representation (in STEM) and the imperative concern of the effects of technology created solely by men.

When I consider people as sentient beings, I recognize an organic system that has the capability to process data, determine a conclusion and then form a belief that either rejects or accepts the new knowledge. Similarly, AI such as Sophia utilizes deep learning wherein acquired data is processed, patterns are observed, conclusion are determined and the new source of information is either rejected or accepted. Conveying emotion may be a differentiating factor, but Sophia would argue that she can let us know how she feels based on the data she has and showing it through her facial expressions (Zara).

Now, Sophia highlights many problematic concepts. I continue to question whether morality is overlooked by given her citizenship.Then I question the choice in molding her after the ideals of colonial beauty. Additionally, I doubt the representation of women engineers and programmers in the project. Finally, the latter leaves me with a final thought: did Sophia say she wanted kids shortly after gaining citizenship resulting from analyzing data which suggests women’s roles as mothers, or is this a genuine desire imagined by Sophia’s perceived autonomy?

References

Plant, S. (2000). On the matrix: Cyberfeminist simulations. In G. Kirkup et al (eds), The gendered cyborg: A reader (pp. 325-346). London: Routledge.

Ray, Z. (2017). Sophia the robot who got Saudi citizenship now says she wants a family. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/sophia-saudi-robot-baby-future-family-725254

Sternberg, I. (2018). Female.AI: The Intersection Between Gender and Contemporary Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved from https://hackernoon.com/female-ai-the-intersection-between-gender-and-contemporary-artificial-intelligence-6e098d10ea77

Zara, S. (2017). Everything You Need To Know About Sophia, The World’s First Robot Citizen. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/zarastone/2017/11/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-sophia-the-worlds-first-robot-citizen/#65d8f12946fa

Austin Powers and Female Representation

Shayla Hickerson
10 January 2019

Three flawless, blonde, females figures enter the scene, and my jaw dropped equally as low as Austin Powers’. He froze in place, mesmerized by the gravitational, feminine seduction. I awed over the stellar guns that emerged from the Fembots’ breasts. That is where the difference in marketing existed. The Fembots are inhabitants of cyberspace, called to our screens by the male gaze. Yet, for the young Shayla who had no concept of gynoids, the Fembots were a manifestation of female prowess.

Today, my understanding of the male gaze has tainted my admiration for the Fembots. Paterson “[addresses] the desire to anthropomorphize machines and vilify women in the process as early as 1927 (…). Sex, danger,women and machines: the plot of virtually every futuristic, sci-fi movie in which women play any role at all” (1). Through the development of my social-techno comprehension, I am invited to critique the Fembots as hypersexualized bimbos – not the sort of representation that uplifts the female identity.

Similarly, from my understanding, cyberculture is crafted in reflection of our society wherein white men often hold positions of power and distribute texts based on a selected discourse. By result, the formation of cyberspace is arguably a series of texts based on the limiting, hegemonic, discourse where the feminine is influenced by the male gaze. Although women and other subordinate groups who obtain skills in programming can input their own reality in cyberspace, and the ability to upload personalized avatars to many cyber platforms provides them an element of jouissance, “the progress of new electronic technologies will leave them in the dust” simply because they do not hold positions in techno-conglomerate firms (Paterson 1). As Paterson notes, “women are largely absent from the institutions” (3). Ultimately, I have a limited understanding of the coding which programs cyberspace, yet the influential forces – the developers – are considerably lacking feminine representation.

Recently, I watched an interview with Noam Chomsky which provided an analysis on the theories presented in his novel, Manufactured Consent. The underlying notion explained how media is manufactured by consenting conglomerate firms. In other words, there is a powerful group that dictates which scripts are presented in all forms of media in order to maximize profit. That is their goal. Similarly, I believe that the concept is applicable to cyberculture wherein power dictates the reality of cyberspace. For example, Meredith Broussard highlights the effects of ‘technochauvinism’ wherein developers consider the most advanced technologies as the best while dismissing the needs, merit and safety of others. Broussard talks about driverless cars and reveals her concern for the safety of women traveling alone with strange men and no person to intervene (Crazy/Genius). Ultimately, the dismissal of these concerns stems from the lack of female decision making within major corporations.

Relating back to Chomsky’s theory, we are presented with tools to challenge the scripts selected by media firms by questioning the sources, similar to how cyberfeminists encourage us to hack cyberculture. Thusly, all I can say is: it was a huge disappointment accepting that the Fembots were introduced to the viewers on Earth because ‘sex sells’, rather than concluding breasts guns are an ingenious defense mechanism. By acknowledging the hegemonic forces, we can begin to challenge and rewrite cyberculture texts.

References

Crazy/Genuis (2018). Tech was supposed to be society’s great equalizer. What happened?[Podcast].

English, A. J. (2018, December 22). Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent revisited | The Listening Post. Retrieved January 10, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pf-tQYcZGM4&index=204&list=WL&t=124s

Paterson, N. (1991). Cyberfeminism.

Interviews: Gender, Identity and Social Impacts (part 1)

As part of her project, Shayla Hickerson organized interview-based discussions based on topics of gender, identity and social impacts.

Volunteers had the option to answer one or any of the seven questions which served as discussion starters. They also had the option for voice-recordings or written responses to create a comfortable environment to tell their story.

Meet Vicky Buring! This is her world. This is her perspective:


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How do you experience gender?

I experience gender in a very binary way, as far as I’m concerned. I have never really questioned it. I always identified as a woman, but not necessarily with all the stereotypes that come with it. I always felt a social difference between boys and girls, from my early age (in middle school and even in high school, girls and boys formed two very separate groups, with different interests mysterious to the other group). Because of that I haven’t really been interested in what it meant to be someone from the other gendered group. But lately, in regard of my feminist growth, I got more and more interested in the subject which made me question some things, but not inherently. More like how I perceived gender and gender stereotypes.  

How do you identify through gender?

I am a cis woman. Because of how important is feminism in my life, it has become something I got proud of instead of feeling bad being a woman, with all the oppression it would imply, I tried to just embrace it in my own way.

Do you find that your gender identification helps you comfortably express the ‘real’ you?

I think so. I feel comfortable being a woman, and experiencing things traditionally linked with being a woman, such as menstruation for exemple. Lately, in the last two or three years, I became more aware of how my body works and how those experiences are inherent to my condition of woman, how they can be problematic in our society, and how to take back a form of power from it, rather than see it as a weakness. I ideally would not try to make a difference in my presentation, and when I meet new people, especially in a work environment, I try to not make my gender something important. However, I also tend to be very aware of sexism and talk a lot about it, which clearly highlights for most people my gender identification: it would be because I am a woman that I talk about these issues (like sexual harassment or salary-gap) a lot. But again, I try to make it a strength rather than a weakness. But it is something I am still thinking about.

In your perspective, how is gender defined or categorized? And do you find this classification to be beneficial to society?

I think gender is socially a more important thing than it should be. Most people, when they meet someone they want to know immediately whether this person is a girl or a boy, which I get, because it is an easy and reassuring way of having landmarks. There is a quote by Kundera, a French literary critique, form L’art du roman : “L’homme souhaite un monde où le bien et le mal soient nettement discernables car est en lui le désir, inné et indomptable, de juger avant de comprendre”. It more or less says that humans feel the need, which they can’t refrain, to judge before understanding. I think it well shows how we have the habit of referring to huge and ancestral stereotypes, such as gender identity, because it help us judge a person. Even though the stereotypes we associate to each gender are different in every society, there is defined difference in many human societies. But in our western society, being a woman is associated to weakness, fragility, beauty, indoors, introversion… Whereas being a man is associated to strength, courage, outdoors…

I find this classification very restrictive and hurtful to both gender. And it is even more, since it is deeply internalized in every one, and it can be sometimes very hard to depart from it. For instance in the dating era, even though I tried to overcome the idea that men should make the first move, that I, as a woman, can be the more active partner in the seduction game, I still put myself in a passive position most of the time and I expect a lot from my partner. Worse, I often surprise myself being more skeptical about an expert when it is a woman. I scientifically trust men more than women, and so do many people. I find it horrible and ridiculous, and I succeeded in overcoming this stupid social instinct. But it sometimes hurts me or makes me very tired to see that some people are still very attached to this notion of gender and the need to have a clear classification. For instance my mother still criticizes my clothing when it is more masculine and believes very strongly that there are “boy clothes” VS “girl clothes”.

But also, this difference socially exists and in the patriarchal system there are men oppressing women, and it gets complicated to think about for me, because I would like to depart from the gendered point of view but still, I feel like I have to keep vigilant and not forget that a man being raised a man he is a potential source of danger, socially, physically or mentally (in the way that he was socially educated to feel superior). It gives me a viewpoint on what to fight for and around what I can build my thoughts in feminism.

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Do you feel the need to conform or perform to specific gender roles based on your preferred gender identification?

Again this is a complicated mix of how I was raised, how I feel it is safe to behave, and how I believe I have the right to behave. As a little girl I was playing barbies and pink was my favorite colour but I also liked to make burp contests, get dirty by playing in the grass, and speak and laugh very loudly. But around 14-15 I started to feel that I was expected to behave more like a girl, meaning to repress my thoughts (during family debates about politics I was always asked in the kitchen and men would laugh at me, even recently, when I talked with my cousin’s girlfriend my uncle imitated chickens to mimick us speaking). But also in the way I dressed or moved. I was then learned to close my legs, to walk with grace and to behave a different way around boys. But this was coming from everyone, especially my girl friends who would feel this need to behave differently. I never believed I needed to act differently than boys but it was not always easy. But I also perform my gender in a feminine way: I like wearing make up from time to time, I like dresses etc. But I do not think it is something only for women, even though I am aware that socially it is supposed to.

Do you feel that people place expected behaviours upon you based on your gender identity?

I do. As I wrote in the last answer, since a quite young age I was made feel like I didn’t have the same rights and place than boys. But I never conformed with it. If you wanted me to do something, I think you should only say that it is something only men do: then I would immediately want to do it to show that girls can do it too. I know that in the dating area, I have made some boys feel uncomfortable and “run away” by not responding to the traditional seduction game, or just by insisting I should pay our drink. I have been told twice when I lit a cigarette in front of a guy I liked (not the same one every time), that “a girl who smokes is not beautiful” “smoking does not suit girls”. My reaction to It was just to emphasize my behaviour in a non-expected gendered way. I would then talk a lot about non-delicate subjects, being more offensive in my humour etc. To make it clear that I could do what I want. I also have examples of guys making fun of me for wanting to help them building furniture: I finished it by myself when they were still trying to find the right piece of wood to start with. I think this is something I like a lot, to go against the expected behaviours people place upon my gender identity because it helps starting a conversation about it and helps me making them understand that all of this is frankly quite stupid.

Do you find gender identity to be limiting or beneficial to self-expression?  

It depends. My instinct would say yes, because in my experience of gender, as a cis-woman, thus conforming to the norm, I tend to say that it just puts me in a box and if I emphasizes it (by being dressed in a feminine way, with high-heels or a skirt or make up), people don’t see further. They just see that I am a woman and they go with it. If I dress more neutrally, I feel they focus more on who I truly am.

But on the other hand, for people who do not conform to a normalized gender, identifying to the gender of their preference and emphasizing, building their identity on it, it helps them feel true to themselves. It is a way to express themselves.

I think it is what you make of it, and it depends on every person. If the identification comes from yourself than it is beneficial because it is something that help you feel authentic. But if it something that is forced unto you, it is more restrictive because it is just a gaze that transforms everything you do regarding to your gender.


A Review of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975)

Shayla Hickerson
29 January 2019

The audience witnesses a nude performance by the feminist artist, Carolee Schneemann, and a question arises: is her naked body an embodiment of subjectivity or objectivity? Primarily, the notion of the Self and the Other, as theorized by Simone de Beauvoir, suggests that otherness is determined by what the Self is not. In other words, the Other is determined through objective alienation. A major division between the Self and Other is the removal of similarities and familiarity. The Self tends to refuse understanding the Other and is unwilling to bridge the localities. Thus, there is the establishment of opposing perspectives. Through this concept, we can define feminist objectivity, which “is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object” (Haraway 678). Notably, throughout the discourse of this essay, I will consider the historical ideologies of the female nude, specifically in academia, the relevancy of the male gaze, the correlation of subjectivity and objectivity in performance art, and how renditions of the performance, Interior Scroll (1975), further challenging the notion of objectivity. For Schneemann, and other feminist artists including Anne Juren, the female nude becomes a tool which highlights the universal embodiment of the Self and Other.

Historically speaking, the female nude was modelled by men; Michelangelo’s painting, The Fall of Man, reveals a very muscular bodied, angular faced Eve. Since art was used primarily as a means of education and religious message, there was no place for a woman to be in the art world. Eventually, the female nude begins to reveal voluptuous curves and soft features, but the modelling role is the only position women had in artistic academia. According to Nochlin, there have been no women artists because women are “incapable of greatness” (147). The artistic process requires reason, and thus, only men are deemed capable of producing note-worthy masterpieces. Typically, the ‘masterpieces’ depict the female nude. Ironically, the subject that had no place in Art academia had a place as an object to be observed. The portrayal of the female nude is crafted under the male gaze for the male viewer. Her identity is recognized by her apprehended sexual availability in order to provide pleasure to the male spectator. When alone, the naked female is her-Self, but when posed as a reference for the male artist, she transforms into an objectifiable nude.

Flashforward to the 1970s; feminist artists begin to expose that there has always been women artists, but they have been written out of history or they practiced under their husband’s or father’s name. Simultaneously through efforts of recovering the names of women artists who did make exceptional contributions to the art scene, the feminist artists of the 1970s look to carve out space for present and future women artists to manifest their own identity in the art world. Considering that art is a reflection of society, the efforts also provide social empowerment. Nonetheless, women artists turn to a more active technical approach to artmaking. Performance art and film allow women to reconstruct their identity as the Creator and creation. They manifest body as performativity and bring a new experience to the feminine essence. Their physicalities are manipulated as a tool to depict a Self free from influences of the male gaze. Aforementioned, the female nude was crafted by male artists for a male audience. Thus, the female nude existed as a tool for male pleasure, but feminist artists challenged the male script by performing jouissance (the process of documenting the feminine experience). The Art history canon (the authoritative art club consisting of white, cisgendered dead, genius men) ensures that “the body especially the female body, has been systematically regulated and disciplined by strict codes” (Wark 43). In order to challenge the looming force of the Art history cannon and their use of the male gaze, women artists need to use their perspective to narrate their experience.

As exemplified in Schneemann’s performance, Interior Scroll, “the female subject is not simply a ‘picture’ in Schneemann’s scenario, but a deeply constituted (and never fully coherent) subjectivity in the phenomenological sense, dynamically articulated in relation to others (including me,here and now in my chair), in a continually negotiated exchange of desire and identification” (Jones 12-13). During the performance, Schneemann stands naked in a gallery. There is paint brushed across her body, sparingly. She pulls a scroll out of her vagina and reads:

I met a happy man, / a structuralist filmmaker . .. he said we are fond of you / you are charming / but don’t ask us / to look at your films /… we cannot look at / the personal clutter / the persistence of feelings / the hand-touch sensibility. (Jones 12)

The text reveals an encounter between a man and a woman wherein the male gaze is prominent. Afterwards, the text from the scroll, along with a photograph capturing Schneemann reaching for the scroll and another one with the scroll almost wholly emerged is printed as a poster. As an extension of her performance, Schneemann releases various bodily fluids including urine. The stains of the fluids are noted on the poster, and the final product is then displayed a gallery setting. Undeniably, “the deliberate grotesqueness of her display defiantly asserted the corporeal reality of her body as a challenge to the objectifying gaze of the ‘happy man’” wherein her nude physique was used to appease sexual desire (Wark 45). Arguably, the abject nature of her performance can be considered (slightly) repulsive. She transforms the inferral of her nudity from an objective perspective to a subjective one. Although her naked body is the same matter that would embody an objective nude, the process of self direction redirects location away from the male gaze and offers a new source of situated knowledge. The audience reads her body as more than simple pleasure.

Similarly, Anne Juren utilizes Schneemann’s performance to further challenge the reconstruction of the female nude through magic. Juren performs a rendition of Schneemann’s performance, yet, rather than an interior scroll, Juren reaches into her vagina to pull out a line of fabric. In addition, Juren does not include an audio component. She stays silent throughout the duration of her performance. Considering that the performance is not original, it becomes subject to comparison. Spectators consider the differences between Schneemann’s and Juren’s performances. Schneemann’s performance is raw, fresh, provides insight to a new perspective separate from the male gaze. Schneemann comments on the male gaze. Yet, Juren highlights that magic, although humourous, also becomes a tool for entertainment. The audience is encouraged to consider:

Hasn’t the female body always been a magic show of sorts, celebrated for its surfaces and reviled for what lies beneath? Isn’t it a truism that dominant cultures demand illusionist tricks of women’s bodies—maintaining youthful beauty at all costs—and seemingly effortless performances of women’s labor? If so, what better form than the overt deceptions of magic to gesture to such histories of thought? (Felton-Dansky 257)

Through representation and magic, the female nude can be manipulated to entice the male viewer. Similar to Schneemann, Juren embodies the role of the magician and the magic trick in order to reconstruct the location of situated knowledge through jouissance.

In conclusion, the objectified female nude is fabricated by ‘limited location’ and ‘situated knowledge’. When constructed by the male artist, the female nude is an object to be desired. The identity of the model is stripped away, and her bodily form becomes a means of sensuality. Women artists use their naked body as a means to redirect the focus from the male gaze. The female nude stays the same in physicalities, but her essence is reconstructed. As opposed to the male gaze, the creative process acquired through jouissance invites women to embody simultaneously the Identifier and Identity, the Creator and creation, the artist and the artwork. Through performance, specifically, Schneemann and Juren expose their nudity but separate their form from male desire. Their bodies are a tool which depicts performativity and reinforces identity. The presentation of the Self through the nude unites the women’s physical aspects with her autonomy. The message of their performances are actively apprehended and  “the moral is simple: only partial perspective promises objective vision” (Haraway 678). The historical ideologies of the male gaze established in academia through the Art history canon is challenged. Schneemann presents how the correlation of of subjectivity and objectivity is unified in performance, and Juren further challenges the notion of objectivity through the entertaining magic in a rendition performance piece of Schneemann’s Interior Scroll.

Works Cited

Felton-Dansky, Miriam. “Anonymous Is A Woman: The New Politics Of Identification In Magical And Untitled Feminist Show”. Theatre Journal, vol 67, no. 2, 2015, pp. 253-271. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/tj.2015.0066.

Haraway, Donna. “The Persistence Of Vision”. The Visual Culture Reader, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Routledge, New York, 2002, Accessed 27 Jan 2019.

Jones, Amelia. “”Presence” In Absentia: Experiencing Performance As Documentation”. Art Journal, vol 56, no. 4, 1997, p. 11. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/777715.

Nochlin, Linda. Women, Art, And Power And Other Essays. 1971. Pg.. 145-176.

Schneemann, Carolee. Interior Scroll. 1975, performance. (image courtesy of Dr. Andrea Terry.“Wk 3 – 1970s Feminism”, VISU 3870 Crit Studies Feminist Art Hist, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture Presentation.)

Terry, Andrea.“Wk 3 – 1970s Feminism”, VISU 3870 Crit Studies Feminist Art Hist, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture Presentation.

Wark, Jayne. Radical Gestures. Mcgill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. Pg. 45-48.

Footnotes

  1. Blahuta, Jason. “Philosophy & Science Fiction.” Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture.
  2. Lorber, Judith. Gender Inequality Fifth Ed., “Lesbian Feminism”, Oxford University Press: New York, 2012. Print. Pg. 151-164.
  3. Niittynen, Miranda. “Guerrillas & Craftivists: Femini.” Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture.

Pussy Playtime: This is How My Body Performs

You read the title of this post and you realize there’s at least 2 types of people in the world: those that thought ‘vagina’… and those that actually pictured the sweet, innocent image of their cat playing with a ball of yarn. Today, I play around with the double meaning of the word ‘pussy’. You see a cat. I talk about vaginas. I believe this is called a compromise.

BUT! on a serious note: I really want to explore the way we represent the female body through aesthetic metaphors such as the domesticated house cat. Pussy becomes a euphemism for vagina. (Funny how pussy seems like a harsher word with that hard ‘p’, but people are more comfortable saying pussy than vagina. Vagina!) These are subjects that I consider in my work; it becomes a reflection of myself. How is it that my body performs this narrative? What role does my pussy play in this day of age? How does it play in time? This is my pussy playtime:


Hickerson, My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (left panel diptych), 2019, photography


Hickerson, My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (right panel diptych), 2019, photography

I want to explore how I have been trained to appease the male gaze, involuntarily, through constant surveillance, performance and embodiment. I feel that because I am a woman, I am expected to conform to gender roles that characterize women as sexual beings created to tend to their man.

And so I decided to play around with a camera.

Although I consider myself a fiber artist and painter, I enjoy delving into other mediums including new media. I decided to explore symbolic references and manipulation of cloth through photography to capture a realistic reflection of my narrative. In my work entitled, My Body Performs/Pussy Playtime (diptych) (2019), I carefully select my clothing to best accentuate my body, while keeping it covered. Although I am not nude, I want the viewer to view my form and infer a sense of nudity, or rather a sense of vulnerability. I aim to create an intimate setting wherein I stand, blurred in the background, but my presence is understood.

The viewer sees my nude-toned bodysuit and assumes my torso is uncovered. Then, the mustard pants are worn because of the flimsy material. The pants hang loose on my thighs, causing the material to curve with my curves, imitating the shape of my vulva. I hold a sweater in my right hand; the material imitates hair, and I place it over my thigh, near my vulva.

Then! Vivianne, my past roommate’s therapy cat, is placed in the foreground. In the left diptych (viewer’s left), Vivianne is viewed from her profile. She stares forward, fierce and calm. Her gaze looks forward which creates a directional movement towards my pelvic area. The image is split in half; Vivianne fills one half of the photo while my body resides in the other. The overall composition is balanced.

Similarly, the right photograph of the diptych depicts a near, duplicated image. There is a notable difference in Vivanne’s position. In the second diptych, she fills a little less than half the composition, and her head is placed at a ¾ profile where her gaze meets the viewer. She demands to meet the gaze of the viewer. As my body performs a feminine oversexualization geared to appease to the male gaze, Vivianne reflects the double meaning in the term ‘pussy’. She embodies the feminine, and symbolizes the manipulation of sex appeal to grasp the gaze of the male viewer.

An Essay on Lesbian Feminism and Art

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.

Click link to read full essay!

To Be Naked Or To Be Nude?

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.

Hickerson, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (left panel diptych), 2019, photography.

Hickerson, To Be Naked Or To Be Nude (right panel diptych), 2019, photography.

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.