Saturday, 1 June 2019

Orientalism



So…this series of long and convoluted response I’ve made in regard to the purported unacceptable use of kimono, has resulted in 2 weeks of shadow boxing with my left hand duke and right hand claw raised….cos all the outraged promptly went to ground when challenged. Though one person who talked briefly and privately to me reported they won't engage because they are simply “tired”. It seems they prefer knocking off the low hanging fruit than to take up the cudgels with an old warrior crone?

I read Emily Itos piece on the Densho blog a few days after it was first published in February and was alerted by a noisy rustle of petticoats flouncing around in the sewist community. I ignored it, presuming such a silly idea would be no more serious than a storm in a fine china teacup. But then, as I have observed in my own chookyard, silliness can be contagious and soon the hens are screeching and pecking at each other. The delicate balance of pecking order has been upset…

This old boiler did her own version of pecking – I referred to somebody as a “sheila” and made some provocative clucks about “American feminists”…..resounding silence, delete, ignore….

Two days ago I said I’d discuss “Orientalist” art. Those of you who may have managed to get through my long farty discourses to date will be pleased to know that mob will be quickly dispensed within a couple of paragraphs so we can move on to the relevant issues, quick smart.

Growing up in the 1970s, in that era of the second wave of feminism, was the time when female creatives focussed their withering critique on the product of art history and came up with the term “the male gaze”. Briefly, the way women have been depicted in art arises from masculine hegemony. In their art male artists objectified and displayed women as subjected and sexualised beings. The way women were placed “in the picture” could only be understood in relation to the mores, values and codes of their contemporary society. For the person observing the image the sense making came from understanding women as beings who were possessed, owned, controlled, exploited for our various labours. The picture was decoded and understood by placing the female within a narrative of who were the men she was subject to, ie-  husband, father, lover, lord of the manor, slave owner, brothel owner…The woman in the image was seldom there as respectful tribute; depicted as an individual of autonomy and self determination with power and influence in the world.

You can choose to get on your high horse over Orientalist art – the pictures made by European male artists who were part of the wave of colonising imperialist power sweeping over Africa, the Middle and Far East in the 18thC. But the truth is the males of those cultures weren’t any less culpable to depict their own women as objects of desire, in pornography and whatever it takes to get the male appendage rigid. Patriarchy is everywhere, women are colonised everywhere.

Choose your battles wisely.

So lets not squabble over the visual rubbish produced by Victorian era masturbators. I think the really important images we need to be decoding right now and jumping up and down about are probably in a magazine not more than a few metres away, or scrolling right now on your Instagram feed. Wafer thin skinny chicks, elegant 19 somethings flicking their tresses casually (product of 3 hours at the hairdresser, $500 cut, colour and blow wave, an hour with a makeup artist, 2 hour photo shoot with professional photographer to get the hair flick image with just the right nonchalance and spontaneity) 

Are we liking our real bodies and unpainted faces? Are we celebrating the beauty of rolls of fat, stretch marks, saggy breasts and unshaved armpits? I love that so many young women I admire get tattoos. This is something that generally horrifies polite society because its such a radical act of self possession to own your skin. Women have always been encouraged to make their skin “nice” – keep it smooth, wrinkle free, soft, unblemished, cover your scars and stretchmarks, avoid cellulitis! pluck out hairs that displease on the legs, genitals and armpits (god forbid when you get hairs on the chin and around the lips, then you’re really past your use by date). While the skin must be kept smooth and hairless the head must display a fulsome shiny mane of hirsute health.

Last bit of the rant today is about something different but related.

Trump declaring he is “victim” of a “witch hunt”. I dearly wish the outcome of that hunt would be what the witches got – being drowned strapped to a dunking stool or tied to a stake and burned alive. That will have me shaking the claw in triumph!
It makes me mad that this misogynist horror goes around claiming some sort of connectedness to genuinely martyred women. The torturing and killing of women over hundreds of years who were labelled “witches” is a crime of patriarchy. It was male power from multiple institutions - religious, medical, political - that called out the women and condemned them. The men were threatened by women who were healers, knowledgeable with herbs and medicines, women who wouldn't give up pagan beliefs, women who wanted to live lives where men didn’t have power over them because they wouldn’t marry, women who were leaders or were sexually promiscuous….

How dare this man who objectifies and disparages women try to spuriously invoke that he is a victim of mob injustice. Nahhhh....

Far from it….bring out the Iron Maiden and slam him in it, I say.

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