War artists, Riot Grrrls, protestors & princessesâ€Ś all of them are
Issue 3 April 2013
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Welcome to our third issue of Collage. We’re pleased to welcome new writers and artists to our pages as well as all our new followers and subscribers. We hope you enjoy this issue. Women of the Revolution is a broad theme and we’ve barely scratched the surface. One aspect kept bubbling up whenever we mentioned the theme—the French Revolution. It was a touchstone for all aspects of revolution, including gender. It seems that those few brief years at the end of the 18th century set the pattern for revolutions to come. I’ve been interested in it for many years but I was excited and pleased to see how many other women found this particular period of history relevant. The Collage ‘13 blog will be fed regularly over the coming months and the magazine will be back in October 2013 with our ‘Men’ issue. Now I know that sounds a little ‘Cosmo’ for us, but it won’t be all pecs and sexual positions, I can assure you! We want to explore the ways in which masculinity has been portrayed by artists and in culture in general and we already have some fantastic articles and art lined up. As always, please get in touch, we love to hear from you. Have a wonderful summer,
Alexandria Welch Editor.
A note on copyright Credits and links to artists mentioned can be found on page 94. Everyone at Collage magazine is committed to artists retaining copyright over their own work. We have been careful to ensure that the images used in this publication have been purchased or provided to us by the creators with copyright permission, or are copyright free or are being used under the ‘fair usage’ protocol shared over the internet (images are low resolution, attributed to their creator, not for profit and used only to illustrate a relevant article or story). If, however, you feel your image has been used by us unfairly and your copyright breached, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will remove the image
Cover image: Young Poles protesting against Polish government signing the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), Lublin, Poland, 26th January 2012 by Malgorzata Pakula http://www.123rf.com/photo_12061081_.html 2
Grim Glory: Women Recording War The work of Lee Miller plus Anna Airy, Linda Kitson, Jananne Al-Ani and Frauke Eigen.
Back to the kitchen Elizabeth Mann considers the fate of the avant-garde women artists in Soviet Russia during the aftermath of the revolution.
“There’s going to be a girl riot!” Professor F.M. Erah celebrates Riot Grrrls , the allure of the white lace dress and questions how to be a feminist when you’re over 40.
Showcase Collage brings you the work of five outstanding creative young women.
The Female Citizen Editor Alexandria Welch introduces a collection of articles about the French Revolution and it’s lasting influence on the role of women in politics and the public stage.
The Body’s Bounty Francesca Brooks examines how women’s bodies are powerful political weapons.
That most detested woman… Cock’n’Bull create a photographic series inspired by Marie-Antoinette.
A Room of One’s Own Nuray Tekin considers how the French Revolution limited women’s access to the public sphere and how modern technology is challenging that.
Women of the Revolution Cat Crossley sends up a call to arms— why the revolution has only just begun.
Equality and the Power Paradigm Andrew Hobbs considers the value of power.
The Essay “Oh My …” Rhyan Eldon-Davis explores how Disney’s Princesses have evolved through three waves of feminism.
Credits, links and next our next issue
“My body belongs to me and is not the source of anyone's
Amina, The 19 year old protestor in Tunisia posted images of herself online in which she wrote protest slogans across her naked body in support of the Ukranian “Femen” feminist movement. Tunisian clerics have called for her to be executed by stoning. She has recently been admitted to a psychiatric hospital and is no longer in contact with her supporters.
omen artists have not been at the forefront of recording war or conflict. The prejudice is to see women as the innocent victims of conflict rather than recording, engaging in or reflecting upon it. Certainly when women have commented on war it has been more usually from the home front than the front line. Yet, in line with dramatic social changes of the past century, so women’s engagement with conflict has become more direct. Stories of female soldiers from the past abound, but they are often cross-dressing fairy tales. Nowadays, women are members of the armed forces in many countries, even if their role and status are still being developed.
tripwire. The photographer Henri Huet took a memorable image of her receiving the last rites from the platoon’s priest. Just as Chapelle ended her life of recording war by becoming one of its casualties, so did the most recent well-known female war reporter to die. Mari Colvin died in 2012 in Syria after insisting of continually returning to areas of conflict. She stated, “Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history…In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same — someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.”
One of the earliest occurrences of a woman recording war was Kit Blake-Coleman who sent reports back from the Spanish American war in 1898 to the Toronto Mail. She was not allowed to report from the frontline so concentrated on the human cost of the conflict. It is interesting to note that areas of war reporting which might be seen to be intrinsically ‘female’, the “human tragedy”, has often only been of female focus because they were not allowed access to the actual fighting. Kit herself dismissively called this human aspect of war reporting the ‘guff’. During WWI there were a number of women artists who were contracted by the government to make art about the war. Although clearly propaganda art, much of it has been described as surprisingly uplifting.
The problems faced by women trying to record war on the frontlines are multiple. Not only have women had to persuade the authorities to let them near the action but, when they get there they are often targeted especially. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that whilst all journalists are targets for robbery, violent crime or political harassment, there is a greater degree of crimes of a sexual nature towards women journalists. Lara Logan, the chief foreign correspondent for the American channel CBS, was violently sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square whilst reporting on the revolution in Egypt in 2011. “I looked into the people's eyes as they were assaulting me and begged them to stop. And I could see that there was no feeling for me whatsoever. The people assaulting me were devoid of not just compassion but that sense of care for a woman.”
By WWII women were playing a greater role in recording the action itself. Women such as the British Clare Hollingworth or the American Martha Gelhorn reported from the frontline. Dickey Chapelle worked as a writer and photographer through WWII, then from behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe (where she was imprisoned by the Soviets) and finally in Vietnam. Chapelle has the sad distinction of being the first female war correspondent to die during conflict when, in Vietnam in 1965, the platoon she was accompanying set off a
Logan was unusual in that she insisted the sexual assault element of her attack was reported. Other female reporters have kept sexual attacks private for fear of their employers keeping them away from the 7
front line. Artists take a different approach than journalists to war. The fundamental difference is that women who record war are doing it in the moment, their words or images taking on a meaning after they have been created dependent on the course of history and the context within which they are later viewed. Artists have the time to comment on war because they are often making their works after the
on all levels and so a women’s voices in the reporting war are vital.
event, with benefit of hindsight. These works, such as Frauke Eigen’s images, which will be detailed later, are delicate, sensitive and appallingly resonant of the violence of war. Mona Hatoum’s work reflects on her experiences of being separated from her family during the Lebanese civil war. Many women who have recorded war, whether as photographers, artists or writers would question whether their gender has any effect on the outcome of their reporting. However, whilst war is often thought of as masculine – started and played out by men – women are intrinsically involved
perfect for the 1920’s aesthetic and she was lauded and adored. In 1929 Miller went to Paris where she worked as a model for Man Ray, the surrealist artist and photographer. Working as a photographer herself, she developed a strong and successful style. In 1934 she married a wealthy Egyptian Aziz Eloui Bey and went to Cairo where she lived the life of a glamorous hostess. However, she continued her photography with a series of strong and beautiful images of the country. Leaving her husband for the surrealist Roland Penrose, her work continued to
Lee Miller was born in Poughkipsie, New York in 1907. Photographed from a young age by her father, she became a model in her teens and early twenties. Her lithe, blonde looks were
develop as they travelled through Greece and Romania. Miller exprimented with Surrealism – notably images such as the famous solarised portrait of Meret Oppenheim. She also took fashion photographs for Vogue. However, it was on the outbreak of WWII that Miller started on the journey for which she is perhaps best known. She became an accredited war reporter attached to the US army and is thought
Minister. After the war, Miller declared her interest in photography was dead and she rarely picked up a camera again. A series of images she capture during the war are known as ‘Grim Glory’ which seems fitting. As a woman working during the early part of the 20th century her achievements, freedom and bravery seem glorious. Yet her private life was tumultuous. A violent
to be the only women combat photojournalist who covered the entire war. She covered such important events as combat in Luxembourg and Alsace, the siege of St.Malo, the Liberation of Paris and the liberations of the death camps, Buchenwald and Dachau. She was billeted in Hitler’s house in Munich hence the famous photograph of her in Hitler’s bath. She captured on film Hitler’s mountain retreat, Eagles’ Nest, as the Allies burnt it. She then went further in Eastern Europe, chronicling the violent aftermath of the war; from children’s deaths in Vienna to the execution of the Hungarian Prime
rape when she was seven, dubious sexual overtones in her relationship with her father, an unhappy first marriage and the harrowing scenes witnessed during the war all led to a long life lived out of the spotlight, as an alcoholic and, according to her only son, a dysfunctional mother. It may be concluded that she couldn’t return to photography after the war because, after chronicling the death camps, executions and battles, what was left to photograph? She wouldn’t have been the first person for whom everyday life couldn’t live up to the adrenalin of war. Portrait of Space is an evocative image 9
taken in Egypt in 1937. It is part of her series on the Egyptian landscape. However, whilst the others in the series beautiful with strong crisp lighting and a great sense of the architecture of the desert landscape, this image is exceptional. It encapsulates the altered reality of surrealism without the sometimes self-satisfied trickery which
This reportage photograph, taken in Paris in 1944, shows a group of women who have just had their heads shaved; the traditional punishment for those who collaborated in romantic liaisons with the Nazis. Although reviled for their treachery, Miller allows these women a quiet dignity. The central figure stares, questioning yet seemingly
sometimes characterised the movement. The reality of the landscape gives the photograph a power that a set -up shot would lack. The rectangular mirror reflecting nothing could be interpreted from a gender perspective which would link with Miller’s own body sexuality and body image to the absence of image in the photograph. It is reputed to be the inspiration for Magritte’s Le Baiser which was painted in 1957.
unbroken into the camera. Perhaps Miller’s gender and her own experiences mean she does not judge these women in the same way as the people surrounding them. In doing so she offers us a glimpse on an unpalatable truth – that in the aftermath of something as far reaching and complex as the war, good and evil are not always identifiable by their uniforms.
Article cover page, Lee Miller in Hitlerâ€™s bath 194X, previous page centre spread from left to right, women collaborators, Paris, 1944, A Portrait of Space, 1937, both by Lee Miller, portrait of Lee Miller, war reportage image by Lee Mille. Opposite page, women collaborators Paris 1944. This page, guards at Buchenwald shortly after the Allied liberation of the concentration camp, both photographs by Lee Miller. All copyright retained by Lee Miller Archives www.leemiller.co.uk
Airey (1882-1964) trained at the Slade School of Fine Art and many of her pre-war works are pretty and well executed paintings of society hostesses or children romping in woodland. However, the outbreak of the First World War gave her the opportunity to change direction and she was commissioned by the government to create propaganda war art for the home front. The conditions were not always easy, as her great canvases of factories show. In the forges of Hackney Marshes it was so hot her shoes melted into the factory floor. She had to paint quickly and in a male dominated environment. However, due to the propaganda nature of her work, her images are celebratory of the effort and grandeur of the home war effort.
A Shell Forge, 1918
Drawings from the Falklands War 1982
Kitson (b.1945) was the first female artist to be commissioned to accompany British troops into battle. During the 1982 Falkland Islands war she travelled with the troops on the QEII to the South Atlantic. It was rumoured that she was not allowed to travel with the soldiers due to her gender but this is a misunderstanding based on the fact that many troops travelled by QEII as it was the fastest way to reach the islands. Her evocative sketches capture life on board, including the incongruities of heavy artillery being set up next to the swimming pool or perfume shop. She has spoken about how she had to make the decision at Goose Green whether to record the gruesome sites she was being confronted with â€“ she chose not to. She was also aware that her images were extremely important to the people involved in the war, as there were no photographers present at many events. Her drawings are often the only visual record of what happened.
From the series Shadow Sites
Al-Ani (b.1966) has, over recent years, been creating her series of works ‘Shadow Sites’. She is interested in documenting ‘a land without people’ and recording how conflict has left its mark on the landscape. She was partially inspired by the work of the forensic archaeologist Margaret Cox who, when working in Kosovo, would look for a blue butterfly. This butterfly liked specific vegetation that grew in rich, recently disturbed soil and so was often the signifier of mass graves from the Balkans war. Al-Ani is interested in how quickly the land can cover up violence and massacre leaving only imperceptible traces. She takes aerial images of landscapes that are mysterious and evocative, suggesting the ravages of man and conflict whilst also putting man’s influence on the land into context.
Untitled from the Gulf War series, 1991
In 2000 Eigen (b.1969) was working as a photojournalist in Kosovo when she heard that mass graves were being exhumed nearby. Rather than taking images of the bodies themselves she chose to focus upon the objects and clothing found in the graves. This is a truly reflective artists approach as opposed to the instant recording of the horrors of war. Whereas the graphic imagery of the exhumed bodies can have a depersonalising effect on the viewer, the space allowed by these images means our imaginations can conjure the living people who once wore the clothes or held the watch which Eigen photographs.
Images from the Kosovo 2000 series.
n 1935 Stalin declared that socialism had been achieved and the emancipated, gender neutral, socialist woman artist was dealt a death blow. During the following years the discourse within Soviet arenas of power and decision-making changed from focusing on the creation of an industrialised society to living in one. Concurrently, the role of women in society gradually returned to that of the domestic and maternal. As has occurred time and again in the revolutionary cycle, the revolutionary woman, such a vital part of the original struggle, was rejected from the sphere of power and sent back to the kitchen. This journey can be traced clearly when one considers the work of women artists of the era. Comparing the art of the famous avant-garde women artists of the early Soviet state, such as Popova and Goncharova with that of the lesser known artists of the social realist period in the 1930’s, reveals a clear and somewhat depressing contrast. The constructivist works of Popovaa, especially her architechtronic pieces, express a desire to achieve a purity in painting that she considered to have little to do with gender. Furthermore, her ‘production’ work, as it might be called, such as the propaganda posters or theatre costumes are clear in their egalitarian conviction regarding gender. There is always a complex relationship between art and the society it is produced within. In the case of Soviet Russia, this is intensified. It can be impossible to disentangle artists’ personal intentions from their political commitments and the demands made of them by the postrevolutionary society. Prior to the ‘Russian Revolution’ as it is generally thought of, the country has been in the grip of an autocratic regime for centuries. However, from 1905 onwards there were a series of revolts which culminated in the famous October Revolution. This installed a Bolshevik socialist government led by Lenin which, in turn, was followed by the civil war between the Bolsheviks (the majority party also known as the ‘reds’) and the Mensheviks (the minority socialist party also known the ‘whites’). Lenin died in 1924 and was replaced by Joseph Stalin who remained the Russian leader until his death in 1953.
In one sense Russian society changed completely from Popova’s birth in 1889 to her death in 1924, having moved from the medieval rule of the Tsars, through revolution to being a state that was committed to realising socialism. In practise there were many aspects of the Tsarist regime that were carried on by the Bolsheviks: the love of beaurocracy that became so characteristic of the USSR: the Okhrana (secret police) were similar in every way to Cheka (later KGB). Although under Lenin’s leadership there seemed to be a flourishing in personal freedoms, in reality the ‘Red Terror’ of his administration was a precursor of the ‘Terror’ unleashed on the country by Stalin. Everyone who lived during this period endured the fear of violence, hardship (not only due to the wars but also the famine which swept parts of the country in 1921) and betrayal. Secrecy, the need to be careful with what one said and to whom, was paramount. This is an interesting situation for an artist to be in, one that seems at odds with our contemporary belief in being able to freely express the self. This lack of freedom was coupled with the quasireligious devotion people felt for the revolution and the Bolshevik party. This led to situation where, for artists, their work only held any value if it contributed to the new order. Creativity being a part of the political was strengthened by Lenin’s famous ‘Plan for Monumental Propaganda’. Aware that creative people – not just artists, writers, and musicians but also designers, photographers and architects – could influence a largely illiterate society, Lenin planned to embrace those who would be useful to him. The plan has been seen by art historians as extremely important. Christina Lodder, in Lenin’s Plan for Monumental Propaganda, Art of the Soviets, states that “...for the first time art was directly harnessed to the service of the state and its ideology.” As its purpose was to disseminate propaganda throughout the population, the art had to be populist. For the first time, people felt art was for them rather than the elite. Trotski, quoted in Art of the Soviets, describes it thus. 23
“In the squares of Soviet cities, we are erecting monuments to our great men, the leaders of socialism. We are sure that these works of art will be dear to the heart of every worker and the entire mass of the people.” Meanwhile, Rodchenko developed the slogan, “Down with art as a precious stone in the midst of the dismal and dirty life of the poor! Down
meant that a multitude of artistic movements were splintering the idea of traditional art into a dynamic and exciting series of artistic experimentations. What began with the Impressionists in the 1860’s had become a ferment of differing styles and artistic ideologies, encompassing such movements as Fauvism, Symbolism, Secessionism and developing into
with art as a means of escaping from a life that is not worth living!” Arguably the most important aspect of the binding of the creative with the political, is the idea, which became increasingly the touchstone of Soviet art, that the artist must serve society. Therefore it seems clear that this environment was specific and it is difficult to disentangle the work of individual artists from the demands of politics and society. Popova was considered a member of the avantgarde, now a term used loosely to describe anything a little racy and unexpected. In terms of artistic movements the avant-garde has a rich history. At the start of the last century, the advent of what we now term ‘Modernism’
what was arguably the most influential style of the early 20th century, Cubism. All of these artists, though their ideas and styles varied immensely, were often and understandably described as the ‘avant-garde’. Popova was influenced by Malevich and his ‘Suprematism’. Suprematism could be seen as the Russian version of movements that were occurring all over Europe at the time; the Futurists of Italy, Vorticism in England and De Stijl in the Netherlands. They attempted the breakdown of a ‘realistic’ representation of the world and wanted instead to create a ‘truer’ representation inspired by their collective obsession with the modern – technology, movement, energy and new methods of
production and invention. The notion of ‘the city’ as a philosophical realisation of modernity was also of paramount importance and in this Lissitzky’s architectural training played a role in his creativity. Malevich sought to move beyond representation and seek a purer form of art. In his manifesto on Suprematism, ‘The NonObjective World’, published in 1927, he stated, “In the year 1913, trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of the square.” As a part of his early Suprematist work Malevich showed works that consisted of black squares. He then developed a series of works in which geometric, brightly coloured shapes floated on the canvas which were, according to the artist, the black square dissected into colour and form. By 1920 colour had given way to pure white and Malevich created his white square on a white background which he considered to be the ultimate painting. For Malevich, Suprematism could go no further yet he wanted to expand the idea of Suprematism into three dimensions. His own work had been flat. The artist El Lissitzky’s developed Malevich’s work with his own architectronic works known as the Prounen in which he developed a three dimensional aspect to the paintings. Popova followed this route too, joining the Supremacists in 1916 and beginning a series of paintings entitled ‘Painterly Architectronics’. Her commitment to the Revolution however always clashed with Malevich’s ideas of purity in painting and by the early 1920’s Popova committed herself to the movement known as Constructivism. She rejected the notion of ‘easel’ painting and was not interested in any kind of personal of philosophical exploration through art. Art was a means of production and Popova identified herself with the art of production – posters, books and theatre design. Popova died in 1924 of scarlet fever. It might have been interesting to see how she responded to the change in the demands made of artists over the following decades. In 1932 Stalin published ‘On the Reconstruction of Literary-Artistic organisations’, which brought all
artists unions under his full. By 1935, Stalin had decreed that ‘socialist realism’ was the only acceptable form of art and other forms, including religious art, erotic art, political art and formalist art, were banned. Artists who would not accept this new direction were persecuted. This included former followers of Malevich and the avant-garde of the early years of the revolution. Artists, such as the respected Vera Ermolaeva who had been a Malevich, were sent to a gulag. Her fate is unknown. The Culture Chief, Andrei Zhdanov, ensured that all art created fulfilled the criteria laid out for it by the communists. The only purpose of art was to inspire the general population as they worked to create and maintain a socialist society. As the heat of the revolution faded and people began to find ways of living day to day in this new socialist world, the normative began to be re-asserted. Whilst there was still space for women artists, increasingly it was on ‘women’ related projects. Women continued to focus on the ‘production’ aspect of art, such as theatre design and posters, not because of a political commitment to the Constructivist ideals of post-revolutionary Soviet Russia, but because the ‘fine arts’ of paintings were denied to them by the system as administered by Zhdanov. There was constant tension between the desire to portray women at this time as strong and equal, vital to the creation of the socialist society, and the increasing marginalisation of women back into acceptable ‘female’ roles. Comparing the work of Popova, (such as her 1921 poster ‘Production Clothing for Actor no.5 in Fernand Crommelynck’s play The Magnanimous Cuckold ‘) with the poster by Maria Bri-Bein (Hail the equal woman of the USSR, 1939). The tension between what the society was saying it wanted women to be (equal) and what it actually wanted women to be in clear in this second poster. The woman depicted is as feminine and soft as any Hollywood film star of the time. Pastel, pink and curvaceous she brings to mind the Paul Whitehouse comedy sketch where women think of nothing but ‘puppies and kittens’. What’s the betting she’s voting as her husband tells her? How different from Popova’s 25
Article cover image, ‘Hail the equal woman of the USSR’ 1939 by Maria Bri-Bein, next page ‘Space Force Construction’ by Popova, 1921 19, previous page The Cyclist by Goncharova, 1913, this page, Telegraph Operators by Maria Bri-Bein , opposite page, Goncharova, left, Popova, right. 26
woman, angular and ready for labour in her unisex blue overalls. For women at this time, the rhetoric was pro‘liberation’. Women would no longer be shackled to the kitchen. They could be whatever they wanted. Indeed the posters the women artists of the period were directed towards making, all show the strong, hearty, beautiful women we might recognise from Soviet propaganda. In reality, the free childcare, the obshestvennoe pitanie (community cafeterias) and one family/one room policy, which were intended to free women from the chains of domestic and maternal labour, meant little. The standards were low, unless you
had the right connections. Women ended up with all the domestic responsibilities they had always had but now, they also had to be ‘productive members of society’ and work long hours too. Not so different from the lives of their grandmothers in pre-revolutionary Russia. In the years following Stalin’s assertion that socialism had been realised, the stereotypical image of drudgery, fear and endless queuing that we in the West associate with the USSR was real life for many women. It was not the brave, experimental and gender neutral world artists such as Popova might have envisioned. The revolutionary woman was back in the kitchen once again. 27
If you remember them, if you were there, if you were one of them, you’ll probably have endless debates about how, when and why Riot Grrls came into existence. Their precise origins are lost in the mists of grunge, world recession and post-Gulf War misery. Musically and culturally there is a line to be drawn between the Riot Grrls back to UK women punks such as Poly Styrene, The Slits and Siousie Sioux. Vivienne Westwood’s punk fashions had their influence; the use of scrawled slogans can be seen in Riot Grrls and their current non-musical incarnation, the Femen protest movement. The general agreement is that the movement began in 1991 in Washington DC when the group Bikini Kill took to the stage and sang “Suck on my left one”. The phrase ‘Riot Grrls’ came from a variety of sources but was crystalised when Jen Smith of Bratmobile responded to race riots that took place in 1991 by stating that ‘This summer there’s going to be a girl riot’. Those who identified themselves as Riot Grrls liked to use the term girl to describe themselves because it encapsulated the freedom of youth. It was changed to the snarling ‘grrrl’ to emphasise the aggression and sneer they also incorporated. Riot Grrl culture was mainly expressed through music, with groups such as Huggy Bear and Heavens to Betsy gaining an international reputation. There was also a raft of fanzines and the philosophy of the Riot Grrl subculture was developed through these publications. Collaged, taped together and photocopied these ‘zines still have a raw appeal and a sense of artistry and style. A manifesto appeared in the Riot Grrl ‘zine which was published in 1991 by Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail of the band Bikini Kill. Riot Grrls wanted to address issues that
Professor F.M. Erah rememb were still being swept under the carpet - they spoke openly of sexual and domestic violence and eating disorders. They tried to create an inclusive movement that opened feminism up to people of all sexual orientations and different ethnicities. Whilst there was definitely a sense of white privilege that pervaded the Riot Grrl movement, this was more to do with the limitations of society than Riot Grrls excluding people. At the time many commentators were patronising towards Riot Grrls. The male bastion of music journalism didn’t know how to deal with these loud women who scrawled ‘cunt’, ’slut’ and ‘bitch’ across their flesh in lipstick. At best they
bers when the Grrrls rioted
The notion of the ‘angry young woman’ was formalised at this time and leaked into the mainstream. The Spice Girls were one of the mainstream (read maledominated) music industry’s attempts to assimilate Riot Grrl culture. Without Riot Grrls there would be no Alannis Morissette and consequently no Beyonce performing ‘You Oughta Know’ at Glastonbury in a pair of black Spanx. This trajectory also tells us everything that has gone wrong with the representation for women in music and culture over the past 20 years. However appealing Beyonce is, however loudly she might sing ‘Who runs the world? Girls!’ her image is so tied up in some weird combination of religious proscription and sexual provocation it’s difficult to see her as any kind of feminist. Riot Grrls certainly were naïve in the sense that they refused to recognise their message of female empowerment would be listened to by many more people if they sang it wearing nothing but a thong and a weave. How popular would Beyonce be in a baggy t-shirt with ‘cunt’ written across her face? Now, that’s a video I’d like to see. Excerpt from the Riot Grrrl Manifesto
were dismissed as uneducated and juvenile. At worst, those words they were trying to reclaim were spat back at them. Unlike the boy world of Grunge, which quickly became mainstream, Riot Grrls deliberately remained a subculture. By the mid-90’s the movement had fractured and lost its momentum. Many of the groups involved carried on making music; Bikini Kill have recently released a new version of their first album and are starting up their own record label. However, Riot Grrl as an active movement quickly passed into history. Yet now, more than 22 years later, it’s clear that they left a huge impression.
BECAUSE us girls crave records and books and fanzines that speak to US that WE feel included in and can understand in our own ways. BECAUSE we wanna make it easier for girls to see/hear each other’s work so that we can share strategies and criticize-applaud each other. BECAUSE we must take over the means of production in order to create our own moanings. BECAUSE viewing our work as being connected to our girlfriends-politics-real lives is essential if we are gonna figure out how we are doing impacts, reflects, perpetuates, or DISRUPTS the status quo. 29
The Professor ponders the allure of the perfect white lace dress When a friend was going through a difficult time she found herself indulging a new displacement activity. For hours on end she would search the internet, fashion magazines and shops for a very specific item – the perfect white lace dress. Not a wedding dress but a white lace dress she could wear every day. Of course she wanted to be able to wear it with sexy shoes and with Doc Martens. She wanted to be able to wear it to the opera and to the supermarket. She wanted a dress that when she put it on, would turn her into a cross between an Edwardian virgin and Rita Hayworth in Gilda. So far she hasn’t found it. But why did she want one in the first place? Surely white lace must be the least desirable of fabrics for a middle aged woman in an emotional crisis. A white lace dress would be nothing but a quickly filthy, lump enhancing bit of fancy dress. Personally I didn’t even get married in white lace, as it felt too much, even for a wedding. Yet a quick canvas amongst friends (and flick through the celebrity fashion blogs) shows that she is not alone; even I can sort of see the appeal. The website ‘feministwedding.com’ describes white lace as ‘the symbolic fabric of destiny’. It clearly says something very different about the wearer than black satin. The unnamed heroine of Daphne du Maurier’s 32
Rebecca is far more of a white lace girl although she longs to be a sophisticated woman in black satin. We are all aware of the symbolism of purity which can be understood in the context of a wedding but why this yearning from women who are clearly neither brides nor virgins? White lace is the fabric of babies, virgins and brides. When Bette Davis wears white lace in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ she is refusing to let go of her childhood ego, no matter how grotesque, because the realities of adult life are too unbearable. When brides wear white it’s because they are the princess and the star; the person who takes up all the focus without any of responsibility. Sometimes you just want to give up or have a rest. Putting on the white lace dress is the sartorial means of infantilising oneself. It’s saying “please look after me. I’m soft and clueless and can’t do anything other than wander through a meadow in the haze of a summer’s evening”. So when you see a middle aged woman in a white lace dress, take a moment to provide some sisterly support. Perhaps buy her a cup of tea and a cake and remind her that life isn’t all bad and there are people who’ll be there for her. Then point her in the direction of the black satin. It’s so much more flattering.
Segregation and Education: what’s best for girls? I was thinking about single sexeducation the other day…. I love those 1970’s feminist utopian (and dystopian) novels in which gender segregation is explored. In my early twenties I was pretty convinced that temporary segregation was the only way for women to achieve their full potential. I had some idea about certain men being gradually reintroduced for reproductive purposes but at that point my thinking became a little murky and suddenly I found myself in some sexy French noir film with Keanu Reeves... But many years on, living with a husband and son who I really wouldn’t want to be locked up on the Isle of Man, I’m reconciled to the idea of us all muddling along together. However, there is increasing proof that education works best when the difference in learning styles between the genders is acknowledged. Whether these are innate biological differences or nurtured is one of those endless dinner party arguments. I have seen many little girls of my son’s age rewarded for sitting quietly drawing whilst boys are applauded for running around, so I can’t imagine our children aren’t affected by these long-held gender traditions.
Having said that, I went to an all-girls school and the benefit was immense. Is it because I was freed from competition with boys that it has never occurred to me I might be of lesser capability or intellect? That style and relationship with my own appearance developed in a world of its own, rather than one dictated by what boys found sexy? I think that for girls single sex education is still of great benefit. Yet for boys it’s the other way around. Girls often demonstrate how to be more focused and less aggressive. Boys learn a great deal from being educated in a mixed environment. So how do we get around this problem? We could sacrifice some girls to the boys. We could use the Harry Potter sorting hat at the start of puberty so girls who are deemed the brightest and the best could be sent to an all-girls school and the others thrown to the boys in the hopes of civilising them. Sounds crazy? I think it’s called the 11+. Opposite, lace skull by Alexander McQueen, above the original St.Trinians’ girls
Feminism at Forty…. not just a myth. Pipped to the post by bloody Woman’s Hour! I’d been planning to write about the generation gap in feminism for a while now, as reading the feminist blogosphere is pretty depressing when you’re over 35. All this energy and anger displayed by these young women is exciting and dynamic but it doesn’t speak to me or, I know, many women in my age group. For example the quite reasonable desire to not be pigeonholed due to one’s sexuality, gender and appearance is focused on whereas the difficulties surviving on a small pension or caring for small children at the same time as elderly parents is hardly ever mentioned. Vagenda isn’t the place to find witty and insightful comment on the menopause. I can remember how outraged, upset and sometimes scared I felt when, as a young woman, men commented crudely on my breasts or lips. Of course we should insist on freedom from this. However, they don’t yet know how equally outraged, upset (and even scared in a different way) you can feel when you realise the cloak of sexual invisibility has descended on you. It’s not the same as being terrorised by a group of aggressive men. But it’s still devastating. This was brought home when I was entertaining myself by filling out the ’Ethical Slut’ on-line questionnaire. The question ’What is your attitude to contraception’ gave me the option of “I’m trying to get pregnant”, “I always use contraception” or “I’m in a same sex relationship”. OK, so no ‘I’m too old 34
to have a baby?’. Does that mean I’m too old to be an Ethical Slut? Too old to enjoy sex? And this is supposed to be about women reveling in their sexuality! But only if you’re young…. Also, whilst I admire the energy and anger of younger woman, I view it with the same slightly envious detachment I have when I see that my son can bend over backwards and touch his nose to the ground. It’s the privilege of youth. I used to be that angry and dynamic once but now, frankly, I’m too flipping tired. We are the ‘sandwich’ generation, looking after both elderly relatives and young children. Many us who, no matter how happily we identify as feminists, are still caught in the dull but inescapable situation that when we had children we stepped off the career ladder and now have only a small pension and so are reliant financially on our male partners. Of course, plenty of my friends have not had children or have female partners or no partners at all. Or they have managed to combine children with having excellent professional jobs and earning lots of money. They’re all still flipping tired though because when you’re in your forties, unfortunately you get tired that bit more easily. Young women feminists can also be a little scary. Back in the early 90’s I was up to speed with the current thrust of feminism. But that was a long time ago – after all I studied on a course that was still known as “Women’s Studies”. (They changed it to gender studies half-
way through, much to our confusion). So after a baby and hormone induced hiatus, my return to the feminist world was full of fear of the new. Why are we talking about being trans-gender? What the hell is ‘cis‘? What does this have to do with good, old fashioned feminism? Of course, it has everything to do with it. When I watch ‘Girls’ - which I have done, whether I’m supposed to have or not - I realise that women born at the same time I was buried in my ‘Women’s Studies’ course are very different to me. And, stupid me, this came as a shock because I thought my generation had it sussed. It is the joy of the young to think you know best and the curse of the middle aged to discover you don’t. But these younger women are racing ahead with things I’m only just trying to understand. I felt abandoned. There seemed to be little interest in this subject, until I switched on the radio today and found Woman’s Hour talking about this very subject. So what I lose in originality I gain in solidarity. The International Longevity Centre (ILC) has just published a compendium of essays entitled ‘Has the Sisterhood forgotten older women?’ in which they consider different aspects of ageing such as the specific health issues faced by women, social isolation and financial hardship. Laurie Penny, 26 year old writer and commentator (and yes, that hurts, writing the age 26) was very supportive of the older feminist woman and recognised that working together, across the generations is vital if we are to make headway with dismantling the oppressions of patriarchy. (Which personally is something I’m pretty committed too, no matter how tired) . Penny did point out that mainstream media is a bit obsessed with the whole working mother/work life balance, which may be true but the problem with
that is the word ‘mainstream’. When the Daily Express talks about childcare or working mothers they are doing it from a political and cultural perspective that doesn’t mean anything to me. I already know their moralising standpoint. I don’t only want Good Housekeeping’s ideas about how to pretend I’m not going through the menopause. I want these issues discussed by all women who call themselves feminists, whatever their age. The media friendly grand-standing indulged in by the likes of Sheryl Sandberg means little to most working women and it is this end of the debate that receives the most focus. Thoughtful essays like ‘Not seen or heard? Older women in the workplace’ by Professor Wendy Loretto, which is published in the ILC’s essay compendium are not sexy enough to get a spread in the papers. And it would be good to discuss things without the bitching and self-defeating in-fighting. One of the least admirable aspects of the angry young woman blogging away is the late night Twitter bitch fests in which feminists assassinate each other over the incorrect use of language or the etiquette of trigger warnings. Similar to the relief that overwhelms you when you realise you’re old enough to say ‘no, thank you, I don’t do coke anymore‘, saying no to Twitter at 2am is one of the great things about getting older. But the passion is something to admire, especially after a decade of watching young women seemingly only interested in how to fit a small dog into an expensive handbag. Our world weariness comes with knowledge and experience. Combined we would be unstoppable.
For this issue our Showcase is spotlighting five creative women who have come to our attention during the past few months. The first three, Simone Brewster, Curmiah LiXXXX and Megan Pickering all presented work at the V&A’s Artist Unseen event in March 2013. We found Katy Cercone, a New York based artist via the fabulous medium of Twitter and have been visiting her website regularly ever since. Finally Mindy Lee curated an exhibition at the WW Gallery last year and her own work is destined for great things.
Cercone’s videos refer to the great tradition of avant-garde performance art, such as Viennese Activism, but are infused with uniquely contemporary symbols and imagery. Hiphop, internet pornography and yoga all play their part in these candy coloured explorations of the contemporary goddess archetypes and Jungs ‘cultural dreaming’. Cercone has shown her Hiphopophilia performative video sculpture throughout the United States and abroad. She is also a yoga instructor and a founding member of the radical queer feminist collective Go! Push Pops. www.katiecercone.com
Still studying, Megan Pickering’s current mixed media work is exciting, mature and predicates a future as an artist to watch closely. She focuses on exploring the language of gender-based violence as she attempts to highlight the problems with the representation of sexual violence in art and society. Taking part in the efforts to help to redefine these representations is one of Pickering’s aims with her work. She has also created an exciting, collage of a website and blog entitled ‘I am not a Woman Artist’ which is worth visiting. http://meganpickering.tumblr.com/ & http://iamnotawomanartist.tumblr.com/ Below, Vajazzeing Sheela-Na-Gig, 2010, above, from the Grooming Fixations series, 2012
Brewster trained at the Bartlett School of Architecture and is a product designer currently specialising in jewellery and furniture. Her work, which marries architecture with sculpture, is both challenging and beautiful in the tradition of the best fine art. Brewster is interested in the relationship between space, the body and the objects which occupy the voids in between. She also refers to her background and explores the questions of ethnicity as seen through a European lens. Her Negress lounge and Mammy table (below) are deconstructions of the black female body as referenced through the art of Primitivism and Cubism and were first exhibited at the London Design Festival in 2010. http://www.simonebrewster.co.uk/
A model, dancer and performance poet Curmiah has great energy and talent. She mesmerised the audience at the Pecha Kucha with her rendition of her already celebrated poem â€˜Lucian Prideâ€™. A film of Lissette performing Lucian pride can be found here. http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=xEadrWbVFgQ
Lee completed an MA at the Royal College of Art in 2004 and has since exhibited widely and completed residencies in both the UK and Canada. She produces paintings, drawings and collages that ooze, literally, with a tangible and tactile physicality. Thick trails of paint, scatological and intestinal in effect, challenge the viewer to take a new approach to pieces which otherwise suggest classical paintings and sculptures. For Lee her works ‘slips between decay and revival, where disgust and seduction intertwine through a revelling in squeamishness.’ http://www.mindylee.co.uk Above Johns’ overfaced (Dolci) 2011.
“This revolution will only take effect when all women
fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society” become
Olympe de Gouge, writer and revolutionary “The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen”, 1791
s Chairman Mao is believed to have replied, when asked how the French Revolution had influenced the world: it’s too early to tell”. The Revolution lasted for only a decade, from 1789 to 1799, with the violence and terror we associate with the period taking place between 1792 and 1797. It was more
way of thinking, it would be easy to believe the only woman of note in the French Revolution was MarieAntoinette. An iconic figure who has always created complex reactions in those around her, she was both admired and detested. A victim and a perpetrator, the role forced upon her might lead us to consider interesting
than two hundred years ago and yet, as the Arab Spring demonstrated, the patterns set by the French Revolution are still being played out today. Similarities between that long ago revolution and recent ones are multiple; from the importance which the price of wheat and bread played to the ‘middleout’ structure of the wave of revolution, whereby the professional classes and bourgeoisie, so often keepers of the status quo, were in fact the force for change. The Egyptian revolution, in particular, mirrors the French one, with its public demonstrations in Tahrir Square echoing those long ago mass protests in Paris. Unless considering events from a gender perspective is important to your
questions of innocence and guilt, compliance and involvement. How acceptable it is to say ‘I didn’t know what was happening’. Asma Sadat, wife of the Syrian President evokes much the same response. However, the French Revolution initially provided the opportunity for women to fulfil potential that might otherwise have been left untapped. Many women in Paris, from all classes, joined the mass protests. Educated women taught the uneducated how to read. Working women showed their strength and intelligence by demanding domestic and financial rights. The Bread March on October 5th 1789 is a pivotal moment; the women of Paris marched on Versailles in numbers so large that the
royal family was forced to leave its refuge and return to the city. As a mob the women had shown their strength. As individuals, they played crucial roles in the revolution both the traditional role of supporting the men but also in their own right as authors, politicians and campaigners. However, by the end of the Revolution
society – well, it’s too early to tell.
the role the women played had been trampled underfoot. As we have seen again in recent years, male revolutionaries can be extremely regressive in their ideas about women’s place in society. The brief flowering of progressive gender equality for women – literacy, property owning, the right to divorce – was quashed. In the following articles three writers examine different aspects of women’s role in the French Revolution. As you read them, bear in mind that what happened then is still happening now and to understand this history gives us great insight into our current situation. The aftermath of the French Revolution is still unfolding and as for its final outcome relating to women’s role in
side. She had been a courtesan and singer but by 1792 she led a political salon which was frequented by revolutionaries such as Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins. She was a great public speaker who could win over a crowd and initially this earned her great respect and admiration. Known as the ‘Fury of the Girondists’. However, as the Revolution played out she became disappointed with her male counterparts ideas about the role of women. Her increasingly vitriolic outbursts calling for equality between the sexes regularly interrupted the National Assembly. In 1792 Anne had been involved in (indeed partially incited), the violent 10th August riot and massacre of the
Forgotten Women of the Revolution “The Fury of the Gironde” Anne Theroigne de Mericourt 17621817 Anne dressed in a red leather riding habit with a plume in her hat, a pistol in her belt and a sword dangling at her
A series of contemporary women posed as the women of the French Revolution, clockwise from top left, Laura as Claire Lacombe, model as Anne Theroigne de Mericourt, Sian as Pauline Leon and Vivienne as Manon Roland. Previous page, detail from drawing/tapestry of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women. 44
National Guard. It is also reputed that she encouraged the violent mob to kill a writer, Suleau, who had offended her. After this she began to moderate her behaviour. This, together with her clear identification with Girondist party, meant that she was a ripe target when Robespierre and the Jacobins rose to power. In May 1793 she was stripped naked and viciously beaten in public by a group of Jacobin women. After this Anne’s behaviour became increasingly erratic. She refused to wear clothes in protest at her dishonour and was taken to La Salpêtrière, a metal asylum. She never recovered her sanity and spent the remainder of her life raging. Manon Roland 1754-1793 It has been said that, for a few weeks, Madame Roland was the most powerful woman in Paris. After Louis XVI of France was finally deposed Roland entertained at her salon the men of the new government - Jean Paul Marat, Georges Jacques Danton, and Maximilien Robespierre. Those same men quickly turned on the Rolands when they failed to support their increasingly violent measures for exercising political control following the French Revolution. Within a few months, Roland had exchanged her Paris mansion for a prison cell. Awaiting execution, Roland wrote her memoirs of the remarkable series of events that led to the Revolution and its violent aftermath, along with recollections from her early life. Her posthumously published Mémoires made her one of the leading heroines of the French Revolution and a model of feminine virtue. She left behind her one of the few accounts of women in prison during the eighteenth century Her writings contributed to the increasing importance and popularity of the autobiographical genre after Jean-
Jacques Rousseau's influential Les Confessions. Manon was beautiful and clever with high ideals she refused to compromise. Her childhood ambition had been to be a nun. Despised by the sybarite Danton for her piety she was equally loathed by the prissy Robespierre for her apparent sensuality. In fact she was more interested in the mind and was perhaps naively disappointed that the male revolutionaries did not admire what she perceived to be her obvious intellectual superiority. However, this may be because she was happy to play the role ‘greater woman behind the great man’. Whilst everyone knew she was the political and intellectual force behind her husband’s rise to power, Manon willingly engaged in the masquerade that he was dominant. It is partly this legacy that has spoken to women down through the ages and ensured that, especially during the early part of the 20th century she was a feminist heroine to many women engaged in the struggle for universal suffrage. Manon was guillotined November 8, 1793. The last words attributed to her, said to be spoken to a clay statue of the figure of Liberty, are “O Liberty! What crimes are committed in your name!” Claire Lacombe (1765 -?) Claire Lacombe escaped a life of desperate provincial poverty by becoming an actress. Although beautiful, she was not a huge success in the theatre and was quickly drawn into the Revolution after her arrival in Paris. Lacombe fought with the rebels during the storming of the Tuilleries on August 10th. She continued to fight despite being shot in the arm and became known as the ‘Heroine of August Tenth’. For her bravery, she was awarded a civic crown. Lacombe attended the Cordeliers Club through and there she became involved 45
with the most radical extremes of the Revolution. In February, 1793, Lacombe and another female revolutionary, Pauline Léon, founded the militant Society of Revolutionary Republican Women – Société des Citoyennes Républicaines Révolutionnaires. A society of mostly working-class women this group was associated with the most militant sans-culottes. This society was not only supportive of the revolution but also campaigned for the rights of women – to literacy, divorce, property ownership and the vote. It has been speculated that Lacombe’s career as an actress was key to her becoming a revolutionary. She had been a witness to the casual excesses of the aristocracy. She had also enjoyed the financial and sexual independence of a woman who lived outside the normal domestic sphere. Wanting this independence for other women who were illiterate and repressed important to her, as was her strong friendship with Pauline Leon. In the Reign of Terror, the enragés were suppressed along with most other extremist groups, including Lacombe's. Barred in 1794 from any political activity, she considered returning to the theater but in April she was arrested. For the next sixteen months she was moved from prison to prison. Lacombe was finally released on 18 August 1795. Almost nothing is known of her life after 1798.
Pauline Leon (1768-1838) Pauline Léon was one of six children born to the chocolate maker Pierre-Paul Léon. Her father died in 1784. Pauline became radicalised after experiencing the hardships of life amongst the poor of Paris. Without a male protector her family’s living was always precarious as the legality of women’s ownership of property could be challenged at any 46
time. At this time in France, more flour was used to powder the heads of the aristocracy at Versailles than was used for making bread in the whole of Paris. She became an agitator after watching the execution of the leaders of a bread riot (including boys as young as twelve.) In 1791 Pauline addressed the National Assembly on behalf of Parisian women, suggesting that a female militia should be formed so that women could protect their homes from counter-revolutionary assaults. Léon was a founder of the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women with Claire Lacombe and became its president on 9 July 1793. The Société barely lasted a year before the now powerful Jacobins banned it. She was also a leader of the Femmes Sans-Culottes in 1793. It seems that Pauline was organised, passionate and practical, turning her attention to the realities of poor women’s lives rather than occupying herself with high ideals. At around the age of 30 she married Théophile Leclerc, the leader of the enragés. They were both arrested during the Terror and held separately in the Luxembourg prison from April to August,1794. Little is known about Léon's later life. She died at home in Bourbon-Vendée on 5 October 1838.
Olympe de Gouges 1748 – 1793 At 18 Marie Gouze was married "… to a man I did not love and who was neither rich nor well-born. I was sacrificed for no reason that could make up for the repugnance I felt for this man." When he died a year later she moved to Paris and changed her name to Olympe de Gouge. Beautiful and clever she was popular with the artists and intellectuals of the day. She was a successful play write despite the many accusations that she was illiterate and her lovers wrote her plays for her.
Olympe was passionate about injustice. Believing herself to be illegitimate and unacknowledged by her real father, she greatly identified with those whom she perceived to be unfairly treated by society. She wrote in defense of women, the illegitimate and slaves. Olympe was a supporter of the early revolution. She believed in the abolition of the monarchy and supported the ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality. However, she soon came to understand that these were not to be extended to the women of the revolution. Olympe’s most famous writing is her response to the political tract ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen’. In 1791 she published ‘Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen’ . Olympe did not support the execution of the King. Politically she was identified with the more moderate Girondists. In 1793, after many Girondists had been executed Olympe published “Les Trois Urnes, ou le Salut de la Patrie, par un Voyageur Aérien” (The Three Urns, or the Salvation of the Country, by an Aerial Traveler) of 1793. This poster called for a public vote on what kind of government the people wanted. Olympe was arrested. From prison she managed to continue writing and published her last pamphlet, Une patriote persécutée in which she condemned the terror. She was guillotined on 2nd November 1793.
and became Marie Antoinette. She became Queen of France in 1774. At first France was charmed by her youthful charm and prettiness. However, continuing enmity between France and Austria sullied her reputation and she became the target of their bitterness. She was accused of being profligate and promiscuous. Stories of her ridiculous excess and frivolity at a time when many French people were suffering extreme hardship are well known. At the height of the Revolution, Louis XVI was deposed and the monarchy abolished on 10 August 1792. The royal family was subsequently imprisoned at the Temple Prison. For the nine months after her husband's execution, Marie Antoinette was known as the Widow Capet. She was tried, convicted of treason and guillotined on 16 October 1793.Marie Antoinette has passed into the status of legend afforded to only a few people; she is no longer an individual but a symbol. No matter how many books, films or paintings try to remind us of the person she was, each generation’s reinterpretation of her says more about the culture of that generation than about the woman herself.
Marie-Antoinette/The Widow Capet 1755 – 1793 Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna was an Archduchess of Austria and the Queen of France and of Navarre. She was the fifteenth child of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. In April 1770, when she was 15 years old, she married the Dauphin of France 47
“Erotic capital is what economists call a personal asset, ready to take its
place alongside economic, cultural, human
and social capital. It is …. important for social mobility and
success.” Catherine Hakim, academic and author of “Erotic capital: the Power of Attraction in the bedroom and the Boardroom”
Francesca Brooks questions whether women can use their bodies for political power ‘…the female body’s bounty and its ardour, often denoted by the bare breast, has been seen to possess the energy a society requires for the utopian condition, lawful liberation. But it has done so only by recapitulating the ancient and damaging equivalences between male and culture, female and nature. Otherness is a source of potential and power; but it cannot occupy the centre.’ (Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens, p.293)
Within the female body of the Marianne of French Liberty, depicted barebreasted in semblance of her maternal and sexual power, women of the French Revolution found a utopian ideal for their involvement in, and centrality to, the new politics of La Republique. From the platform upon which a statue (whether it be the Virgin Mary or Joan D’Arc) is raised, to the ‘amphitheatre’ of public executions; the stage of the French Revolution provided women with an arena within which their formerly private bodies (consigned to the sexual politics of the bedroom) could become public and political signifiers. The new feminine La Republique of France emblematised in the figure of Liberty, appeared to found itself upon feminine values and opened out a space for women to construct a feminised political discourse within a new world of active political engagement. Mary Wollstonecraft believed that her femininity made her uniquely qualified
to record the revolution: ‘To mark the prominent features of this revolution, requires a mind, not only unsophisticated by old prejudices, and the inveterate habits of degeneracy; but an amelioration of temper, produced by the exercise of the most enlarged principles of humanity.’ Whereas the patriarchy represented the old system of France, it was the matriarchy who had the humanity to nurse the new Republic into sustaining life. It was at university that I came across Helen Maria Williams and her French Revolution letters. Williams had defied convention by travelling alone to revolutionary France, where she actively supported the revolution. After the September Massacre of 1792 she allied herself with the Girondists, hosting figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine as a saloniere. But with the fall of Gironde and the rise of the Reign of Terror, she and her family were imprisoned in Luxembourg. During her time in France she recorded her experience of the revolution in two volumes of letters. While the first (Letters Written in France: 1790) is careful to veil itself under the pretence of correspondence, Williams tentatively asks for example, ‘Did you expect that I should ever dip my pen in politics, who used to take so small an interest in public affairs’ (p.109); the second volume (An Eyewitness Account of the French Revolution) is braver in confirming its status as political discourse, placing her firmly within a legacy of active revolutionary women 49
The Woman’s Revolution – a timeline 27 March 1777 A group of male philosophers published the Encyclopedie describing women as “failed men”, an undeveloped fetus in the womb. A woman was to remain outside of the political sphere, her only influence, the raising of future citizens. 5 October 1789 Around 7000 women marched on Versailles demanding bread and grain. (below)
30 December 1790 Etta Palm D’Aelders addressed the French National Convention with her speech, "Discourse on the Injustice of the Laws in Favour of Men, at the Expense of Women". 27 April 1791 Olympe de Gouges (playwright) began to write political pamphlets and eventually created the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, challenging male authority. 6 March 1792 Pauline Leon submitted a petition signed by over 300 women to the National Assembly. It asked for permission for
women to be given the right to bear arms. Her request was denied. 1 June 1793 Marie-Jeanne Roland de la Platiere was arrested. She had written about how it was a woman's inferior education that was to blame for their lack of political involvement but was arrested for her political activism. During her stay in prison she wrote her memoirs.
9 July 1793 Claire Lacombe and Pauline Leon founded the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, lasting less the five months, but forcing the issue of women’s inequality into light. There were up to 180 women attending the meetings and the women took part in many revolts and uprisings. 13 Jul 1793 Charlotte Corday stabbed Jean-Paul Marat to death in his bath tub, she believed Marat was a threat to the Republic of France. 16 October 1793 Marie Antoinette is executed.
and female commentators in 18th century France. Even Williams’ choice of the epistolary form is a tactical frame for the feminised politics she presents. The word ‘genre’ has the same etymological root as ‘gender’ and this is a particularly relevant in the 18th century when perceptions of genre were ineradicably gendered. Political discourse was exclusively male, while fiction and novels, especially epistolary novels, were associated with the feminine and often prejudicially trivialised. The letters are just a frame, a facilitation for something far more ambitious in intent, and it is Williams’ portrayal of the female body as a vessel for the optimism of the Republic and the emancipation of women, which makes them particularly significant. William Cohen argues that pre and postrevolutionary France was engaged in a culture of ‘statumania’ where ‘Civic symbolism made it possible for people to imagine common membership in this community’ (p.491). With the potent and prevalent image of the Marianne at the centre, her femininity radiating through the iconographic culture of France, Williams finds a foundation and a model for corporeal political symbolism. Whether it is the female statues which line the streets of France, or the statuesque portraits she begins to record of women going to the guillotine, Williams engages with ‘statumania’ and presents female bodies loading with political power. In her Eyewitness Account of the French Revolution, Williams witnesses countless executions of women, producing, in response, a literary portrait of each as they prepare for death and are executed. For Williams this is an attempt to capture the heroic moments of these women, creating a memorial which transforms their private body and beauty, constructed in the dressing
room, into an object of public admiration and political meaning. The public executions staged in the Tuilleries of Paris, were described by Williams as taking place in a ‘political amphitheatre’. After Charlotte Corday’s assassination of Marat in his bath tub in 1793 Williams attended her execution, recording her ‘majestic solemnity’ (p.93) and the ‘heroism which she displayed in the way to execution’. Another witness of the execution, Adam Lux, published a pamphlet suggesting that a statue should be raised in Corday’s honour inscribed with ‘Greater than Brutus’ (p.93), aligning her actions with a classical coup d’etat. The murder of Marat was certainly memorialised in many contemporary paintings making Corday one of the more sensational female heroines, but in Williams’ portrait of Corday’s stoic final moments she comes closest to making her a statue. Corday’s execution freezes her features in a ‘last impression of offended modesty’ (p.94).This ‘offended modesty’, a political expression which accuses as unjust the men and the machinery who have put her to death, also reminds us of the ‘private’ status of the woman’s body, now brutalised before the public. For Williams it was the ‘firmness’ of France’s female heroines which made them particularly memorable: ‘Among the victims of the tyrants, the women have been peculiarly distinguished for their admirable firmness in death. Perhaps this arose from the superior sensibility which belongs to the female mind’ (p.120). It is this firmness, comparable to the marble and stone of the statues which surrounds them, that grants them the right to memorialisation. Williams claims that Madame Roland, ‘one of those glorious martyrs who have sealed with their blood the liberties of their country’ (p.116), becomes ‘embalmed in 51
the minds of the wise and the good’ at execution. If a woman’s sacrifice is politically motivated, it is also feminised; inevitably tied to the sentimental attachments of the community within which the woman exists. At the beginning her letters Williams recounts, ‘crowds of women surrounded the soldiers, and holding up their infants in their arms, and melting into tears, promised to make their children
such horrors’ (p.101). The propaganda of a martyred Marie Antoinette is based on an idea of motherhood. The power of female political symbols in the maternal; tracing its roots back to the Virgin Mary, the women who face execution during the French Revolution respond with a mixture of martyred stoicism and passionate emotion. This reflects the history of the Virgin Mary’s own representation in flux: Antoinette’s ‘cheeks were
imbibe, from their earliest age, an inviolable attachment to the principles of the new constitution’ (p.9-10), as a writer she was not alone in her association with the values of the Republic with those of women. When Marie Antoinette is tried before her execution in the ‘amphitheatre’ Williams recalls her appealing ‘to the conscience of every mother present to declare if there be one amongst them who does not shudder at the idea of
sometimes in a singular manner streaked with red, and sometimes overspread with deadly paleness’ (p.101). Marie Antoinette is simultaneously a passionate, emotional red and pale as a statue. Neither of these extremes is negative, the combination makes her everything the public want her to be; a human mother and political symbol. For Williams motherhood places women in direct opposition to the
machinery which ends life in the daily executions of the corrupt ‘Terror’ which Williams is reacting against. Williams is interested in the brutality involved in the execution of women, as mothers are separated from sons and daughters. Pregnant women are kept on death row until they have given birth and then newly born children are ripped from their mothers. The guillotine is marked by both the streaming of blood and mother’s milk; images which enhance the brutality of the ‘Terror’ whilst simultaneously glorifying the tenderness of women. This blood is both the violent spillage of the guillotine as well as the menstrual blood which endows women with their differentiating power compared to the blood-thirsty men. The woman’s body becomes the new body politic of France. If it is Liberty and the Marianne who are the seed of William’s statuesque portraits, then it is Liberty we must return to in determining the political effectiveness of such memorialisation. At University my supervisor forced me to scrutinise Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People until I relented: I satisfied his palpable, unspoken desire, and commented on Liberty’s bare breasts. What do you notice? What do you notice about Liberty? He insisted. That soft curve of pale flesh is the very centre of this painting, it is the most obvious thing – so why mention it? In that moment it felt like I wasn’t just being forced to recognise a naked pair of breasts, I was also being made to feel aware of my ‘otherness’, of my own body. Liberty is powerful, defiant, a glorious and beautiful figure to lead, but she is also a woman and those bare breasts are an incontrovertible reminder: they are her weakness. She is not like Joan of Arc: she is not sexless, she is sexy. That is not to say that heroism must be sexless, but simply to acknowledge the symbolically loaded
binarism which divides and excludes. Liberty leads the people, but do we ever truly see her as a leader? In Ancient Rome, only men who had died in battle and women who had died in childbirth could have their name inscribed on a tombstone. Roman society was divided between the ‘oikos’, the domestic household, and the ‘polis’, the city state where only men who had defended the city in warfare could claim citizenship or ‘politai’. In William Shakespeare’s Roman play Coriolanus the formidable matriarch Volumnia snatches her citizenship through her son and the corporeal connection of her breasts and her womb: “Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck’st it from me;” she declares: dominating and possessive, a suffocating mother. In William Shakespeare’s Rome female glory is only accessible through two very gender-specific body parts: the womb and the breasts. The womb that produces a son, the breasts which give sustaining life to that son; both equate to a second-hand glory when that son fights for his country and returns or dies a hero: “The breasts of Hecuba, When she did suckle Hector. Look’d not lovelier Than Hector’s forehead when it spit forth blood At Grecian sword” proclaims the power-hungry, Volumnia. Volumnia can claim power, but it is never independently her own and it will be perpetually founded upon that dividing and unequal binarism. That I couldn’t get passed Liberty’s breasts with my supervisor was therefore pertinent. It’s like that familiar reduction that if you put a pair of breasts in front of man he’ll lose all powers of concentration: as women our bodies are always getting in the way. It is for this reason that I return to the wisdom of Marina Warner, the point at 53
which I started – like a warning note ‘the female body’s bounty and its ardour, often denoted by the bare breast, has been seen to possess the energy a society requires for the utopian condition, lawful liberation. But it has done so only by recapitulating the ancient and damaging equivalences between male and culture, female and nature. Otherness is a source of potential and power; but it cannot occupy the centre.’ As reluctant as I may be to brand Maria Williams’ work a failure, and as seductive as her theatre of executions, her framing of this morbid spectacle within poetic literary portraits are: I can’t help feeling that she is, as Warner would describe it, ‘participating in a living allegory.’ Seduced by the propaganda of the very authorities she rails against. In Arthur Miller’s play The Resurrection Blues, in which a TV crew sets up the cameras and plans the advertisement breaks to air a live crucifixion, Skip points out that, ‘The paintings are not like it is’. There is a serious disconnect between the real event and its record, that difference is as clearly cut as reality and fiction and it is as relevant to Helen Maria Williams’ execution portraits as it is to Anais Nin’s execution porn. Although what Helen Maria Williams records is a true political theatre, a spectacle of revolution and its unjust suppression, evidence of a tangible and visceral courage: the power in this performance is definitely with the perpetrators. Williams can’t help but ‘paint’ a picture which contains all the fiction of poetry and which fails to save martyrdom from the swift, obliterating fall of the guillotine. There are countless current examples of women using their bodies in a play for political power; whether it is the wives of politicians and presidents who have electoral sway equivalent to the success 54
of their wardrobe choices, or news of highly charged political affairs such as Monica Lewinsky ‘improper relations’ with Bill Clinton. The debate about whether women can effectively use their bodies for political power is as relevant now as it was to Williams. I started out with the idea that my contemporary parallel might come from current female politicians; if Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga MPs seemed too continental, then perhaps Louise Mensch under the glaring lights of an
‘Iron Maiden’ photo-shoot for GQ (all soft silk and leather panelled pencil skirt), could be my new politically revolutionary pin-up. But the problem was that these examples had very little power as icons, a niche magnetism perhaps: obsessive-Menschites and scandalized Berlusconi commentators aside, these bodies hadn’t affected very much change. If there is any icon capable of becoming the female embodiment of contemporary Britain in the same way that the Marianne represented La Republique of France, it has to be Kate Middleton: an aspirational symbol for
recession-beaten and coalition-confused GB. She is certainly not revolutionary, but she is stability. She is painfully corporeal in the way that the 21st century has idealised: thin and taut like our models and our cover girls but classically feminine with flowing dark hair and now a modestly growing pregnant belly. Even the Romanians used her in a UK backlash campaign: “Half of our women look like Kate Middleton, and the other half like her sister” as though all British women aspire to be her and all British men aspire to have her. If Kate stood out on the palace balcony and decided to use it as her soap box I’m sure she could sway a nation. As if by some hypnotic power she can send women out in their thousands in search of a single dress, what other influence could she have if she so chose to pursue it? But if I needed confirmation of Middleton’s empty utopian promise, then the media scandal surrounding #mantelpiece, Hilary Mantel’s speech printed in The London Review of Books Royal Bodies, seems to be it. Even the most powerful female body in contemporary Britain, a royal body, is limited by social perception and projection, by the control of those who propagate her body for media-driven objectives. Mantel described Kate’s development as a royal mannequin: “[…] I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung. In those days she was a shop-window mannequin with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions. Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman’s life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth.’ Everyone, from every national
newspaper to David Cameron, rushed to defend the sacred royal body of Kate, but they failed to acknowledge the real substance of Mantel’s article; that in the hands of the media Kate’s body had lost all substance. Their outrage only confirmed the insight of Mantel’s piece. Thus in the same way as those revolutionary women committed their political bodies into the hands of their executioners, (silencing voices with the blades of guillotines), the modern woman finds her voice overpowered by the loaded symbolism of her body. Bibliography Williams, Helen Maria, An eye-witness account of the French Revolution, Letters containing a sketch of the Politics of France, ed. The Age of Revolution and Romanticism: Interdisciplinary studies, edited by Jack Fruchtman Jr. (Peter Lang 1997) Williams, Helen Maria, Letters Written in France 1790, Woodstock Books (Oxford 1989) Cohen, William, “Symbols of power: Statues in 19th Century Provincial France”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol 31, No. 3 (July 1989) 491-513 The Cambridge Companion to Delacroix, edited by Beth S Wright, (Cambridge University Press, 2001) Fruchtman. Jr, Jack, ‘Public loathing and Private Thought: Historical Representation in Helen Maria Williams’ Letters from France’, in The Intersections of the Public and Private spheres in Early Modern England, edited by Paula R Backscheider, Timothy Dykstal (Frank Cass, London 1996) pp.223-243 Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, (Vintage 1991) Warner, Marina, Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (London 1985) 55
Artist duo Cock’n’Bull create images inspired by Marie-Antoinette.
The French Revolution was all about freeing the people—it’s just the people didn’t include women… By Nuray Tekin
“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains…” Rousseau, The Social Contract “What barbarous man could resist the voice of honour and reason in the mouth of a tender wife? And who would not despise vain luxury seeing your simple and modest attire? …[unlike] ridiculous airs adopted among debauched women …” Rousseau, Second Discourse. “A woman must have money and a room of her own”, Virgina Wolf, A Room of One’s Own,1929.
It was the much vaunted aim of the French Revolution to free the people from the tyranny of an absolutist monarch. It became apparent however, by the end of the Revolution, that ‘the people’ did not include women. Although the Ancienne Regime in France was undoubtedly patriarchal and revolved around the figure of the male monarch, noble women were surprisingly powerful and poor women surprisingly free. The Revolution, far from freeing women from oppression, formalised their submissive status, tying them to the domestic sphere in a way they had not been before. It could not be said that women were considered the equal of men in the Ancienne Regime. Yet there was an awareness that the voices of noble women could be heard in public discourse to an extent that discomfited men. This was due to a number of circumstances; the organic nature of how society had developed meant that, outside the institutions of the church and the law, there was little formal division between the genders. Whilst women in general were seen as inferior there was nothing to prevent individual women, of great strength or good fortune, from exploiting the legal and civic gaps in French society and rising to positions of power. Secondly, all French people were the subjects of an absolutist King. Individual monarchs may come and go but the ‘The Monarch’ provided a continuous, unbroken line to
God. Louis XIV had created such elaborate codifications which ran throughout French society in order to reinforce his god-like stature, that everyone in France saw themselves as secondary, irrespective of their gender. Women in the Ancienne Regime held power in a number of ways. King’s mistresses, such as Madame de Montespan and Madame de Pompadour had demonstrated that they were capable of wielding political power just as successfully as men. For peasant women and the urban poor, public space was as open to them as men because there was little choice but to work alongside men. The division of labour was practical rather than structured and it was based around the demands of childcare and physical strength. In times of poverty and starvation there was little formality about whether work was suitable for a woman or a man. For the bourgeois woman the cultural and political gatherings of the ‘salon’ gave ‘les precieuses’, as women of society were known, great power over the advancement of men. This power, however, was not welcomed by men. The Revolution was hatched in the hearts of the lower nobility. It was the minor nobles and members of the law and provincial civic society who pushed forward the unrest, with the establishing of the National Assembly in 1789. They made the 61
‘Tennis Court Oath’ in which it was stated that there would be an end to absolute monarchy in France. Yet so intrinsic to the monarchy was its absolute nature, so intertwined with the rule of the King was his Divine Right, that it was inevitable that society in general would be dismantled by this change. One aspect that the men of the National Assembly were pleased to change was the unregulated and ungovernable power women could attain through their sexuality (as mistresses) or as mothers, using their sons as avatars. This state insulted these men and frightened them because it was a route to power they could not hope to follow. It may be that this fear and envy was part of the hatred that arose for the Queen who, though little interested in politics, held a power far greater than the educated men in the Estates General. The writer and political thinker Montesquieu gives a clear indication as to the thinking of the time. In his fictional ‘Persian Letters’ he explores what disasters might happen if women are left to their own devices. The character of Rica encapsulates the resentment of ambitious men in France when he states, “For every man who has any post at court, in Paris, or in the country, there is a woman through whose hands pass all the favours and sometimes the injustices that he does. These women are all in touch with one another and compose a sort of commonwealth whose members are always busy giving each other mutual help and support.” The lack of gender based structure in French society allowed women to move ‘out of place’ and men feared this would result in all sorts of calamities. Montesquieu was concerned it would lead to weakened marriage, declining population, prostitution and abortion. 62
The lack of formal distinction between the genders was echoed in the lack of distinction between public and private space. The Palace of Versailles and the daily lives of the royal family are evidence of this. The truly private spaces of the palace are small and few in comparison to the public spaces. The size of the palace meant that domestic spaces, such as the kitchens, were industrialised. The King and Queen ate, dressed, slept and toileted in front of the appropriate courtiers. The palace itself could be visited by anyone with the money to rent a fancy hat and the royals gawped at by any of their subjects. One of the greatest indulgences Marie-Antoinette was criticised for was her house ‘Le Petite Trianon’ and the faux-rural hamlet she created. Although the purpose of both these places was to allow her to live a private life away from the constant public display of Versailles it was considered unseemly that she, the Queen, should have any desire for a private life. Furthermore it was evidence of her ‘unnatural’ sexual proclivities such as her alleged homosexual relationship with the Princess de Lamballe. For urban women in Paris, however, this lack of distinction meant that they could engage in public life without too much approbation. There were public and commercial areas that were female dominated, such as the fish market and women felt it was within their rights to protest and march through the streets. The Bread March, of 1789, which culminated in the royal family being brought to Paris and imprisoned at the Tuilleries was led by the women of Paris. They took an active part in many other demonstrations and violent riots. Whilst some of the women who played a role in the revolution, such as Madame Roland, did so using their
husband’s position to bolster their power, others were entirely man-free. Women such as Olympe de Gouges and Anne Theroigne de Mericourt stood on the political stage as thinkers, activists and writers. The chocolatier Pauline Leon and the actress Claire Lacombe, although part of the same political group as the better known male revolutionaries George Danton and Camille Desmoulins were just as active in their own right. They created the Société des Citoyennes Républicaines Révolutionnaires and worked at street level for women to have a formal right to education, property ownership and divorce. This was not to be. Some of the women we know to be associated with the Revolution were Girondists – that is the political group who, although happy for the end of the monarchy, wanted to stop short at executing the royal family and maintain a less extreme version of the republic. They were ousted by the Jacobins, led by Robespierre and it was the persecution and mass executions of the Girondists that began the ‘Reign of Terror’. The Société des Citoyennes however, was too extreme for the Jacobins and criticised them for not being radical enough. Their demands, such as price control for goods sold in the markets, went to the heart of inequality in society but lost them support from some of the influential groups in the city, such as market tradeswomen. The Société des Citoyennes was outlawed in 1793 and its leaders imprisoned. Its members wore the cockade (a tri-colour badge of ribbons) and a spate of vicious attacks began on any woman wearing it. Despite a revolution that had dismantled an ancient monarchy, there was still the constant fear of women who had become too powerful. The chaos of the revolution had allowed
women to come to the forefront of public life, just as the informal division of space had allowed them to under the Ancienne Regime. The politician Chaumette, who was a radical in the National Assembly, damned Olympe de Gouge on the basis that it was her “forgetfulness of the virtues of her sex [that] led her to the scaffold”. It was Chaumette who dissolved the Société des Citoyennes and all associated women’s clubs by saying that his wife’s civic duties extended to the running of the home whilst he attended political meetings. He asked, “Is it to men that nature confided domestic cares? Has she given us breasts to feed our children?” Chaumette, along with others in the new republic were the men who formalised the division between public and private space, limiting women to the private space only. Although this can be seen most dramatically in the French Revolution, the same cycle occurred for women throughout Europe and the west. The notion of the ‘angel of the house’ and Victorian women bound in the domestic sphere are high in our consciousness because this divide between the public and domestic became so entrenched. It is no surprise then that when the first wave of feminism arose, it was the public sphere which received the attention. The right to vote, own property, to take part in political life, to receive an equal education were all rights which would enable women to take their place in public life. Only this time it would be as equals in law rather than as mistresses or mothers. It has been this focus on achieving equality within the public sphere that has dominated feminism and women’s campaigns ever since. During the past twenty years however, 63
there have been further changes which challenge the continued focus of the women’s rights in the public sphere. The first is the notion that we have already won that battle. In Europe and America, women’s equality is, to a certain extent, enshrined in law. Women can own property, have rights over their own reproductive decisions and often achieve better results in education. For young women in their twenties the pay gap is almost nonexistent. It would seem that it is time to refocus our energies. In her recent essay “The Loss of the Private Realm” the academic Belinda Brown states “Feminism focussed on the public realm of work and politics as here the most grating, conspicuous inequality lay. Power achieved here would resolve imbalances of power elsewhere. The other reason feminists focussed here was because it was perceived as more important. The secondary status of the private realm and all it entailed - the bearing and rearing of children, family, marriage and community - was an unarticulated assumption which underlay all their work. Their blindness to the value of the private realm led to a neglect of it, which had detrimental consequences for those most dependent on it. The elderly are an example of the most vulnerable here.” This is an important point to take on board and feminists today, in the UK, Europe and America must posit 64
themselves taking into account the huge inequalities and changing circumstances there are. To campaign for women in areas of the world where there is no such legal equality is vital. It is essential to recognise women’s legal rights, even in the west, are still fresh, still contentious and constantly at risk of being undermined. However, it may also be time to consider the private sphere with new eyes. Brown makes suggestions that seem counterintuitive for feminists. “However there is a lot more which can be done, which the sisterhood should support. •Many mothers feel compelled to stay in jobs they have outgrown because of economic pressures. Perhaps we should think carefully before we completely dismiss the male providing role. •Women need to think more carefully about the age they have children, not just from a fertility point of view. Where women have their children younger, there is more potential for relations of reciprocity to develop between mothers and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren, which will be maintained throughout the lives of all involved.” Yet there are very real and practical problems facing women that stem from our lack of emphasis on the private sphere that we must address. The second change regarding the attention feminists give to achieving power in the public sphere is the growth of interactive mass media, not least
blogging. The feminist campaigner Erin Pizzey once noted that the very people you would want to take part in civic life are at home bathing their children. It is the bombastic, aggressive, competitive people who force their way into public power. This has been especially difficult for women. Whereas once a woman had to leave her children, make her way to a council meeting or activist group, possibly at night at the mercy of public transport and then make her voice heard above the men in order to take an active role in public life, now she can engage via the internet. It is still limited (but then again so is a poorly attended council meeting in the suburbs). A successful blog can reach thousands of people internationally and as such she can become part of a community that achieves real goals. The blogs of women as diverse as Malala Yousafzai, Heather and Jessica of GoFugYourself and BitchFlicks, to name just three from millions provide a platform for women on whatever subject they wish debate. It is a testament to the power of womenâ€™s use of the internet to note that it is rife with the same misogynist commentary that followed the powerful women of the French Revolution. Wherever women are denied a formal right to be heard they will find another way and the patriarchy will try to shout them down. Yet, for the moment, the internet is providing a platform for women that combines the private and public sphere in the most enmeshed and instant way possible - from a room of oneâ€™s own, one can speak to the world. .
because we recognised that the Mubarak regime
oppressed everybody. What we need now is a
social and sexual revolution that recognises that our society oppresses
Egyptian-American journalist and campaigner who was physically and sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square whilst supporting the
Why the Revolution has only just begun, by Cat Crossley
It is the best of times; it is the worst of times. Western women have never had it so good: we have education, equal pay, universal suffrage, legal representation, adequate healthcare, maternity leave, and sexual autonomy. Meanwhile in some countries, women suffer from alarming restrictions, discrimination and violence. Saudi Arabia has only recently lifted the ban on women’s rights to vote and run for office, which will take effect in the 2015 municipal elections; female literacy in Afghanistan is at around 13% (compared to male literacy at 43%); rape victims (yes, the victims of rape) in UAE face corporal punishment or imprisonment for the charge of adultery; the testimony of a Yemeni woman is worth half that of a man’s; FGM is condoned and practised widely in Oman; Jordanian women may not marry nonMuslims or pass on their nationality to a foreign spouse, while Jordanian men can do both. The contrast between these worlds is sharp. An average British woman will have been to school, for which we can thank the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft. She might have earned a degree, something made possible by women like Josephine Butler and Emily Davies, and now be working in a profession of her choosing and entitled to the same pay as her male colleagues, a victory ensured by Barbara Castle. She can choose to vote, a right won by Emmeline Pankhurst and countless others, and if she is so inclined she can stand for parliament, following in the footsteps of Nancy Astor.Equality is enshrined in the law and opportunities are hers for the taking. Any
shortfall must be explained by biology and the divergent interests and capabilities of the sexes. Surely? This is the voice of post-feminism, still unbelievably loud despite a wealth of resources detailing the complex reasons why it is in fact unfounded. The myth of Mars and Venus persists even after research like Cordelia Fine’s (Delusions of Gender, 2010), which deconstructs the pervasive unscientific assertions about neurological differences in ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains. The gender pay gap is well documented and yet faces criticism from those who dismiss the data as simply reflecting women’s different life choices, or from those who deny its existence at all. A female fellow student at Oxford told me she thought it was reasonable that women were paid less since they had a better chance than men of getting a job in the first place. The West has slid into a post-feminist malaise where a certain level of progress has been realized and accepted as adequate. We may be dissatisfied with certain aspects of our daily existence - perhaps our male partners rarely pull their weight with housework and childcare - but compared with our sisters in other parts of the world, we have a pretty good deal. If anyone merits our help, our efforts, our sympathy, is it not these women who have yet to secure the right to education, the right to economic independence, the right to bodily integrity? These are the real victims of male oppression, aren’t they? Of course, patriarchal oppression is a complex phenomenon and there are many ways to measure its effects. A good 67
place to start is in a nation’s leadership and government body. The country with the highest representation of women in parliament is Rwanda, with over 50% since 2008 (compared with around 20% representation in the UK), in part due to a quota system which ring fences 30% of seats for female MPs. Bangladesh, Liberia and Malawi all have current female leaders. Access to education and literacy levels are also a useful indicator. The female literacy level in Lesotho is higher than the male, and its position in the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Index is 14th, higher than the UK (18th), France (57th) and Italy (80th). At universities in Qatar, Guyana, and Kuwait, female students outnumber males 2:1. And what of employment and equal pay? Burundi is the world leader in female labour force participation, well above the UK which ranks 46th. Countries scoring higher than the UK (57th) in wage gender parity include Egypt (number 1), The Gambia (4th), Kazakhstan (14th), and UAE (22nd). Clearly, viewing the status of women in these countries through decontextualized data is misleading. It would be false to suggest that they necessarily point to a wider improvement in the status of women. Capturing meaningful data on gender equality is a challenging endeavour: statistics convey only part of the story. Women’s social discontent and their involvement in political life can be seen through their participation in civil unrest and revolution. The Arab Awakening gave women a platform for vocal participation in change. Their engagement with political issues, along with the significant risks they took to voice their opinions and protest, is testament to their activism, their willingness to publicly confront a problematic regime and demand reform. The wave of conflict occurring from late 2010, still ongoing in some areas, and spreading from Tunisia across a strip of countries 4,000 miles wide, has had diverse effects upon the struggle for democracy in 68
the region, at considerable human cost. In each country, women played a central role at the forefront of the revolution. In Tunisia female professionals contributed to the revolution from the beginning of the Arab spring, while in Yemen Tawakul Kaman, now a Nobel peace laureate, led demonstrations against the oppressive regime of President Saleh. The Bahraini uprising featured peaceful protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes from human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja and her associates. In many cases, women’s participation resulted in their arrest, beatings, even rape. Their contribution to the Arab awakening was central. Yet now that regimes have been overthrown, and major protests are translating into constitutional changes, elections, economic concessions and redefined political landscapes, it is women who are once again dispossessed of the rights they fought so hard to win. Take Libya; the National Transitional Council can boast only two female representatives out of 51 members. There remains a culture of shame surrounding rape survivors. The head of the NTC announced in 2011 that restrictions on polygamy would be lifted. One young activist, Magdulien Abaida, organised aid for the Libyan rebels who overthrew Colonel Gaddafi and later campaigned for women's rights under the new regime, but the Islamist militias now operating in the country have repeatedly threatened and twice kidnapped her, forcing her to flee Libya and seek refuge in the UK. This backlash against rebellious women should not come as a surprise. This is the model which has existed for countless revolutions throughout history. It was the women of the French revolution who marched to Versailles in 1989 to demand bread from the king. They led the storming of the Bastille. They were side by side with their male counterparts when the monarchy was overthrown. Numerous groups were formed to rally female support for the cause including, for a brief period, the Society of
Revolutionary Republican Women who petitioned the new regime for citizens’ rights to be extended to women. Nevertheless the new constitution, which promised liberty, egality and fraternity, excluded women in word and in deed. One form of patriarchy replaced another. The Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 also followed this pattern. Women were instrumental in the overthrow of the Shah, protesting with strikes, barricades and
oppression in the Western media: a woman in a burqa, particularly when she is living in the West among more liberated women. France controversially banned the niqab (the veil which covers the face) in 2010, as part of a general ruling on any facial covering, and many saw the ban as a response to this perceived oppression. Following a comment made by Jack Straw in 2006 concerning Muslim women in his constituency, the ensuing
demonstrations in their thousands against a regime they believed to be corrupt. Since the establishment of the fundamentalist Islamic government, the position of women has been significantly restricted, with many of their freedoms curtailed. Female judges were no longer allowed to practice; laws surrounding polygamy, divorce and the custody of children were altered to diminish drastically the status of women; their participation in sports as athletes, spectators and even reporters was segregated; the political arenas of diplomacy and foreign affairs were closed to them. The veil was made compulsory. It is often presented as an icon of female
media debate foregrounded very divided views on whether banning the burqa represented more of an infringement of women’s freedom than their right to wear it. Among those who argue for removing the veil were Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman. Those supporting the veil included Muslim feminists who insisted that wearing hijab freed them from the sexualized scrutiny of Western society: they could not be judged on their sexual attractiveness if it was not on display. The Daily Star planned to run a feature ridiculing the burqa by staging a spoof Page 3 with a ‘Burkha Babes Special’, but were prevented from doing so. However, 69
this concept uncovers the unintended irony of comparing the apparent oppression of the traditional Muslim woman with the supposed liberation of her Western counterpart. After decades of fighting and winning battles for a womanâ€™s right to suffrage, education, equal pay, for recognition of marital rape, and for reproductive rights, to name a few, we now live under the tyranny of a post-feminism pro-pornography new patriarchy. Our sexual identity, restricted, repressed and reviled for
beauty is to be seen naked, to be vulnerable and subject to judgement. It is the hijab of the West. Needless to say, the obsession with appearance and desirability that women are encouraged to feel is not new: we have been thus preoccupied generation after generation. The tantalizing pursuit of beauty is interminable as it is constantly changing. Tudor England favoured the paleskinned high-browed redhead, some women using white lead to artificially lighten their
centuries, has no sooner been recognized and legally protected than it is appropriated, manipulated, packaged up and sold back to us as a commodity. After being bombarded daily by images in our newspapers, on TV, online, on billboards, and in our shops about what women should look like, we have become numb to the nagging message that we are not good enough as we are: it is now simply the wallpaper of our everyday lives. The message has invaded our wardrobes, our bathrooms, our wallets, our bodies, and our minds. Our self esteem depends so much upon the self-maintenance we are told we require that we believe it is a minimum level of grooming and cannot be seen in public without it. To renounce this code of conduct and throw off the prescribed uniform of
skin and some shaving their hair at the front for a higher brow. Historically, Persian women were praised for their monobrows: those not naturally blessed would paint one on. The slimmer, more boyish figure was the vogue for women of the 1920s, and women encumbered with large busts used bandages to flatten them. Now we have toweringly lucrative cosmetics, fashion, and plastic surgery industries offering their services to tan our skin and then cover it in colourful powders and paints; to pluck, wax or dye our undesirable hair; to cut our bodies and remove unwanted fat or add in extra curves and then package the finished result up in flattering or provocative clothing. Arguably, this is just the inevitable next step in the quest for aesthetic perfection.
Except that this time, for the first time, women have the liberation and equality that centuries of scholarship, campaigning, protesting and sacrifice have paid for. So why are we still pathologically striving for an ideal which is, at best, as changeable as the weather and, at worst, fundamentally harmful to our wellbeing, our health and our success? How is wearing stiletto heels so very different from the Imperial Chinese practice of foot-binding? Are fad-dieting and liposuction really any different to wearing an obligatory corset? And how can we say that the practice of breast augmentation, and all the media reinforcement of this trend, is any less brutal a breach of women’s sexual autonomy than FGM? Beauty has been distorted by pornography, and despite all the progress we have made towards gender equality, we are still distracted by the ageold concern for our sexual allure. The porn industry boom, and the digital revolution which has underpinned its growth, constitute a reign of terror where our bodies’ natural state is censored and suppressed. And women are buying into it. It was over two centuries ago when Wollstonecraft warned us to “guard girls against the contagious fondness for dress so common in weak women”, attracting criticism from some subsequent schools of feminism by blaming women for complicity in their own oppression. Yet her observation points towards an enduring problem: opting out of the beauty culture takes considerable strength of character to withstand a barrage of pressure, criticism, and insecurity. A Western woman truly liberated from this livery of patriarchal expectation would flaunt body hair, imperfect skin, bulges, and comfortable clothing. In short, she would cease to be the model of femininity: her unique and natural femaleness would be exposed. No laws prescribe this Western dress. There is no religious body insisting that women conform. Far more insidious is the secular pronouncement on women’s looks: it evades legislation and escapes scrutiny.
A recent report produced by a collection of women’s rights groups following the Leveson Inquiry detailed the manifold sexism and negative reporting on women, particularly violence against women, in the British media. The report, called Just The Women, demonstrates how attitudes which belittle and demean women, or downplay their status, needs, or problems, are closely woven into all the media we consume, reinforcing gender stereotypes and a culture of female oppression. Featuring news items from eleven different newspapers over the course of a fortnight, their evidence showcases examples of how women are continually reduced to their sexual attractiveness and availability (the ‘British institution’ of Page 3, The Sun, daily), their sexual value and vulnerability (“Why women are embracing the lowbrow look”, The Independent, 16 September, on a new trend in cosmetic surgery), and their sexual conduct and culpability (“Soldier ‘stabbed ex -girlfriend to death after he hacked her Facebook account and discovered she’d had an abortion’”, Daily Mail, 3 September). The freedom of the press is abused to justify the continuation of this culture in a way so entrenched as to be widely accepted and internalized, and often not even noticed, by women. It is time we rethink what oppression looks like. The veil in itself is no more or less a symptom of tyranny than the sexualized Western aesthetic which dominates our culture. Women in Iran today not abiding by Islamic dress codes are punished. But before the 1979 revolution, Iranian women were expected to wear Western dress: those caught wearing chador in public were stopped by the Shah’s agents and had their veils forcibly removed. The source of oppression here is less complex than the demands of Islam or the pressure of Western capitalism: it is men telling women what to wear; it is men telling women what to do. The proliferation of religious conservatism following the Arab Spring and the ensuing regression in women’s freedom may be 71
inevitable given the nature of such revolutions. When extreme circumstances corruption, war, poverty - incubate the spirit of widespread rebellion, a national uprising will not lead to a sudden change in collective philosophy towards progressive liberalism. The Russian revolutions of the early twentieth century came about through a bubbling disenchantment with authoritarian and unaccountable tsarist rule, the appalling living conditions and food shortages faced by the proletariat, and the staggering losses endured in the First World War. Despite some significant gains made by the leftist parties who replaced the tsar, including industrialization, education and political representation, Russia remained a highly controlled and restricted country, where censorship was enforced, religion was banned, political opposition was violently suppressed, and the leadership of Stalin became the new iteration of oppressive patriarchy. The oppression women face in the West today is inevitably institutional, sometime labyrinthine, often hidden. Earlier this year the Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics, and Home Office published figures showing that nearly 5% of women aged 1659 are victims of rape or attempted rape and that one in five women encounters sexual assault or attempted assault in her lifetime (a figure around seven times higher than the equivalent statistics for male victims). There is only one female editor of a national newspaper: Dawn Neesom, Daily Star. Only 15.5% of high court judges are women. Four cabinet positions are held by women, of a total of 22. The Sex and Power 2013 report, Who Runs Britain?, details how widespread the imbalance of power between the sexes really is, evaluating a huge range of organizations and presenting bleak findings. When our government and our media are dominated by men, when it is primarily men who run our universities, our police force, our arts bodies, our biggest businesses, and our judiciary, it is no surprise that the needs of women get little if any 72
serious attention. In the post-feminist apathy, this correlation has been dismissed as coincidental, but with every report published on the subject, the cause and effect of ubiquitous institutional sexism is unmistakably delineated. The more media coverage these debates attract, the wider the audience of people who care, who question, who want to bring about change. Yet we cannot rally behind a call for ‘peace, land, and bread’, not least because the structure of our inequality is not apparent to all who suffer as a result of it. We are fighting not only the people, establishments, and companies who seek to limit our freedom, our power, and our confidence, but also the silent, unquestioning participation of the millions of individuals who have yet to make the connection between celebrity culture and consumer obsession with appearance; between the myth of Mars and Venus and the barriers to women’s socio-political representation; between porn and rape. No enraged uprising will achieve this end. It is time for a different sort of revolution: an intellectual revolution; a feminist enlightenment. It is not enough simply to agree that women are equal to men. Feminism which merely acknowledges inequality but seeks no remedy is indistinguishable from postfeminism. Changing the system begins with changing minds. The more we admit to our belief in equality, the more awareness we create about the validity of feminism as a philosophical ideal. The more we question mainstream expectations, the more we normalize open discussions on gender roles, needs, and problems. When people are no longer surprised by resistance to patriarchal expectations, it will no longer be daring and dangerous to break away from the current norm and embody an alternative. One day it may not be considered revolutionary to believe in total sexual equality. If we encounter sexism every day, we must challenge it every day. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence
encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.â€? (Elie Wiesel, 1986) If our teachers make assumptions about what toys our children would like to play with based on their sex, we can challenge them and give the next generation a free choice. If we see women typecast or under-represented on TV, we can challenge it and voice our
challenge them and ask why they think it acceptable to expect their female partners to work harder than they do. If we come across sexism in an advert, we can challenge it and complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. If we visit an art exhibition and find few female artists represented, we can challenge the organizers and ask when they
objections to Ofcom. If our colleague makes a sweeping statement about what women think, do, or feel, we can challenge it with examples to the contrary. If our fellow commuters are openly engrossed in Page 3, we can challenge them and ask that they cover the offensive images. If we hear someone who uses sexist language, even inadvertently, we can challenge it and suggest an acceptable alternative. If our peers trivialize violence against women, we can challenge their views and bombard them with information on how widespread the problem is. If we know men who do not pull their weight with the housework, we can
plan to redress the imbalance. If we are used to following the beauty rituals prescribed by the media, we can challenge ourselves and choose not to wear make-up, not to wax our natural body hair, not to walk in uncomfortably high heels. We can challenge the patriarchy in everything we do. We can and we must. The battle for equality is far from over. A radiating feminist consciousness can achieve critical mass and revolutionize the way we live. Patriarchy must be dismantled so that equality may thrive. What have you done today to challenge it?A skirmish, going to say owl by 73
Image by Arron Mitchell
Equality and the Power Paradigm Andrew Hobbs considers the value of power.
t seems like such a simple thing, to declare two people to be equal, and academically it is. No one can justifiably argue against the truth of man and woman’s equal value; in society, in the family and as individuals. Given a moment of intelligent attention it is obvious one sex bears no right over the other, no power other than what is applied by force. Within this lies the crux of the feminist challenge, indeed the essence of all inequality; the issue of power and significance. Feminism is not so much a struggle for power as it is the need for its redefinition. Mankind, on micro and macro levels, is caught up in a day to day struggle for power: personal, political and military. For many men and women their daily efforts are centred on their desire to be granted more power within the workplace and to expand the reach and wealth of their abstract kingdom. That is not to say that ambition is inherently bad, merely that it is inherently dangerous. It hints at the near universal misconception that to be more powerful is to be more significant and more fully human. From an early age we are taught that our end in life is to achieve brilliance in one form or another. Be it academic, musical or sporting. We want to be better than others. We want to dominate. Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch (Overman) is his portrayal of the perfect man. It is, he says, for us to strive towards advancing a new generation and for women to aspire to 76
give birth to an Übermensch, a superman who would ignore other-worldly promises and dominate in the present in order to advance mankind. This is the most disordered of aspirations. What would we be advancing towards and how would it benefit us? What does this say about those men and women who are less intelligent or weaker than most? It implies that they are less valuable and that through their inability to compete they are rendered unequal. While Nietzsche’s human ideal is an extreme one, it highlights our overemphasis on power and the inequality it breeds;
ultimately, the dehumanising of prisoners, disabled people, poor people and racial minorities. For their lack of power is seen to render them less human. Women are being limited by the definitions given to them by men and their perpetuation by men and women. They are rendered less powerful by these definitions and, from a
Nietzschean perspective, are therefore not mankind’s ideal. Simply by being a woman, as fallaciously defined. What if we turn all of this on its head however? What if to make yourself less is to become more? The irony is that this idea is sometimes used to argue that women should sacrifice themselves for the good of their family. Of course, this isn’t self-sacrifice, it is enforced sacrifice: an attempt to dominate. Yet if you apply a genuine understanding of self-sacrifice universally, for men and women, you are presented with the idea that we all become greater, more fully human even, by putting others first. This concept is mocked because when someone who is self-sacrificing is amongst those who strive to dominate they become downtrodden and exploited. It is a delicate thing to put such a value on love because in doing so you are vulnerable. It is sadly unavoidable. It is love’s shadow. Yet it adds to its beauty and, like all shadows, is insignificant compared to that which cast it. If you are fortunate you can surround yourself with those that see your serving heart and respond in kind. While the Übermensch aims not to be hurt the altruist aims to heal. It is a much more positive outlook and it allows for genuine progress. Those who value power are in a constant tug of war. They fight over a worthless length of rope. While those who value love, above all else, lower ropes to those beneath them and pull them upwards. What greater purpose in life is there than to love and be loved and to find happiness in the happiness of another? This is what it is to be fully human. To make those around you greater doesn’t make you less. Equality is only achieved when we understand this. Otherwise, with everyone you meet, you will either look up at them or down. prey. Sherlock watched until it stopped 77
How Disney Princesses have evolved through three waves of feminism. by Rhyan Eldon Davis
he might of the Disney Corporation has steadily grown since it’s foundation by Walter Disney on the 16th October 1923. Over subsequent decades the company’s dominance has increased to the point where ‘there is scarcely an adult or child born in the twentieth century who, in the western world, has not been exposed to a Disney fairy tale film or artefact.’ However, with Disney being such an emblem of power and influence it is often under scrutiny from critics and, in more recent years, feminist critics. One of the most lucrative areas of the Disney Corporation is the “Disney Princesses” and it is interesting to see how they have changed and manifested themselves in a society where gender norms have transformed through three waves of feminism. The first wave of feminism began at the beginning of the 1900’s. Writers such as Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf felt that women who desired an education or any other alternative to marriage were frowned upon. Therefore women at this time began campaigning against the traditional Victorian image of what, or who, a proper woman should be. They wanted equal property rights, the right to have an education, a career and ultimately a vote allowing them a voice in the world around them. This was eventually granted in 1918, under the condition that they were thirty years of age and owned a property or held a degree. However in 1928 this was revoked and any women over the age of twenty-one was allowed to vote. Over the years following the successful suffrage of 1928, freedom for women grew immensely, largely due to the onset of World War II, when women were expected to take up the male roles in industry and society, showing exactly what they were capable of. It was not until the 1960s that feminism resurfaced in the form of the ‘Second
Wave’ a phrase ‘commonly used to refer to the resurgence of feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement’ (WLM) from the later 1960’s chiefly in North America and Europe.’ ‘Overall it was a period when Feminists fought for equal opportunities in the workplace and an end to sexual discrimination.’ The third wave of feminism is seen to have occurred quite recently, namely the early 1990’s until the present day. The goals of the third wave are seen to either be very similar to that of the second wave, for example the aim toward complete equality between the sexes, while others seem to criticize its failures, such as the cause concentrating prolifically on the uppermiddle-class white women. Due to the ‘third wavers’ never having lived in the world that the feminists of second wave faced, the third wave is ‘concerned not simply with “women’s issues” but with a broad range of interlocking topics [...] ranging from protests of the World Economic Forum and welfare reform to activism on behalf of independent media outlets.’ The third wave of feminism has used outlets such as film theory as their voice to help express their concerns and can be seen to link greatly with postmodernism. Folk and fairy tales have been in circulation for centuries, being passed, down through generations orally, causing them to be changed and adapted to help teach, as Amy Davis in ‘Good Girls and Wicked Witches’ (2006) pointed out ‘society’s ways, traditions, history and beliefs.’ It wasn’t until the nineteenth century, when writers such as the Brothers Grimm began recording the traditional tales in written form, that these tales were fully recognised as a genre. Many of the traditional tales were adapted to suit the current society, regulated and 79
edited, given a clear form and structure to remove anything that might stimulate improper thoughts or ideas in the minds of the upper-class children who would be reading them. It was at this time that ‘a select canon of tales was established for the socialization of the young, geared to children who knew how to read.’ It is this canon of stories, written down by authors such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, that Walt Disney dipped into to adapt for his work, and as such Walt Disney can be considered a twentieth century story-teller. Like the original story-tellers, Disney adapts the chosen stories to suit his audience and to send the messages that he wants to convey. Since fairy tales don’t initially belong to anyone in particular they are free to be experimented with and manipulated in anyway seen fit. Therefore, these traditional European folk/fairy tales, with their metaphors, messages and lessons that Walt Disney liked so much as a child, presented a perfect base for Disney to appropriate, to work into and add the American ideals that he now valued as an adult. As such Disney was able to progress the tales into the new era using a new form of media. He has twisted the tales to suit his own needs, then distribute them among a wide audience, making them the ‘new original’, the better known canon version that over time ‘has obfuscated the names of Charles Perrault, the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and Carlo Collodi. If children or adults think of the great classical fairy tales today, be it Snow White, or Cinderella, they will think Walt Disney.’ As well as being the canon of fairy tales, Disney itself has a formula, an identity that is based upon the appropriation of a previously recognized tale but is added to, so that it can only be distinguished as ‘Disney’. This formula was devised early 80
on, while Walt Disney still ran the company and has changed very little since its establishment. ‘It is the animated features and cartoons that constitute Classic Disney. It is also possible to refer to these products and characters collectively because they generally include a specific style, a standard formula of story and characters, as well as a set of common themes and values. This ‘Classic Disney Formula’, referred to within this essay, is very similar to the well known model ‘Classic Hollywood Cinema’, which was laid out by Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson in their 1985 book of the same title. Within this book the three authors stated how many of the Classic Hollywood films followed similar structures. It was noticed that most of the films were set in the present, external world, taking a clear linear path, it was only occasionally that memories, flashbacks, or dreams were used. The films also generally followed one individual who had a clear motive/goal that steers the narrative, action and consequences. This main individual must overcome all problems and antagonists that they face in order to reach their goal, and only in reaching this goal would the film end. This ensured closure within the plot (generally there are no unresolved plot lines) and the much sort after hyper-real happy ending. Disney films undeniably follow this model. They unquestionably tell tales of individuals whose goals guide and shape the story in a clear and linear direction, only ending when the goal is reached and a happy ending can occur. The one thing that Disney films don’t adhere to, on the ‘check list’ of the ‘Classic Hollywood Cinema’ model, is that they are rarely set in the present or real world. Instead Disney chose to set his films in animated, technicoloured fantasy lands of song and dance. Disney
created vibrant hyper-real worlds that his audiences could lose themselves in, as they could see no part of their mundane lives upon the screen. However, Disney did this cleverly by littering these worlds with hints of historical context that would subtly link the new world to the real and thus not bewildering the audience with the invention of something that was completely unrecognisable to them. The ‘Classic Disney formula’ can be considered in regard to the majority of Disney films, ‘once Disney realised how successful he was with his formula for feature-length fairy tales, he never abandoned it.’ The basis of the formula is perceived to be the ‘Classic Hollywood Cinema’ model with a few additional themes. Firstly ‘true love’, usually between members of royalty, is one of the most dominant themes in the world of Disney, even if the central goal of the character isn’t initially to find love the film will still generally end with them finding their soul mate. As Amy Davis comments in her book, ‘Good Girls and Wicked Witches: Women in Disney’s Feature Films, blissful married life is very rarely seen within a Disney film, and if portrayed it is done so as a background to another plot line, such as in 101 Dalmatians. A perfect marriage tends to be a taboo subject within films in general as audiences can’t relate to it, marriages in the real world are rarely as ideal as an on screen depiction, therefore the theme of marriage is usually only shown in the form of the wedding ceremony, (the happily ever after moment). Music and humour also play a large part in Disney films usually in the form of physical gags, or slapstick that appears side by side with upbeat catchy songs so that the films can be used as escapist, light entertainment aimed at children. The theme of Good Vs Evil is another very dominant theme that runs through
the majority of Disney films, which tend to follow the journey of a wholly good character and how they triumph over the wholly evil one. Good, in Disney, always triumphs over evil and the film cannot end until this has occurred. This theme relates us back to the idea of folk and fairy tales being used to teach morals and values, Disney is telling his audience that by being good you will always prevail and be morally right. However, feminists argue that although this is a good message to be sending, the way in which the characters are created reinforces out of date stereotypes of the expectation of women’s characters. They would like to see a woman who is not only good but who is also strong willed and guided by her own independence. Instead these two sets of traits are separated and characters with stereotypical personalities are formed, ‘the good woman’s traits are aligned with conventional femininity (passivity, sweetness, emotionality, asexuality), and the bad one’s personality is associated with masculinity (assertiveness, acerbity, ntelligence, eroticism).’ The evil character can be seen as the most feminist, as they actively seek to control their lives and get what they want. They are rarely married, or if they have been married the husband is no longer present in their lives, therefore they are not bound, controlled or dutiful to any man. By linking these feminist traits to the evil characters it is implying that strong willed females are dangerous and that these traits should be avoided. The villains are ultimately fuelled by jealousy toward the passive female, and hence commit evil deeds. The jealousy suggests that all women crave to be the passive, sweet, emotional, asexual, female, negating the importance of the opposing strong characteristics associated with the evil female 81
character. As well as stereotypical actions and personalities good and evil characters also have a very stereotypical appearance, Elizabeth Bell outlines this in her work, ‘Somatexts at the Disney Shop: Constructing the Pentimentos of Women’s Animated Bodies’ ‘The teenaged heroine at the idealised height of puberty’s graceful promenade is individualised in Snow White, Cinderella, Princess Aurora, Ariel and Belle. Female wickedness- embodied in Snow White’s wicked step-mother, Lady Trumaine, Maleficent and Ursulais rendered as middle-aged beauty at its peak of sexuality and authority. Feminine sacrifice and nurturing is drawn in pear-shaped, old women past menopause, spry and comical, as the good fairies, godmothers, and servants in the tales.’ When we, as the audience, are immersed or surrounded by these stereotypical images over and over again from the same source, in this case Disney films, we may come to accept them as real/ true. Unthinkingly absorbing them, this can be said for any image of any kind that the media shows us in excess. ‘While stereotypes can provide shortcuts to character development, they become problematic when used with prejudice and within historical contexts.’ It can also be especially problematic in regard to Disney, as the principle audience is impressionable youth. By showing children these images, surrounding them in the gender stereotypes, they will take them as truth. Now if these images are presented wrongly and the child has no former or firsthand knowledge upon which to compare the misrepresented image to, then they may gain false knowledge on which to base their opinions of the world, maybe even 82
forming subconscious prejudices that they may carry with them the rest of their life. Stereotypical images create identification and make up the knowledge of what we know about the world whether that stereotype is a good or bad one depends on how the media has represented it. Cultures are also generally represented through stereotypes within Disney films, and therefore, mostly misrepresented. These misrepresentations can be seen in films such as Pocahontas and shall be expanded upon later. If a child viewing the film is from the race, ethnicity or culture that has been misrepresented, then the messages that are given to them are extremely negative. Stuart Hall, as a cultural theorist and socialist, has written and talked a great deal about the misrepresentation of certain races and cultures through the media. In his lecture ‘Representation and the Media’ (1997), he says that it is by showing a limited range of images, regarding racial types, that creates a stereotype and that this limited range of images creates a limited range of definitions of who people can be, of what they can be, of what they can do, what their possibilities in life are and what the nature of the constraints on them are. Therefore, by showing children, restricting negative imagery, stereotypes, this could influence who and what they should be. The first three Disney princesses; Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (Aurora) (1959) can be seen to represent one main theme; passivity, and it is this along with the women’s shyness, obedience, naivety and innocence that may cause today’s audience to view them as anti-feminist characters. The princesses show no desire to take action to change their lives; they wait idly for their handsome prince to come and rescue them. ‘Beauties slept in the woods,
waiting for princes to come and wake them up. In their beds, in their glass coffins, in their childhood forests like dead women. Beautiful but passive.’ Snow White is the first of the Disney Princesses as well as the first in the long line of feature length animated films created by the Disney Corporation. After being in production for four years Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was finally released in 1937, a time of great unsettlement and depression in North America, as well as across the globe, due to the Wall Street crash of 1929. The vibrancy of song, colour and happiness, mixed with the hyperreality of beauty and love, helped make Snow White the ideal escapist film for the time and, therefore made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a great hit amongst its depressed audience. ‘A desire to fabricate an imaginative reality which in Baurillardian sense could outstrip and outbid the ‘external’ reality against which it claims to the imaginary have usually been judged.’ The hyperreality seen within Disney was originally created to ‘outstrip and outbid’ the depressing reality that was being lived in at the time. Disney recognised that his audience didn’t want to visit the cinema to see films about real life, they needed these images of happiness and true love to help them escape from their dull, unsatisfying ‘real’ lives and to reinforce the traditional values that were being disrupted by the politic environment and economic restraints of the time. The wave of political feminism that was occurring throughout this era was seen as part of the problem faced by the depressed society. By misrepresenting the female character and reinforcing traditional stereotypes the Classic Disney formula is reinforcing ideals of a woman’s place in society. Due to Disney’s awareness of what his
audience needed to see at this time he also built in characters that his audience could emphasise with. ‘The Dwarfs can be interpreted as the humble American workers, who pulled together during the depression. [...] their determination is the determination of every worker, who will succeed just as long as he does his share while women stay at home and keep the house clean.’ The relationship between the Dwarfs and Snow White can therefore also been seen to mirror the relationship between the real American workers and their wives. The Dwarfs lives appear to improve with the arrival of Snow White and we, as the audience, begin to wonder how the dwarfs ever survived without her. Although Snow White can be seen as the wife figure in the relationship there is absolutely no sexual connotations between her and any of the Dwarves, the relationships are completely asexual. The removal of sex is an interesting point to make whilst discussing the Disney princess. The next stage in Disney’s development is known as the Disney renaissance and is often seen to have spanned the ten years between the release of ‘The Little Mermaid’ in 1989 and the release of ‘Tarzan’ in 1999. The films and princesses from this era, that will be analysed, include Ariel (The Little Mermaid, 1989), Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1991), Jasmine (Aladdin, 1992), Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998). These five princesses are often seen by critics to be better feminist role models; they appear to take a step forward from Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and become more independent, strong-willed and determined, they want to have control over their lives, to engineer their own fate. They are not passive characters, they are perceived to have ‘moved away from praising traditional solutions for 83
women’s unhappiness and hints at offering them choices beyond simple contentment with the roles into which they were born.’ (Davis, 2006:181) High levels of feminist traits can be seen within the character of Megara (Meg) from the 1997 film ‘Hercules’. Meg will only be discussed briefly for her feminist views as she isn’t technically classed as a Disney princess. With the development of the Disney Renaissance at the beginning of the 1990’s a change to the themes and techniques was expected, however this was not the case. Over the years running up to 1989 and the release of ‘The Little Mermaid’ critics had witnessed several attempts by the Disney Corporation to forge a new look for itself. These attempts were deemed to be largely unsuccessful and ultimately, with the release of ‘The Little Mermaid’, the company fell back upon its old formula. ‘The new wave of Disney films that began with The Little Mermaid can be regarded as a key instance of postmodern culture as described by the important theorist Fredric Jameson, who see nostalgia as a key mode of such culture and regards pastiche as its principal technique.’ The newer Disney films are seen, to a certain extent, to pastiche the earlier ‘classic’ films as they mimic the themes, imagery, style and content portrayed in films such as ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. This implies that the earlier films can be regarded as authentic classics, while the later films from the Disney Renaissance are postmodern pastiches of the earlier films. One of the few changes that is visible in the Disney Renaissance films is that the women being portrayed are more feminist characters, however, even though these women are more feminist they still have their faults. ‘Pocahontas’ was first released in 1995 and has seen 84
to be made to ‘right the wrongs’ of the previous racial stereotypes depicted by the Disney Corporation. ‘Since the beginning of the renaissance of the 1990’s the company has been devoted to the politically correct promotion of multiculturalism.’ For ‘Pocahontas’ extensive research was carried out, with native American consultants being hired. However, the film was still historically and culturally incorrect with the film still centring around many of the ‘Classic Disney’ themes, and Pocahontas herself being Americanised with a typically thin waist, long legs and stunning good looks. By appropriating the cultural character of Pocahontas and blending this with western ideals of female beauty, Disney may cause confusion in the young viewers understanding of selfrepresentation. They both recognise and derecognise the character and cultural traits of Pocahontas. This misrepresentation of cultural identity links to the idea of the misrepresentation of female identity. Even though ‘Pocahontas’ wasn’t as racially and historically correct as people would have liked, Pocahontas herself is often seen to be one of the most feminist Disney princesses. Firstly she is a character who generally thinks for herself and is extremely motivated to control her own destiny. She is not necessarily looking for love and indeed turns down a very suitable marriage proposal, however, she does find the cliché ‘forbidden’ love with John Smith, the handsome and potentially dangerous foreigner to her land. Towards the conclusion of the film we also witness Pocahontas defying her father, the symbol of her patriarchal society, saving John Smith’s life in order to bring peace among the people. Even though we see her risk her own life to save her love ultimately she decides to stay in America to help lead her people.
Although it is evident that Pocahontas does love John, it is also evident that she doesn’t need him to complete her life, love comes second in her life after her people and finding who she is. Pocahontas is one of the only characters who doesn’t find romantic fulfilment, and this is the key to her status as ‘most feminist Princess’. Pocahontas represents the cultural binary opposite of John Smith. In The Location of Culture by Homi K. Bhabha (1994) binary opposition is discussed in terms of coloniser and colonised these oppositions include centre/margin, civilised/savage, maybe this is why the Disney Corporation feels they can imbue her with stronger female characteristics, possibly not seeing her as so influential on a young predominantly white American audience. This binary otherness can be seen in all of the princesses in the Disney renaissance era, as none are the typical white young women. Princess Jasmine from the 1992 film ‘Aladdin’ is also considered a very rebellious/feminist character but she is not without her flaws. ‘Jasmine, one of Disney’s recent ‘feminist’ heroines, is spunky, adventurous and independent, although ultimately she needs male guidance, rescue and approval.’ Ultimately Jasmine is unhappy with the society and traditions that she has been born into and tries to do everything in her power, including running away, to change her life. However, she is unsuccessful in both leaving and changing things and disappointingly seems to give in and accept her fate. It is during her escape attempt that she meets the ‘street rat’ Aladdin who falls in love with her and it is Aladdin whom the story ultimately revolves around. The main rebellion that Jasmine has against her life is the need for an arranged marriage to a Prince she has
neither met nor has any love for. She wants to marry for love, to someone who will honour and respect her and these are the views that allow her to be considered feminist. However, as Budd states Jasmine’s main flaw is her innocence within the male world; she is still to a certain extent a damsel in distress, locked within a tower waiting for her true love to come and rescue her. The feminist tendencies that can be seen in the character of Megara (Meg) in the 1997 film ‘Hercules’ are quite interesting. She is initially seen as an independent woman who has a feisty attitude and is full of witty remarks. On first meeting Hercules she is struggling to throw of the grip of the water demon, however still announces, ‘I am a damsel... I am in distress... I can handle it. Have a nice day.’ She is seen to be more worldly that the other females that are portrayed within Disney, almost hard around the edges, and because of everything life has thrown at her (a cheating ex-boyfriend and Hades as a master) she is less naive, less of a swooning princess. ‘Megara is clearly a stronger and more complex female character [...] than the typical Disney Princess.’ Meg isn’t classed as an official Disney princess; she doesn’t technically marry a prince, just a Grecian god, however, we must ask is it simply for this reason or is it because of her feminist tendencies? When we contemplate the characters of Belle and Mulan we can consider them under the theme of the ‘Good Daughter’, ‘a traditional motif and archetype within fairy tales the world over.’ A good daughter can be defined as a female character that is extremely loyal to her good, but naive father. It is because of this trait that the good daughter chooses to put herself in potentially life threatening positions in 85
order to save the father. The key qualities of a good daughter include; not fitting into society, not being initially interested in finding love, being a carer for their father, and ultimately each will save their fathers’ life and in doing so find a life for themselves. Belle fits this model completely, she clearly doesn’t fit into the society around her, yet she stays to take care of her father. She also has no desire to conform to traditional marriage expectations and is seen to love her father so much that instead of leaving her father in the Beast’s castle to go and seek help, she voluntarily swaps places with him, thus putting herself in mortal danger. Many critics believe that Disney got Belle right, as well as being a ‘good daughter’ she also displays strong signs of feminism. Belle furthers her feminist streak by refusing to marry for convenience. ‘Belle was a liberated woman who turned down a proposal of marriage from the handsomest, most controlling and self-involved man in town, Gaston the big game hunter, to maintain control of her own destiny.’ Gaston may be the richest, handsomest, most desirable man in town, but Belle doesn’t love him, she also doesn’t want to settle for the traditional village life and role and wife and mother that she would gain if she were to marry him. She wants more from her life as we learn from the songs ‘Belle (or Little Town)’ and ‘Belle (reprise)’ by Howard Ashman, where she sings lines such as; "Madame Gaston!" Can't you just see it? "Madame Gaston!" His "little wife", ugh!’ ‘there must be more than this provincial life! I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, [...], I want so much more than they've got planned’. However, although Belle is seen, by many feminists to be doing something right, they also feel that in the end Disney let her down. Feminist Lara 86
Sumera states: ‘At first, Belle is strong, independent and intellectual. But as the film progresses, she becomes dependent and attached to the Beast, and although well read and intellectually curious, her romantic inclinations ultimately revert back to the Disney heroines of old.’ She indeed settles down and marries her handsome prince, however, unlike the original three Disney princesses who all meet their princes for no more than five minutes and fall in love at first sight, Belle and the Beast have developed a mutual respect and understanding of each other, a true friendship and deep love over a number of weeks/months. Nevertheless, more recent analysis by feminists on online blogs, such as one entitled ‘Disney Princesses and Feminism: a brief (and bias history) written by Andreas and Ashley (unfortunately no full names are given), have come to the conclusion that that Beauty and the Beast could be the example of an abusive relationship, and that the message the films sends is that if you stay with someone who treats you terribly for long enough then they will change. Many may also feel that by marketing Belle a Disney princess, by banding her together with the other passive princesses this eradicates the feminist tendencies that she portrays. Mulan is also seen under the ‘good daughter’ role, as she too doesn’t seem to fit into her surroundings where ‘as is made clear in the song (“Honour to us all”), men and women have different positions in the society and different duties to fulfil: a man fights for his country, whereas a women gives birth to sons.’ (Dong, 2010:159). It is also clearly stated in this song that the only way Mulan can fulfil her duty of serving her family and bring honour to them, is to find a suitable marriage, and in turn serve her new family by providing heirs. However, Mulan is doesn’t quite fit into
this way of life, she is intelligent and outspoken, a free spirit, two qualities that seem to stop her being a perfect, obedient bride and follow her father’s dream for her. Ultimately Mulan is a good daughter because she saves her father’s life by going to war in his place and in doing so finds a life, through a husband, for herself. It can also be said that this is also seen through her preservation of the Emperor at the end of the film, as he can be regarded as the father of China. ‘Despite the feminist elements featured in the Disney film, Mulan does not represent a feminist character in everyone’s eyes since her adventure and accomplishment are motivated by filial duty to her father and family rather than righting a wrong or seeking female empowerment and glory.’ Mulan’s imminent betrothal to Captain Shang is also seen as anti-feminist, as this implied that her victory is only to be a one-time adventure and that now she has returned to her appropriate social position with her family and her fiancé, whom she will marry, serve, and bear children to, for the rest of her life. However, like Belle, the couple have spent more time together, Mulan’s has also saved the captains life, therefore there is now more respect and love between them than in an arranged marriage. Mulan can also be analysed by thinking of gender as performance. If gender is merely a performance then anybody can be any gender as long as they perform as if they are that gender, this is something that feminist and theorist Judith Butler has written heavily about. ‘The effect of gender is produced though the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements and styles of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self.’
In order for Mulan to achieve her task she has to pretend to be male to be accepted into the national army in the place of her father, she acts male and as such everyone accepts her in that role. When Mulan’s true gender is revealed to the company half way through the film, when she is injured in battle, it comes as a true shock to them as she has played her part so well. However, Mulan is still dismissed from the army and it is made very clear that she has dishonoured her family even though she has just saved all of the other soldier’s lives. Although this seems like a down point to story line it is actually something that Disney did right for Mulan as well as the feminists. Due to ‘this early revelation of the character’s sex it enables Mulan to achieve ultimate success at the climax as a woman, instead of in male disguise.’ In the original Chinese tale of Mulan, her identity isn’t revealed until after the end of the war, it can therefore, be surmised in this story that when Mulan is a woman, she is not heroic and that only when she is dressed in a man’s clothes and appears to be male can she be a hero. However, in the Disney version Mulan ultimately saves the Emperor and the whole of China as a woman. To further the gender as performance theme within the film Mulan, as her woman self at the end of the film, convinces a few of the soldiers to dress as women to create an illusion of innocence when attacking the Hun’s bodyguards. ‘Drag denaturalises gender by showing us its imitative structure; it operates on the contradiction between anatomical sex and gender identity, a contradiction that is interrupted by the performance itself.’ By this display of male drag at the end of the film it helps to show just how impressively, daring Mulan’s actions were. Her disguise was dangerous and 87
forbidden within her society, whereas the soldiers was used merely as a distraction. Ariel, from the 1989 film ‘The Little Mermaid’ can also be analysed in regard to gender as performance as well as for her feminist characteristics. Like Belle, Ariel is both praised and criticised by the feminists, she is seen to have a feisty nature, a desire for knowledge and burning curiosity toward the human world that she has been forbidden to enter by her father. However, ultimately after pronouncing her desire to break free from the world she is unhappy with she becomes besotted with the Prince at first sight, just like the original princesses, and this is the definitive reason she defies her father and enters the human world, to marry her true love. ‘Though more active than the earlier Disney fairy tale heroines, Ariel is still defined by her relationship to men. She leaves her father’s home for her husband’s, and she abandons her own quest for self-discovery when an attractive man enters the picture.’ In order to enter the human world Ariel visits the sea witch, Ursula, who agrees to give her legs and three days to get Eric to fall in love with her, in return for her voice. Ariel is unsure about this as she doesn’t know how she can make Eric love her if she has no voice, however, this is where Ursula teaches the mermaid, through the song ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ that gender is mere performance and that she doesn’t need her voice to woo the prince because she has her beauty and her body. Ursula: ‘You'll have your looks, your pretty face. And don't underestimate the importance of body language, ha! The men up there don't like a lot of blabber They think a girl who gossips is a bore! Yet on land it's much preferred for 88
ladies not to say a word And after all dear, what is idle babble for? Come on, they're not all that impressed with conversation True gentlemen avoid it when they can But they dote and swoon and fawn On a lady who's withdrawn It's she who holds her tongue who gets a man.’ (Ashman and Menken, 1988) This is what makes the text really problematic for the feminists, ‘it teaches us that we can achieve access and mobility in the white male system if we remain silent.’ However, Sells also argues that although she initially gives up her voice for love, by the end of the film she has her voice, her man and a new found knowledge of gender and identity. We know she has learnt from Ursula’s song and dance act as we can see her putting this into action when she stumbles into Eric’s arms on the beach then turns back to her sea life friends and winks, indicating that she is playing/ acting. Between 1998 and 2007 no new Disney Princesses stepped out of the Disney studio, the films that were released by the company were mainly live action adventures, cheesy Disney channel movies and poor attempts at sequels to their classic princess films such as Cinderella, II (2002) and III (2007), The Little Mermaid II (2000) and III (2008), and Mulan II (2004). Therefore when the new Disney princesses did come along in the form of Giselle (Enchanted, 2007), Tiana (The Princess and the Frog, 2009), and Rapunzel (Tangled, 2010), we expected to see a great change in the portrayal of women. Even though the women of the real world had been liberated from the home and kitchen, had closed the gap on equality with the male population, gained acceptance as independent business/ career women, the women in the new Disney films had
not. Ultimately they did show slightly more feminist behaviour than the renaissance princesses but they still followed the classic Disney formula, falling in love with their handsome princes and living happily ever after. ‘The Princess and the Frog,’ (2009) is the first Disney animation to feature an African American princess and therefore the question of cultural and historical misrepresentation comes into question again. Many critics/writers such as Henry Giroux and Grace Pollock, state that: ‘it is difficult to be less than cynical about what appears to be less a tribute to African American culture than a barely disguised attempt to round out the Disney Princess market base by targeting young black girls who may find Tiana dolls and products less alienating than the current Disney options.’ In Disney’s attempt to keep the cultural representation as realistic as possible the company has even hired Oprah Winfrey as a consultant in regards to the films politics. However, the Disney Company has still missed the accurate historical representation when they set the story in 1920’s New Orleans as unfortunately a young black female would never have been able to run her own restaurant at this time, and as this is Tiana’s only goal and the films overall conclusion, Disney has once again failed to portray a true representation of the female role. In 2010 ‘Tangled’ was released, Disney’s answer to the Grimm’s Rapunzel. The film follows Rapunzel as she is stolen from her royal family by an evil witch who wants her for the magical healing powers that her hair possesses. The princess is then brought up by the wicked witch, isolated in a forest believing that the world is full of evil and that she must never leave her tower. Due to her isolation and limited knowledge of the world around her,
Rapunzel can be considered hugely naive. This is reflected in the fact that her only goal throughout the film is to see the ‘floating lights’ that arise in the sky every year on her birthday. Despite her naivety Rapunzel can be considered fairly feminist, as she is the only princess who wields a weapon, even if it is only a frying pan. She is also extremely resourceful with her hair and is seen to not only out run, but out swim and think most of the characters within the film, she even manages to knock out and interrogate the male intruder Flynn Rider. She takes control of her life, defies her ‘mother’ and leaves the tower to go in search of the lights. Although she still fits the Feminist example of a character who finds romantic fulfilment at the end of the film, she never goes looking for love, instead she just happens to fall in love along the way of achieving her goal. One very important theme that runs through the whole of Disney is the removal of one or both of the main characters parents, or if the parents are present in films such as Sleeping Beauty, Mulan or Tangled, their ability to help their children has been removed. By removing one or other of the parents Disney doesn’t need to reflect on any relationships that happen after the ‘happily ever after’ moment of the ultimate Disney goal, a wedding. Disney may also have chosen to do this as by removing the parents, you remove the idea of sex, a biological, natural act of conception and birth. ‘Never being born, the Disney characters can never grow up. In short, they aspire to immortality, an inspiration echoed in the cryogenisation of their creator.’ Birth and death are the only two certain natural phenomenon’s in human life and if these are both taken away from a character then they can happily live in their magical, animated Disney world for 89
all of eternity. The character becomes so far removed from the real world that he/she becomes the magical immortal being that children crave. The idea of the male gaze is a central theme within Feminist film theory. Many feminist such as Budd Boetticher, believe that women have no importance within a film, that they are simply there to arouse certain feeling within the male characters, and it is these feeling that are important to steer the plot not the women herself. Feminist Film critics also state that: ‘traditionally, the woman displayed had functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen.’ The Disney princesses could be said to have been constructed in relation to the male gaze, through most of its life the Disney studio has mostly been made up of male animators who narrowly constructed the princesses through their vision of the perfect female body, accentuating the hour glass figure to appeal greatly to the male audience. Originally, in the case of the classic princesses, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, the Disney animators based their female forms on ‘the bodies of actual women, shaped by the strenuous rigors and artful artificiality of classic ballet.’ Therefore Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella started off as strong, disciplined ballerinas and were transformed into contradicting weak, passive characters. The live action model for Ariel and Belle on the other hand, moved away from the classical ballerina template and instead the Disney studio used teenager Sherri Stoner, who was chosen for her expressive features and small frame. This perfect imagery regarding the
formation of the female body is an issue for critics and feminists, who believe it sends negative messages regarding body -image to young people, especially young girls in this case, who are already surrounded by airbrushed images of models and therefore may become susceptible to conditions such as anorexia, through striving to look like these simulated women. They may also receive the message that, to get what you want from life, (in the princesses case true love), you have to be formulaically beautiful. ‘Disney heroines are always beautiful, shapely, and often sexually attractive.’ The princesses are all seen to be unnaturally thin, with almost nonexistent waists and perfectly toned bodies, they are beautiful, with no physical imperfection, not even glasses are worn by any of the Disney princesses. The eyes are always over exaggerated, shiny and wide often filling the whole screen at moments of emotion or sadness. It could also be argued that there is no need for these over sexualised images of women within young children’s films, but possibly they are there so that the film will appeal to a wider audience. Feminist theory discusses the problem with young female viewers internalising the ‘male gaze’. Creating a desire for ‘looked-at-ness’ in the young viewer. Problematically their understanding of what is desirable is dictated by Disney’s over-perfect visual image of the female form. Daniel Chandler, a British visual semiotician says, ‘Mulvey, argues that various features of cinema viewing conditions facilitate for the viewer both the voyeuristic process of objectification of female characters and also the narcissistic process of identification with an ‘ideal ego’ seen on the screen. She declares that in patriarchal society ‘pleasure in looking has been split 90
between active/male and passive/ female’. One way that Disney, just like other films, turns up the sexual appeal of a woman is ‘to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation.’ A clear example of this is when John Smith first meets Pocahontas and he emerges from beneath the waterfall, to see her standing in the mist. Instead of shooting her as he originally intended he is mesmerised by her beauty and the action slows down. It is Pocahontas’s eyes that are revealed first and then her large red, pouting lips. Her hair is gently blowing, in the wind and even curls seductively around her neck for a moment. Shoots like this can be seen in a number of Disney Princess movies such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ when she emerges from the water, almost breasts first, throwing her head back in such a provocative gesture that it could almost mirror an image from an adult pornographic film. Although, this study has predominantly focused upon the animated Disney princesses, Giselle has been included as she is for all intent and purpose an animated character portrayed by a live action actress (Amy Adams). Although this may be against some people’s views, the film Enchanted greatly pastiches many of the classic Disney films such as Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, in terms of it’s themes and imagery. The film can be referred to as Disney’s ‘faux parody [...] a film that pretends to change the Disney model through burlesque and inane satire while pandering to consumerism.’ The film is littered with ‘in jokes’ that we only understand through our viewing of all of the classic Disney films, these jokes at times come across as mickey taking, indicating the Disney company has made a conscious decision to put these jokes and image in and as such laughing at themselves.
For instance the opening animated sequence of the film could easily have been taken from any of the classic Disney films. It starts with an animation of an open fairy tale book, the pages are turning while a voice over tells the beginnings of the story. The animation then progresses to Giselle in her tree top house singing to her woodland friends about finding her ‘true love’s kiss’. We then find the prince just so happens to be riding nearby and hears her song, he is immediately attracted to her voice and begins singing the same song. The pair meets for barely three minutes before they decide to marry. It is just before the marriage ceremony that we encounter the wicked Queen, who is an exact pastiche of Maleficent and the Wicked Queen from Snow White, a moment later she has also adopted the same old hag disguise as Snow White’s Step mother. The action then gets transferred to live action when the characters are magically transported into modern day New York, a place where as the film informs us there is no happily ever after. Even though the film is now in live action the pastiche of imagery did not stop there, some of the examples from the film are shown in this sequence of images. Even though Giselle starts out as just another passive princess, who wants nothing more than to find her true love and live happily ever after, by visiting the human world Giselle learns that there is actually more to love and life than sharing a ‘true love’s duet’ with a handsome prince. ‘We see Giselle ostensibly transition from a two-dimensional cartoon into a three-dimensional human being when she develops an awareness of herself outside the classic Disney script.’ By swapping the setting from a fantasy animated land, to modern day New York Disney were able to show the 91
progressive change in characteristics between the passive princesses of old and the independent modern woman. Giselle is seen to become a positive female role model and the feminist heroine of her own story. She saves the day by defeating the dragon, Queen Narissa, saving not only herself but Robert also, and by doing so she is able to choose exactly what she wants from her life. This is the key to her success as a positive role model, instead of choosing to return to the animated world and live happily ever after with her handsome prince, who she has known for all of ten minutes. Giselle chooses to stay in New York, with the man she has got to know, respect and ultimately love, she takes on the role of step-mother to his daughter and opens her own business, becoming a modern day So, Disney Princesses have indeed become better feminist role models as they have progressed through history. Yet, has Disney has created the perfect feminist princess? If children can be shown a strong, independent princess who is eager to go out into her fantasy world, and make her own way within it, but along the path of her journey just so happen to fall in love with a good man, then what is wrong with that? Debatably this is not the case for many of the princesses, namely the classic princesses, Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, who rush into their marriages but Disney has been seen to remedy this ‘love at first sight’ premise in its more recent films. When analysing the points of this study we must keep in mind that Disney as a genre is purely fantasy, light entertainment that is predominately aimed at children, teaching the occasional moral answer like the fables of old. Disney chose to set his stories within beautiful animated spaces, separating them from the real world, for 92
a reason and this could be it. To entertain the innocence of childhood with beauty and magic, with worlds full of happiness and song, that cause them to squeal with delight and stay naive for just that little bit longer. Disney is and has always been a product used for escape, the most famous example being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs during the great depression of the 1930’s. Its beauty and magic reached far beyond the boundaries of reality, and allowed people to forget about their lives for a short while. Is this not the same reason adults have always enjoyed musical theatre? The glitz, the glamour, song and dance is so far removed from reality that it frees its audience from their worldly ties. However, it would have been impossible for Disney to have ignored the huge impact of contemporary film theory encompassing feminism and post-colonialism that has built up over the past century. The most problematic factor of Disney films is that they are aimed and viewed by innocent, impressionable children that can draw the wrong messages from the films, the Disney Corporation is all encompassing for their market if these messages aren’t combated by other forms of media there is no balance for the younger viewer. However, maybe instead of criticizing Disney for its lack of reality we should be looking for or devising a new form of media that can teach children about reality in a calm nonthreatening manner. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Disney should carry on as it has been. The narrow minded character formation and stereotypes depicted within Disney can indeed be seen as being very harmful, not only to the impressionable children who watch the movies who may devise unconscious prejudices because of what they have seen, but also to the groups of people that have
been wrongly depicted. Disney also needs to work on its formation of the female leads body. All of the animated princesses display abnormally slim waist, large hips and breasts, an unnaturally, perfectly proportioned hour glass figure. As the study has said before this, along with all the other airbrushed images of the female body
that women are immersed in on a day to day basis, can cause real health issues in the form of eating disorders and low self esteem problems. Therefore it is safe to say that as long as the Classic Disney Formula persists to be evident, then the films will continue to receive attention from critic and feminists alike.
Images from FeministDisney.com
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Credits and Links (If your work is featured and there is no link or it is incorrect please let as us know) Collage ‘13 blog www.magazinecollage.com For information on contributors http://magazinecollage.com/about/ Support Amina on Femen Tunisia Facebook www.facebook.com/femens.tunisie?fref=ts Grim Glory—Women Recording War Lee Miller www.leemiller.com Anna Airy www.iwm.org.uk/history/anna-airy Linda Kitson http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Kitson Jananne Al-Ani http://www.janannealani.net/ Frauke Eigen http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frauke_Eigen Popova http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyubov_Popova Goncharova http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/natalya-goncharova-1186 RiotGrrls Bikini Kill http://bikinikill.com/ Riot Grrl zines archive http://www.grrrlzines.net/zines/riotgrrrl.htm Showcase Simone Brewster http://www.simonebrewster.co.uk/ Megan Pickering meganpickering.tumblr.com Katie Cercone http://katiecercone.com Curmiah Lisette http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEadrWbVFgQ Minday Lee http://www.mindylee.co.uk The French Revolution Most Detested Woman http://thelittlesavage.tumblr.com/ The Female Citizen www.littlesavagesketchbook.blogspot.com Misc Arron Mitchell www.facebook.com/pages/ARRONTIST/163503629367?fref=ts Feminist Disney http://feministdisney.tumblr.com/ 94
Collage explores the way art and culture respond to masculinity and the male body, including In the Land of Men; explorations of masculinity in the Near East.
I wanna be a boy; cis women, penis envy and cross dressing .
Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy; archetypes of masculinity.