by

Claudia Austin

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In this post I will be discussing the general reaction to the sexuality of women and the vulgarity attributed to the portrayal of women’s pleasure in sex, despite the ongoing sexualisation of women’s bodies. I first started looking into the representation of the sexuality of women after reading The Sadeian Woman by Angela Carter. In the text she discusses pornography and describes it as ‘an abstraction of human intercourse in which the self is reduced to its formal elements’ (4) which is shown in graphic terms in graffiti as ‘the probe and the fringed hole’ (4).

Normally I do not pay much attention to graffiti, but Carter’s attention to detail caused me to remember a moment which stuck out in memory from an engineering class. I was fourteen and idly watching a class-mate doodle. What started off as a wonky zigzag shape was suddenly transformed into a naked woman when a () shape was added to the centre. It dawned upon me that he had drawn a naked woman, lying on her back with her legs spread apart. After a moment of deliberation he added two nipple-less mounds which were apparently gravity-defying breasts and the drawing was complete. It was probably copied from a recently watched porno, without a body or head, the female form was reduced to nothing but an object for sex. She is simply a hole. Carter also discusses the “lacking” aspect of the ‘fringed hole’ (Sadeian Woman, 4) in graffiti, she states: ‘The hole is open, an inert space…woman is negative. Between her legs lies nothing but zero, the sign for nothing’ (4).

Continuing in this train of thought I began to look at different art movements, to find more evidence of women represented as “lacking”. In sculpture I quickly found Henry Moore. His amorphous pieces which featured women followed a pattern. The majority were languishing in a reclined position with gaping holes interspaced through their bodies. They also had rounded mounds – similar to the childish doodle of my classmate – plonked upon their being, almost comically so. I continued to look for the “lacking” aspect in other artwork and could not find much. However, interestingly, the subject of a woman was universally represented through curves. For example de Kooning’s art which features women always presented them with ballooning breasts and small defined triangles, similar to pornography. After this I began to search for nude paintings.

In traditional paintings of female nudes, the genitals are usually hidden from view by the leg placement or a piece of cloth, or in depictions of Eve, by conveniently placed leaves. These depictions of soft pornography would have been acceptable to be on display in people’s homes. Looking for more brash representations of women, I braced myself and googled “explicit nude paintings of women”. I expected coarse pictures, similar to the doodle, but what appeared seemed to be exactly the same as the previous paintings. When taking a closer look, the subjects of the paintings were showing nonchalance at their nakedness. Two of Édouard Manet’s works repeatedly appeared, which were Le déjeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. Both women central to the paintings wear coy smiles and their hands lie tantalisingly close to their crotches. From this it appears that a depiction of a naked woman is only seen as explicit if she is comfortable or knowledgeable of her sexuality.

When continuing my research, I watched a documentary called This Film Is Not Yet Rated which discusses the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). The documentary shows the clear bias against any showing of female sexuality. A specific example of this bias includes a fully-clothed masturbation scene in But I’m A Cheerleader which received the NC-17 (or an 18 to British readers), whereas a similar scene in American Pie where the protagonist is masturbating using an apple pie with his trousers down received an R (or a 15) and was used in the trailer.

Despite the vulgarity attributed to the sexuality of women, women’s bodies are becoming increasingly sexualised in day-to-day life. This can be seen from young girls innocently using red lipstick to replicate the ‘visible wound’ (Carter, Nothing Sacred, 99) from women’s supposed castration, to Ann Summers’ crotch-less knickers which ‘function as no more than a decorative and inadequate parenthesis’ (Carter, New Eve, 29) around the “wound”. I then turned to more modern pictures of women and looked at ‘page 3’ pictures. They were mainly filled with bulging breasts, tousled hair and “come-hither” eyes which stare directly to the viewer, appearing comfortable at being gazed upon. Their presumably hairless genitals are covered by the merest scrap of triangular cloth, this small patch of skin deemed too vulgar for daytime viewing. Going back to This Film Is Not Yet Rated, when discussing The Cooler within which a glimpse of pubic hair is seen, the film was given the NC-17 rating. I cannot help but think that seeing pubic hair would make it less pornographic and more natural.

In conclusion, when women are shown unclothed, it is only viewed as obscene once they show the slightest hint of sexual awareness and pleasure. Simultaneously, the sexualisation of women’s bodies has become so prominent, that the female form can barely be seen without a sexual connotation being made; to the extent that breasts have become so sexualised that to the increasing masses, it has become vulgar to breastfeed in public, the one purpose that breasts have. The example of pornography is both the most definitive and ironic example of society’s reaction to the sexuality of women. It is seen as extremely explicit as the women exaggerate their supposed pleasure to the extreme. However this becomes all the more ironic as everything about it is fake.

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 Claudia Austin is currently a third year student at Liverpool John Moores University. She has a blog called Me, Myself and Feminism at http://claudiaaustin.wordpress.com/.

 

Carter, Angela. Nothing Sacred. (London: Virago, 1967).

Carter, Angela. The Passion of New Eve. (London: Virago, 1977).

Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman. (London: Virago, 1979).

This Film Is Not Yet Rated. Dir. Kirby Dick. Independent Film Company. 2006. Film. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFp0exGM0MU
Claudia Austin is currently a third year student at Liverpool John Moores University. She has a blog called Me, Myself and Feminism at http://claudiaaustin.wordpress.com/.