I aim to disrupt ‘the gaze’ that falls so strongly on the female form, and I'm pushing back against the idea that ‘beauty’ of the human form is found predominantly in the feminine.
I'm asking the viewer to question and explore their implicit bias against the male nude. Why is there such an apparent reluctance to embrace and explore the male body as part of the experience of being a female artist? Why do women themselves turn away in distaste from the idea of painting the entirety of the male form in a way that could be pleasing to her? Why do we look away?
It can be argued that our culture is ‘so saturated with male bias’ presenting only a male view of cultural norms that women are kept from expressing and experiencing their own reality, one that might include men as objects of desire. From birth women are presented with a barrage of material designed to stimulate male sexual urges, nearly every form of media is complicit in this regard. That woman should ‘present’ herself for male pleasure is a constant message, seldom is there a reciprocal requirement.
Given these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that women turn their gaze, narcissistically upon themselves, suppressing and denying the same urges that have prompted male artists to lovingly depict their own muses throughout history. Women have absorbed a heterosexual male centric view and the rhetoric that the male nude is less aesthetic; they have suppressed their own desire to look at the nude male body and in doing so suppressed the gaze that would be a powerful weapon in reintroducing balance between genders.
It’s a common presumption that women are not as visually stimulated as men and that women require a multi sensory stimulation for pleasure, hence the ‘male gaze’ explaining why most pornography is not aimed primarily at women. I'm suggesting that the ‘patriarchy’ has so thoroughly programmed women to look away and to suppress their own erotic desire, unless geared towards pleasing a man, that many women (artists) are disconnected from themselves and all the power of their own female gaze.
What ‘the patriarchy’ has sought to control is their own vulnerability. To be vulnerable is perceived as relinquishing power. Men know they are ‘weakened’ when confronted with the profound power of the sexually potent woman, one who dares to look back at him. If she could look from the man in front of her to the nude idealised man in the painting behind, I have no doubt he would feel his power diminished, just as surely as women over the aeons have so been when confronted by visions of themselves looking back out from the canvas with implicit adoration at the owner of, not just the painting, but by implication her too.
We live in a phallocentric culture, yet the concept of the ‘phallus’ as the centre of power is much diminished if separated from the physical reality of the penis itself. Take away the conceptual power and all you are left with is a very vulnerable piece of human anatomy.
‘If the penis has been hidden to protect it from the female gaze, it is partly because man is uncomfortably aware that, from his birth and infancy, through illness and death, woman, as a mother, lover, and nurse knows the male body in all conditions, from tiny penis to erect sexual organ to the limp bloodless appendage of the aged father’.
"This humanisation may however impair ‘patriarchal hegemony’ for once the penis becomes visible then the phallus becomes unveiled and its power undermined. Only once we start to fully embrace that there are no differences, that each gender is fully whole ‘can art attain the possibility of its own reintegration, reanimation, reincorporation, and de-castration’
(Quote from Wet: On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture Excerpt from WET by Mira Schor
With my focus on the male nude, I am attempting a ‘humanisation’, a ‘reintegration’. I want to open up a space through art where men (and women) can see the male in a rare state of intact vulnerability and from there to start a broader conversation about the forgotten strength of a feminine that is no longer subservient to the masculine.
It is recognised fact that men and boys are breaking down under the societal pressure to conform to the traditional traits of an idealised masculinity; that to be dominant, singleminded, self-reliant and stoic holds high value. To openly express the ‘less worthy’ feminine values of collaboration, connection, empathy, openness, nurture, would risk having their ‘maleness’ diminished and membership of the 'man club' revoked.
The outcome of being denied the full narrative and expression of our common humanity, the frustrations of being forced to conform to a singular 'manly' ideal finds an outlet in the pervasive culture of ‘toxic masculinity’, a masculinity that is a danger not only to women and girls, but to any human who does not conform to socially constructed gender norms.
It is simply not enough to attempt to address the profound problems of our current chaotic times by playing a gender numbers game within our public institutions and corporations; to enforce gender diversity in the public sphere as a way of bringing more 'feminine' values into the workplace is merely a form of biological essentialism, meaning it puts the full weight of responsibility for undoing the disfunction created by a few thousand years of a phallocentric, masculine dominated world on the shoulders of ‘not-men’; it implies that the traditionally masculine identifying male does not need to change.
Women are oftentimes conflicted within themselves and struggle with the notion that masculine values are deemed of higher worth, necessary to embrace to be successful. The world does not need more women ‘beating the men at their own game’, proving they are just as capable of wielding all the weapons of masculinity as a man, it needs a new game with new rules. It needs equal players across the spectrum.
We need a world where the feminine is not defined in terms of lacking (a penis), but where feminine values are as equally powerful, desirable and revered as the masculine, we need a resurgence and revaluation of feminine power so all humans are free to express the full spectrum of the feminine and masculine within, only then will the gender wars be at an end.
Feminine values need to be re-empowered and resuscitated across all parts of culture and society so for my own small part as an artist and a woman, I am looking back, stepping into my own powerful gaze, returning the penis to its original humanity, not to objectify, not to diminish, but simply to love, to desire and to celebrate the beauty of a form that is not my own.
I invite the viewer to do the same.