Gender is one of the most important areas of art study because so much is marked by it, whether it is for better or for worse. Due to is wide berth the ideas of feminists, gender and cultural studies have seen some of the brightest minds in the last thirty years producing work on them. Everything from the material of the everyday to fine art and academia is affected by gender roles.
It is a fact that we live in a culture and society of difference. I refer to difference here as a concept, a group of related ideas. We make sense of and value things around us by what they are not, as much as what they are. Ideas of difference in terms of gender places it in a cultural based hierarchy; this means the generalisation of masculine being everything different to feminine (masculine-hard, feminine-soft etc.) This stark opposition leaves an either/ or attitude, rather than concentrating on what’s in between. These simple crude separations create binary opposites, leading to one gender establishing itself higher up the hierarchy, historically the male.
Gender positioning is clear in the role of images, how and why do they work upon us, and asartists we ourselves will be placed within these hierarchical systems. It is my personal choice as to what my role within that system will be, and what images will I make. Image making and reception has always had the scrutiny of the feminist academic eye, separating the natural from the constructed. Language itself is also gender orientated (in favour of the masculine) this leaves feminists in a locking system; there’s no way to change our whole language but using it favours the masculine. By blurring together these sexual opposites we can create new language, words and image formations, basically we create a new way of viewing the world.
In our current culture of sexual excess any image is questionable in terms of equality or freedom for anyone. Popular culture is just a construction of stereotypes, where women are just pretty additions in the ‘real’ world of the masculine. I think a good example of this is in advertising, particularly for perfumes, the women is presented as a ‘pretty’ role model for women, and presented as available or sexually charged towards men. I think our current exposure to mass media also helps keep women (and men to a lesser extent) in the role of the consumer.
‘Discourse can be usefully understood as socially constructed knowledge in a hierarchical system’. Discourse is defined as a body of writing/ images that is unified in its purpose or outcomes however intentional they may be. Looking at the discourses of the hierarchical system allows us to examine the structures of representation through which the masculine/ feminine identity is established; out of this collective semiotic we choose our identity. At the top of the hierarchy is still the white, heterosexual male, but if this is the ideal what does everything else become? If you’re not this you’re less than/ other to the ideal. I think this is core behind most branches of discrimination. Many artists have used these ideas as a starting point, looking how identities are mapped out for us by this system and in turn challenging our ideas of our own identity, exploring beyond the mass media stereotyping gaze.
‘Photos do not simply offer commodities for consumption, they also offer identities to inhabit, and they construct and circulate a systematic regime of images through which we are constantly invited to think the probabilities and possibilities of our lives’
Photo Politics vol. 2
I think in conclusion our exposure to mass media, films, adverts; whatever it might shapes and controls us into gender-based stereotypes. As an artist I can challenge and confront these stereotypes and address the hierarchical system that they’re built upon. Most photo practice can be roughly looked at in terms of gender, where women and men view the world differently and produce different images to reflect this. By studying and blurring these differences in my own work, I can make new visual decisions to create interesting new images.