In his seminal 1972 study, Ways of Seeing, John Berger analysed the prominence of the male gaze, stating that ‘women were the principal, ever-recurring subject.’ Since then, there have been many feminist iterations that have spoken against the objectification of women in all forms media: from the pioneering texts of Simone De Beauvoir, Judith Butler and Laura Mulvey, to the all-girls-to-the-front ethos of the Riot Grrrl movement. Their aim? To return women to the forefront, not as objects of art, but as makers of meaning.
Indeed, the question of women’s objectification by the male gaze is not a new one and, as a recent article in The Huffington Post acknowledges, Feminist artists, historians and critics have been actively challenging Western art history’s dominant (read: male) narrative for decades. The #MeToo movement has only amplified their message I would like to draw attention to the fact that it is not only the #MeToo campaign that has encouraged young women to actively challenge representations of femininity in contemporary culture. Girls around the world have sought out many creative forms of expression in order to separate themselves from male objectification and the exploitative social and political infrastructures surrounding them.
Take the appearance of ‘Gen Z’, for example. Generation Z ‚ or ‘Gen Z’ references the entrepreneurs, makeup artists, influencers, models, and photographers of this generation who are abolishing the rigid, exclusive beauty ideals that have been sitting on the shelf collecting dust for so many years. Or how about the victims of acid attacks in India, who have taken to the catwalk in an effort to show that scarred women don’t have to hide their faces? In the face of redefining the rigid standards of beauty in contemporary culture, they reveal the extent of their abuse: We are not ugly, they say society is ugly.
To return to Balthus‚ the image of Thérèse Dreaming could it be that she is dreaming of the many young women to come after her who are speaking out and actively challenging years of patriarchal and societal objectification? As this issue of GNI brings the face of the new girl of 2018 to the forefront, I’d certainly like to think so. In the words of Gen Z: This is progress, this is evolution.
Girl News International