“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself… She comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two consituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman… Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed, female.” Ways of Seeing, John Berger (English art theorist, art critic, poet and novelist).
The issue of gender equality within our society is a huge, multi-faceted one, one that concerns (or should concern) everyone, one that has its toes stuck in many doors, has many knock on effects, and which relates to many other social issues. From the start of this subject, I was particularly interested in Feminism as a movement, historically, culturally and socially, and knew that this was the direction I wanted to research further into. However, Feminism itself it also a huge, multi-faceted topic, with so much rich history and social relevance, as well as much controversy. Through my research, I came across the writings of theorists such as Teresa de Lauretis, John Berger and Catharine Mackinnon, and was drawn into the ideas of the patriarchal world view and subsequent social conditioning, the sexualised objectification of the female body, and how this all plays into the suppression of women through the culturally and historically specific construct of “femininity”.
Who does the problem affect? Be specific.
The problem specifically looks at young women and men aged 18 to 24 within our contemporary society. Different cultures have different attitudes and interpretations of femininity as a cultural and historical construct, but as my own upbringing and influences are of a Western background, I’ll be focusing specifically on Western culture. This problem particularly affects young women as they often feel the weight of social expectations that surround the concept of femininity, however it also involves men as social expectations and stereotypes play into how they perceive women, and how they perceive themselves in association with women. The issue of femininity as a cultural and historical construct also naturally brings with it the issue of the cultural and historical construct of masculinity, which brings its own issues to the lives of men and how they move within the world.
What are the boundaries of the problem?
This issue exists on a representational level, with social conditioning and long-standing patriarchal power structures influencing (whether consciously or subconsciously) the way women are viewed within the world, and how they move within the world. The issue of social conditioning and how it affects expectations of women and interpretations of “femininity”, and reinforces gender stereotypes, infiltrates throughout our society through social media, mass media, pornography, politics, social spheres, and wider public spheres. While objectification of bodies has occurred for centuries, globalisation and technological developments have altered and expanded the platforms through which we now experience this objectification.
When does the problem occur? When does it need to be fixed?
The problem occurs every hour of every day, as a result of the long-standing patriarchal world views that our society has been built on and which continue to filter throughout every aspect of our lives. Sexualised objectification and the eroticisation of power has its resounding effects on women and the way women’s bodies are perceived (by both men and women) all the time. Ideally, this problem would be addressed immediately, however the nature of our society and the deeply entrenched behaviours and institutional values that contribute to this issue mean that a sudden shift in the collective conscience is unlikely. Rather, education and inclusive conversation seems to be a more achievable way of encouraging a shift.
Where does the problem occur?
This problem occurs across all aspects of society; social media, mass media, politics, social life, workplaces, etc. Social media is a particularly powerful tool within our society as it gives a platform and voice to the merging of the personal and political. Online communities have the power to either perpetuate or challenge these long-standing views, and as a result of such wide-reaching platforms, both the perpetuation of the objectification of women and the rejection of these limiting views are frequently seen. The media is another powerful tool, particularly because all too often “femininity” and sexualised objectification is used as a marketing tool.
Why is it important?
The culturally and historically constructed concept of “femininity” is limiting, and detrimental to all attempts towards gender equality. It is also detrimental to young women’s perception of themselves, thus their mental health, as well as to interactions between women and men. Femininity and masculinity as a cultural constructs reinforce gender stereotypes and contribute to the objectification of women’s bodies, seen throughout media platforms, political spheres, and the social norms, taboos, and expectations of our society, which further contributes to the oppression of women. “Femininity” and “masculinity” are a form of bodily control and a maintenance of patriarchal power.
Possible design responses:
- A data-scraping tool which collects Twitter data on “thigh gap” mentions and “pay gap” mentions and compares the two (this could extend further to juxtapose other Tweets that use opposing language/views)
- Visualisations of feminist issues swapped over to men (e.g. the burkini ban in France transferred to being some kind of control over male bodies on French beaches)
- Some kind of data visualisation that explores the historical background or social context, and resounding impact, of “femininity” and “masculinity”
- Some kind of data visualisation that explores the way our expectations of “femininity” impact the way we view women’s bodies/the way women view and relate to their own bodies
- A generative system of sorts which involves an online video compilation of “everyday sexism” or subconscious objectification of women’s bodies/a visualisation of the eroticisation of power
Berger, J. 1972. Ways of Seeing. Penguin Books.
Madeleine Lumley Prince