Objectify: degrade to the status of a mere object: a deeply sexist attitude that objectifies women
When I was invited to create a piece of work for a group show exploring issues around identity and expressions of the inner self, I thought about my own identity – the life experiences that define me. Growing up in the 1960s as a female child in a working class environment inevitably had an impact. I can’t tell you how many times I was told by my uncles and other male relatives visiting our home that I’d ‘make someone a lovely wife one day ‘ – and that was usually in response to carrying out some domestic task – making tea, handing out sandwiches, for example. As if that was all I would aspire to: keeping the menfolk happy.
Keeping yourself pretty, only speaking when spoken to, pleasing people (boys and men, especially) was what so much of life was about for girls and young women in that era. It reflects my own experience of growing up. But it was the way things were and it was rarely questioned. Young girls and women weren’t encouraged to think much further beyond finding a man and settling down to a lifetime of domestic bliss – the toys we were given paid testament to that.
But things do change, thank goodness; toy irons, complete with ironing board, play ovens and other homemaker paraphernalia are no longer at the top of young girls’ present lists and girls of today are likely to tell you so themselves.
In spite of progress, however, there is still a way to go, and on International Women’s Day, 2020 it feels important to acknowledge that. My work ‘Objectification’ is a tribute to all the girls and young women who for a whole host of reasons, find themselves restrained and controlled by external factors, both subtle and extreme – from Disney princesses to Bic pastel-coloured pens ‘for her’ to gaslighting and extreme violence. Keeping up the prettiness and niceness means in turn, keeping up the fantasy that women are the weaker sex – commodities, to be seen but not heard. It struck me that every single woman who stood up against former film producer and recently convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein stated how they had felt silenced, discouraged from speaking up and how they had felt too embarrassed or ashamed to do so.
Keeping women down, repressed and subdued has always been achieved by silencing them. Without a voice that is heard, we are powerless; what women need is to continue to search for and find a voice that has the freedom to express itself authentically, without having to keep it ‘nice’ – a voice that dares rage against the injustices and inequalities so often imposed on them and a voice that screams and calls out the way in which women are silenced everyday in every corner of the world.
‘Objectification’ is currently on show as part of the ‘Me, Myself and I’ group exhibition at the Collyer Bristow Galley, London. Curated by Rosalind Davis, the exhibition includes work by twenty artists investigating issues around identity and expressions of the inner self.