“For much of the feminist art that has been labelled ‘erotic’ because it depicts or alludes to genital images is nothing of the sort. It is designed to arouse women, but not sexually. Hannah Will, Deborah Remington and Judy Chicago all make vaginal or womb related work. What is interesting about them is the manner in which they worship – fully allude to female genitalia as icons – as strong, clean, well made and whole as the masculine totems to which we are accustomed. Although there are many catagories of women’s erotic art, the most novel are those that glorify vaginas.” (Robinson.H, 2001, p576)
This statement reflected my large scale ‘pretty’ looking vagina. Strong, from the scale, clean, in the way that it is painted and well made in what it represents. The glorified vagina only threatens the male because it represents nothing. However I feel as though the vagina is as much of a sacred object as the penis and it represents so much more than nothing.
“The ‘lack’, ‘atrophy’ (of the sexual organ), and ‘penis envy’, the penis being the only sexual organ of recognised value… Her sexual organ represents the horror of nothing to see. A defect in the systematics of representation and desire. A ‘hole’ in its scophophilic lens. It is already evident in Greek statuary that this nothing-to-see has to be excluded, rejected, from such a scene of representation. Women’s genitals are simply absent, masked, sewn back up inside their ‘crack.’ (Robinson.H, 2001, p582)
Making work that represents this glorified vagina is to appreciate the solidarity of it. It is not nothing, it is something that should be greatly appreciated by the male, not be seen as an object for use or nothing, or even as a threat because it represents a ‘lack of penis’. Women in themselves should be seen as an equal to the male and unfortunately a lot of sexism still goes on, just as the vagina is of equal power to the penis.
Robinson, H. (2001) Feminism-art-theory; an anthology 1968-2000.
Going back to the idea of pornography and where my work fits in responding to this, I have been looking into feminist theories. The main anti-pornography feminist being Andrea Dworkin, who I have previously looked at and who started the Women Against Pornography (WAP) society. Some people argue that strong anti-porn views like Dworkin’s could arouse fear and anger even among women that have not seen porn and this has effected women more than porn itself.
“There is no feminist issue that isn’t rooted in the porn problem”
– Page Mellish
Three categories of feminists on porn-
Most Common- Pornography is an expression of male culture through which women are commodified and exploited.
Liberal Position- Combines a respect for free speech with the principles ‘a woman’s body, a woman’s right’ to produce a defence of pornography along the lines of ‘I don’t approve of it, but everyone has the right to consume or produce words and images.’
Defense- Arises from feminists who have been labelled pro-sex, and who argue that porn has benefits for women too.
In terms of my work I see myself as a Liberal Feminist ‘a woman’s body, a woman’s right’ is a statement I strongly stand by. If women wish to work in this industry I am not against it, as long as it is their choice. Like the liberals what I don’t agree with however is how it works and how easily accessible it is. The influence of pornography on young people and the expectations set from this is what my work is about. Boys expect girls to look as perfect as the females in porn with the well groomed vaginas and my work is a representation of this well-groomed-ness. A comment made by Wendy McElroy for anti-porn feminism is “women who pose for porn are so traumatised by the patriarchy they cannot give real consent”. Although I do not agree totally it does refer back to my previous research on male power, he has to be in control, and although this theory is old I feel that it is still valid. Maybe we are all brainwashed by this.
Andrea Dworkin argued that anyone who defends pornography cannot be a feminist, which is an interesting statement as the feminists who defend this tend to have worked in the sex industry.
Another argument made is how far do we go with blaming the internet and porn when children and teens need to be educated on this subject better so they do not turn to porn for answers. A better education could lead to ending the craze of the ‘Designer Vagina’.
More info on the subject found at:
The soft gentle touch to the large-scale lips is particularly different to the dramatic black and roughly cut vagina dentata (vagina with teeth), yet in the same way they both cause a threat to castration, one with the threat of the teeth and the roughness and the other in its scale, engulfing the viewer in these lips. Once a male realises what they are there to imply they will feel the need to find a distraction hence the general disgust of vaginas being painted fully on display.
“It is a man’s narcissistic fear of losing his own phallus, his most precious possession, which causes shock at the sight of female genitals and the subsequent fetishistic attempt to disguise or divert attention from them.” (Mulvey, 1973, P11)
This theory was first introduced by Freud in that castration complex, men are threatened by females as they have no phallus, leading them to be fearful of losing their own from a young age and women have penis envy as explained in the oxford dictionary, “(in Freudian theory) an unconscious anxiety arising during psychosexual development, represented in males as a fear that the penis will be removed by the father in response to sexual interest in the mother, and in females as a compulsion to demonstrate that they have an adequate symbolic equivalent to the penis, whose absence is blamed on the mother.” The lack of penis in a female implies a threat of castration therefore men find a diversion to take them away from that situation. “The nearer the female is to genital nakedness the more flamboyant the phallic distraction.” (Mulvey, 2009, p9)
So my aim is to cause this threat and compare the effectiveness of the work I create. As well as the large scale and the wood cut piece I have also created a more subtle monoprint version of the vagina dentata but again the threat there is the teeth. In contrast the large-scale lips do not show any teeth just a dark hole which allures people to look closer as there is a black hole there to replace this, this is also a threat as this hole is a representation of the centre of the vagina, so although they are both vaginas with the same implication the threats are different, one threats intercourse the other almost enticing it, but being that close to a vagina so large is threatening to castration and that is exactly what I am going for. The idea of a threat to castration is what interests me, how men act and are seen to be powerful yet a vagina is a threat to them? They like sex so how is this a threat to their power? Confusing to me but a fun idea to play with, maybe I could title my works are you threatened yet? Are all my a3 prints bulked together more of a threat than one large one as that is there to imply multiple vaginas? Or the vigorous marks made in the wood, suggesting anger may be more threatening especially as there are teeth involved. Im not sure of the answers to these questions yet but as long as they continue on the theme of castration threat I am happy with the way it is going.
Mulvey L (1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’: reprinted from Screen, 16:3 (Autumn 1975),
Mulvey, L. (2009) Visual and other pleasures. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
‘In the 20th century the phrase vagina dentata is first used, derived from the Latin for ‘toothed’ and meaning ‘the motif or theme of a vagina equipped with teeth which occurs in myth, folklore and fantasy, and is said to symbolise fear of castration, the danger of sexual intercourse, of birth or rebirth.’ (Rees.E, 2013, p20)
Back to the theory of my dissertation and the male caustration, I was told about vagina dentata and found it highly interesting in relation to my lips as they, are part of the mouth which of course does contain teeth. The quick sketches in the image show a mouth in the shapes created when saying ‘fuck me’, I plan on painting these on canvas and playing around with the layout of them. ‘Fuck me’ was chosen in relation to the prostitution I have been researching and my visit to the red light district. These girls are inviting men to do exactly that. In using a mouth that is moving the teeth are then on show, especially with the ‘F’, which then turned on its side can imply the vagina dentata, causing this threat to castration. The symbolism of the danger of sexual intercourse is something I would like to look more into as without the right precautions it can be dangerous. The rebirth of myself going into the next stage of my life can also be represented here so the possibilities are endless!
Rees.E (2013) ‘The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History’ Bloomsbury publishing plcvagina
As my work recently has been more research based I was told to just go for it, not think just do for a while, so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Keeping to my theme of lips and red and still keeping in mind the idea of these lips representing vaginas. I have been experimenting with texture using impasto acrylic paint and wool as well as doing some Lino prints that I plan on experimenting further with. Some of the lips I have created I then sewed together the canvas pads they were painted on. I like this in relation to Kembra Pfahler, a performance artist who sewed her vagina lips together in a performance piece. Mine are also sewn together, figuratively. Sewing is also seen to be a feminine task, even now.
Other options I have gone for are more simplistic, plain red lips with thick paint, a one layered Lino print with glitter because why not, a red ribbon sewn around the edge inspired by the light around a prostitutes window at the red light district and then of course the more disturbing looking one. I was inspired by the print made from kissing a piece of paper with lipstick on, simple yet beautiful, so I tried kissing the page with acrylic paint on my lips and then photographed my lips themselves afterwards. The outcome looked pretty gruesome but effective, again keeping with the theme of the vagina and blood this time painting in a more abstract way than I normally would.
When told to read about Germaine Greer I came across this comment of hers, ‘It is not surprising that well-bred, dainty little girls find it difficult to adapt to menstruation, when our society does no more than explain it and leave them to get on with it.’ (Greer.G, 2012, p n/a) It got me thinking that this ‘random’ painting of mine has a big relation to this, it could reflect both pain or just the blood of this cycle that girls go through most of their lives.
Greer.G (2012) ‘The female Eunuch’ Available at: https://seminariolecturasfeministas.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/germaine-greer-the-female-eunuch.pdf Accessed: 01/03/17