"a virgin with no legs to leave me, no arms to hold me, no head to talk to me"

1934 Magritte Le Viol 72×54 cm
The following is Susan Gubar’s interpretation of Magritte’s painting (above) in her article “Representing Pornography: Feminism, Criticism, and Depictions of Female Violation” (1987). Do you have a different take on the image?
Endowed with blind nipples replacing eyes, a belly button where her nose should be, and a vulva for a mouth, the female face is erased by the female torso imposed upon it, as if Magritte were suggesting that anatomy is bound to be her destiny. That the face associated with the body is sightless, senseless, and dumb implies, too, that Magritte may be subscribing to the view of one of William Faulkner’s fictional surrogates, a man who celebrates the feminine ideal as “a virgin with no legs to leave me, no arms to hold me, no head to talk to me” and who therefore goes on to define woman generically as “merely [an] articulated genital organ.”
While an anatomical surprise turns the female into a bearded lady, the articulation of the woman as genital organ makes her inarticulate, closing down all of the openings that ordinarily let the world enter the self so that Magritte’s subject seems monstrously impenetrable or horrifyingly solipsistic. Paradoxically, even as it fetishizes female sexuality, Le Viol denies the existence of female genitalia, for the vulva-mouth here is only a hairy indentation. In this reading of the painting’s title, the represented figure-robbed of subjectivity and placed on display like a freak-deserves to be raped: this is the only consummation which will penetrate her self-enclosure and, given the humiliation of her fleshiness, it is all she is good for. When the female is simultaneously decapitated and recapitated by her sexual organs, the face that was supposed to be a window to the soul embodies a sexuality that is less related to pleasure and more to dominance over the woman who is “nothing but” a body.
(p. 722) (Please note that the discussion of the painting continues for a couple more pages.)

The following images are also mentioned:

René Magritte : Tenant L’Evidence Eternelle, 1938.
La Philosophie dans le Boudoir, c.1947

Why are many pornographic novels written as if by a woman?

Warning: the material below may disturb some.

Angela Carter (1878 1978)  in The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History answers:

Many pornographic novels are written in the first person as if by a woman, or use a woman as the focus of the narrative; but this device only reinforces the male orientation of the fiction. John Cleland’s Fanny Hill and the anonymous The Story of O,1 both classics of the genre, appear in this way to describe a woman’s mind through the fiction of her sexuality. This technique ensures that the gap left in the text is of just the right size for the reader to insert his prick into, the exact dimensions, in fact, of Fanny’s vagina or of O’s anus. Pornography engages the reader in a most intimate fashion before it leaves him to his own resources. (pp. 15-16)

Also read Kristine Ong Muslim’s “Preface to a Pornographer’s Dirty Book”


Feminist performance artists

This post was originally written on 9th April, 2009.
This morning at breakfast, I had a chance to read The Guardian which the partner brought home last night.
An article by Viv Groskop caught my attention. The feature is about two ‘feminist’ ‘performance’ ‘artists’ Katie O’Brien and Sinead King (they call their group ‘The Muffia’) performing on Oxford Street, London, in an attempt to raise some serious (but by now very meek and unoriginal) questions such as “Why don’t we resent the way the media portrays women?”, “Does no one care that women are mutilating themselves with cosmetic surgery?” and “Why do so few young women know what feminism is?”
Groskop describes the Muffia’s ‘performance’:

Dressed in a flesh-coloured body stocking and long blonde wig, Sinead King shouts into a loud-hailer at Oxford Circus: “Anyone want a new hymen?” Her colleague, Katie O’Brien, pretends to inject her face with a giant syringe labelled “Botox”. Every few minutes the pair down tools, belt up their red and white trenchcoats, put their hands in their pockets and “flash” passers-by, revealing curly merkins (pubic wigs). Onlookers laugh – and stare.

Sounds interesting? But do the audience understand King and O’Brien’s point and learn something from them?
Questionable. Groskop reveals, “few understand what they are protesting about.” Me neither. It seems to me that instead of ‘protesting’, the duo are asking the world, ‘Look at us! Look at us!’ Their public ‘performance’ showcases a stronger affinity with self-promotion than with protestation.
Please, ‘feminist’ ‘performance’ ‘artists’ (I put all three words in quotation marks because in the case of the Muffia these words could only be understood ironically), for the sake of females in general and other sensible feminists (both males and females), do rethink your strategies and approaches, if you truly care what you proclaim to preach. It looks too much like you are exploiting feminist topics/concerns AND your audience to have some juvenile and cheap fun.
The article concludes:

Most of all, they want to enjoy themselves. “I feel really liberated by flashing my merkin,” laughs King.

Need one wonder why sometimes women’s intelligence is challenged? At the end of the day, everybody laughs: the onlookers, the performer, and the blogger. This is reminiscent of a farce, which often provokes unsympathetic laughter and some cringing at the same time.

11 Responses “Feminist performance artists” →

April 9, 2009

I am very intrigued by this post of you, Tammy. The question you asked is hard to answer. But don’t we all ask questions when we confront contemporary art, esp. those postmodernist works, to which you also show skepticism before? Many feminist thinkers are misunderstood nowadays, and the feminist movements, or indeed, all identity politics, also atomizes in a disturbing and deconstructing fashion. I really donno what to think. But all I could say is I like these two crazy artists’ questions, and I like your question, too!

April 9, 2009

Thank you for your comment! I think the duo asked important and valid questions. Unfortunately, I don’t see how their ‘performance’ helped people to understand their supposed cause and answer those questions….

naperville mom
April 9, 2009

I think it actually works more than some of the marketing strategies, similarly aimed to shock… The shock value does get the grey cells working overtime:) I loved this post, got me thinking:)

April 10, 2009
I am a feminist!

but to be honest – in my opinion – the position of man in our (european?) community is much worse than a woman.
why can’t men raise the children – after a couple get divorced?
why can’t men stay at home with new born babies?
why are they let to do work that women can’t

etc. etc…

April 11, 2009
Every social movement, by definition, must have someone pushing it. Sometimes leading is done at great sacrifice to the leader, but often there is some sort of gain. A book or books, some form of monetary compensation. I think you make an interesting point – when does it cross the line to become exploitation?
April 11, 2009
I think it’s great that these women are doing something to speak about the obsession with the female body and beauty in this society. I think homour is an effective tool to do this. It’s time people did become outspoken about these topics.
April 11, 2009
I think the feminist movement has made enough advances that empty gesture-politics will accomplish nothing. Surely we are well beyond burning bras.
Shadowy figure
April 12, 2009
I think the way to emancipation is going to be that men are expected to use just as much botox and cosmetic surgeries as women to be taken seriously in the future. The future is going to be more and more superficial.
April 22, 2009
from one middle-aged feminist: I’m still intrigued by artistic expression & protest, but this expression fails for me as both art and protest. there was a reason to burn the bra (along with the whalebone corset, footbinding shoes etc.) mostly as a way to own our bodies, but bra burning was only one very small protest in the larger cause of feminism. today we ask: why are women STILL paid less than men, why are women STILL so dependent on approval by men of body image, why are women STILL the ones who exploit and keep other women down, and why is it STILL easier to vote a Black man into office in the U.S. than a woman (and no, it’s not just because she’s the ‘wrong woman’ – that’s too damn easy). and that’s the problem I have with these street artists — what they’re doing is too damn easy (we have real traditions to draw from – Georgia O’Keefe, Louise Nevelson, even Madonna). and Tammy, your protest means more, is about real power and not merely a ‘bit of a lark’ as much as we all love satire and fun and social commentary.
June 16, 2009
Amber Hawk Swanson’s Realdoll™ explores the interplay between repulsion, desire and surrender: http://bit.ly/17Z8vG
March 18, 2010

Great blog post; very vocal opinion.