October 18th 2013
Psychoanalytic perspectives on gender (Freudian concepts).
In our second week of constellation, we looked at Freud’s concepts castration fear, phallocentrism in visual culture, surrealism in relation to gender and liminality and bodies and boundaries.
We began with Freud’s concept of castration fear, something all men suffer according to Freud and it marks masculine identity. We learned how during the Phallic stage of childhood a boy identifies with his father and becomes award of his body and identity. At this time he often sees his mother naked and becomes confused at the difference of male and female bodies, according the Freud, this is the sight of trauma with causes anxiety associated with the female body. This anxiety is often revealed in adulthood and means that the boy/man faces the threat of losing what defines him as male and masculine.
Freud concluded that the brain finds coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma and that visual culture is a space that investigates these coping methods. The castration fear is denied through the concept of phallocentrism and the phallus becomes a signifier of power with the male make every effort to remind himself of that power.
Phallocentrism in Visual Culture.
We moved on to discuss fetishism and phallic objects in visual culture and how they direct attention primarily to the female, according to Freud. The sight of trauma/anxiety manifests itself in the way the male sees the female. We also studied notes on body boundaries and dress from Fashioning the Frame: Boundaries, Dress and the Body (1998), by D Cavallaro and A Warwick.
Freud believed that the fetish of the male was trying to relay the fear of the sight of trauma by finding ways to replace the females missing genitalia. The adult male tries to focus on the moment before he saw the female genitalia and becomes fixated on what he saw before then, for example the female’s legs or breasts. Society constructs women’s’ bodies in relation to the fetish principle. This explains the preoccupation in art and popular culture with the females legs, breasts and hair.
The hair on the head can’t resemble pubic hair, it would remind the male of the sight of trauma, so its always long, flowing, shiny, soft and glossy.
Similarly, legs are always portrayed as silky, shiny, smooth and soft, the feminine ideal in popular culture. Legs are often accentuated and made to look longer with the use of high heels, and this also makes the sight of trauma further away for the male. It takes the attention away from the bad vibe and focuses and a good one instead, desire and the fetish is accentuated. This all relates to last weeks work on Goddesses and Glamour. The unblemished, ethereal shaping of the female body into a Goddess like figure draws attention to the right places and denies that which is so absent, the male genitalia.
A prime example of phallocentrism and fetishism in popular culture is the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch. Her legs are on show and they are the first thing you are drawn too, the light plays a great part in this. She is holding down her skirt and it almost like a strip tease. It’s considered desirable because we don’t get to see everything, she’s not aware of how sexual she looks and doesn’t know the effect she has on men. Monroe’s persona was characterised by her body and the effect she has, she more secure and not intimidating to the male.
We also looked at Rock and Metal music and movies such as James Bond in relation to phallocentrism. The electric guitar is a phallic object and connotes power, similarly guns, cars and the various gadgets seen in the James Bond series are also phallic objects. Phallic objects are prevalent in visual culture and phallocentrism is a response to castration fear. The notion is that males are insecure so the overcompensate with phallic objects, the more insecure, the bigger the object.
Surrealism and Liminality.
This part of the lecture involved identifying key concepts relating to gender representation in the surrealist movement and involved analysing a sculpture by Salvador Dali. The sculpture is a classical Greek style marble statue of a woman and overall it has a phallic shape with missing arms and its is smooth and shiny, creating and ethereal look. The legs were hidden but accentuated, drawing attention to them, but the most noticeable thing was that the body had been mutilated. The torso, breasts, knee and forehead had been made into a series of draws with fluffy handles. Like all of the surrealists, Dali broke the rules, he was changing the meaning of things by altering the forms of them.
We discussed how the Goddess ideal is somewhat mannequin like. The elongation of the body as well as the disembodiment of it is similar to mannequins, dolls and the art deco style we studied last week. The boundaries between human and mannequin/objects are blurred, this can be seen in Dali’s sculpture, a combination of human and object.
This took us on too liminality, the fusion of model and prosthetic, synthesis and human and non human forms, hybrids and cyborgs seen in visual and pop culture, The Terminator for example. Here we referred to a case study on the analysis of mannequins by M, Keaney (2012).
The extract suggested that clothes and bodies are interchangeable and that they are not separate entities. Clothes are like and identity, they project the inner being in an outer form because you construct/design yourself to look a certain way. Clothing hides the body and present one at the same time – liminality. Clothes emphasise certain parts of the body and hide others, we design our bodies through out clothes. The body is a boundary that separates us from each other and also contains us, they isolate the body, but, our bodies change and containers don’t always work. The inner escapes to the other, sweat for example, this reminds us that were have holes in our bodies, that we are incomplete. Our bodies are vulnerable and we try to hide that.
This was another interesting lecture that both contained and connected with the work from last week but also taught us new things. Its really interesting to see the development of the representations of gender in visual culture and how they’ve changed or remained the same over time, and I am looking forward to seeing how it develops further in our future lectures. I also enjoyed the introduction of the monstrous mixed with the glamour of the Goddess and am also looking forward to see the relationship between them develop.