• Using only newspapers and magazines as your source, construct a visual essay illustrating the visualisation of women today.  There should be at least 12 images in your essay. Then do the same but taking the opposite position.

Please click on a link to the visual essay:https://vimeo.com/184877201 (It’s 4 minutes long)

You will need a password, which I will supply to the tutor and assessors. If any OCA students are interested, please contact me for it using your OCA email address. (sarah-jane512666@oca.ac.uk)

The problem with compiling the second half of this essay is that if you accept, at least in some part, Luce Irigaray is correct when she suggests there is no space for a female subject in our society, then all images of women, regardless of their purpose, it could be argued are conceived with a non-female observer in mind, or through a prism of male looking internalised by women. That might not be entirely true, but certainly nearly all advertising images that contain images of women do seem to be either responding to gaze that might be perceived as male, or they are conceived and made in relation to a prism of historical male looking, one which reduces the female form to a sex object and not much more in many cases. As well as an erotic position, a maternal Madonna has also dominated our visual history, which it can be argued, only exists in relation to the male subject position. Since there are a plethora of sexualised female images (fulfilling an Oedipal objective perhaps) to choose from, the essay is focused on that side of things. The second half of the essay where we were asked to choose the opposite position may include images that please a viewer sexually or otherwise, however, I have tried to find a qualitative difference in them. Mainly, one that isn’t entirely reductive, but allows the form in the image to be represented with greater dimension. The other problem that arises out of this investigation is that gender boundaries seem to be in a state of flux, so quite a lot of things related to looking and eroticism are in danger of sounding like sweeping statements that may or may not be true. The whole binary/gender issue makes all this far more complicated than it otherwise might be as questions around social construction become more prevalent. Nevertheless, the status quo as described by Berger and Mulvey has not lost its relevance.

I noted the following as I flicked through magazines.

  • Journalistic images are documents that aim to report or illustrate. Women are  often represented in less idealised ways in newspapers than in magazines, however  – and this is purely anecdotal, I’m aware – there were hardly any images of women in the sports section of the newspaper and lots of pictures of men in the sample I had. I found one image of a women in the entire supplement.This is also true of the news sections although there are more women found there.
  • It is also true in non-fashion magazines that should not be gender specific such as news magazines.
  • Fashion and celebrity gossip magazines hold the most images of women by far. If you are looking for images of women that is the place to go.
  • There are many, many, many more fashion and celebrity gossip magazines that any other kind.
  • I could not find a magazine that wasn’t a fashion or celebrity gossip magazine in the local mini supermarket and had to go to WHSmith to find alternative magazines. The ratio to men was heavily in favour of fashion and celebrity gossip.
  • Fashion and celebrity gossip magazines are absolutely teeming with images which are directed towards an eroticised gaze.
  • This was historically a male gaze, however, I’m not so sure anymore, although there is a prism through which women see themselves
  • By  prism I mean, the way in which women have internalised the male gaze and see themselves through it, as discussed by John Berger in Ways of Seeing, as objects rather than subjects or even owner-subjects
  • Hegel’s master slave dialectic puts women historically in the slave position and men in the master position. Gender boundaries seem less fixed than they once were of late, however the master slave dialectic often still appears to exist in relating, regardless.
  • Other than short passages in a self help book or on self help pages, I cannot find any writing about the Power Over vs. Power Within dialectics which I mentioned briefly in an earlier post, discussed by author and therapist Patricia Evans. I haven’t looked hard yet, but continuing to search.
  • Some of the images in the second section of the essay appear to embody a ‘Power within’ reality where no-one is owned by an Other,  and individuals relate on an equal footing regardless of sex, social status, financial status etc.

My girlhood project is all about ideas surrounding the male gaze, or at least the projection of one onto a female form. Regardless of age. It’s about looking and seeing. And gender, obviously. Useful project for me.


Image (c)SJField 2016


4 thoughts on “Project 4.5 (i): Visual essay – Women Today

  1. Definitely a good project for you as it fits in with so much of your own work. Have you had chance to complete a close analysis of the differences? I noticed the glossiness of the first set (shiny pages in magazines?) also a lot of close-ups of open lips. Loads for discussion there.


  2. Thanks for letting me see this, Sarah-Jane. In general terms, I think it is paced well and the music fits the images, and their changeover. I wasn’t sure where the first set ended and the second begun, or whether the idea was to segue slowly from one viewpoint to another. It was clear that the message was changing over the series though. The other thing is that although you quote a piece about indeterminate genders, there are not any examples of it in the series. I did like the end bit with the girls. It was thought-provoking about how they are sexualised from a very early age. You might wish to have a look at this, which was floating around Facebook this morning, as another example. https://www.facebook.com/oskar.t.brand.official/videos/1548578245168460/

    I doubt that magazines set out to make women feel inadequate; they want to make sales and the feelings of inadequateness are subliminal responses that we have to them. However, the bit at the end talking about sexualising young children was spot on, and a similar message to your own piece.


    1. Thanks, Holly. The only reason it’s password protected is because of copyright issues with the images. I do appreciate the extra effort it takes to contact me for the password but it beats being sued.

      Yes, some pictures pointing to people who don’t conform to beauty ideals would make it stronger, plus there are no Asian women, as it also questions ‘categorisation’ pertaining to race, so I certainly should have included some. I only used the images in the magazines in front of me. If it were an assignment I’d spend more time finding images to address that lack in the video. As it is, it’s a project so I am not sure the time required to do that (and fix other flaws I know exist) is justified or an effective use of it. But it’s definitely something I am likely to cover later on in some way – perhaps this project is a sketch for something further down the line.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Good to have.

      07581 694934 http://www.sarahjanefield.co.uk @fieldsarahjane


      Liked by 1 person

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