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July 19, 2012


It's visual proof that in paintings and other "staged" representations women are always shown with reference to men.

Hmmmm. I don't really see the 'curving towards men' in the pictures you post. I do see the artist structuring the composition so that all the elements are set up to create a composite whole. The difference in the Calliebotte picture is that the man is holding the umbrella and the woman is holding his arm as well as the difference that the photo is a parasol so there is no need for the man to be under it. I think a similar case is the representations of horses running before the advent of photography in that it was assumed that the horses legs were all off of the ground at one point.

Before the automobile, everyone just walked a great deal. Even upper class (or upper middle-class) women had to stride just to get to where they were going.

The man in the photograph "On The Boulevard Desitaliens, June 5, 1906" looks like he just finished or is just about to launch into his audition for the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Jane Austin was a "great walker" as were many of her female characters. Of course she was from an earlier era with less confining clothes. the Gilded Age ladies wore horrible tight corsettes--perhaps the cause of the good posture? The striding about surprises me a little, given the tight corsettes.

I alwys think of people from the nineteenth century as being all prim and proper but they weren't. They lived very close to life, death, birth, disease and so on. They also lived jammed in close proximity to each other. The "lower orders" lived with lots of relatives and the wealthier people lived with servants. I remember reading a diescription of daily life in New England in the 1890's and one of the chores of the maid was to was the ladies' menstrual rags which were dumped into the chamber pots for collection daily. Most modern people would be squeamish about stuff like that. And in all but the wealthiest households the lady of the house did a lot of the house work along side the servants. It was hard work, all that cooking and cleaning and so on. Very few women were delicate flowers back int he day, even if that was the popular ideal of womanhood.

But in reality women mostly just stride or shamble along without presenting themselves for any gaze in particular

If a woman strides along without a man to observe her, does a tree fall in the forest?

"And in all but the wealthiest households the lady of the house did a lot of the house work along side the servants. It was hard work, all that cooking and cleaning and so on."

Hans Rosling and the Magic Washing Machine (YouTube)

Why limit it to walking? I have seen (non-photographic) images of women of that age riding bicycles (not pennyfarthings) quite dynamically. Take http://www.schoolsliaison.org.uk/kids/aston/changingtimes/victorian/bike.jpg>this for exaple. It was a very controversial topic and highly disapproved of by moral guardians and therefore fodder for artists (resp. editorial cartoonists).

On the other hand there are images like http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-hI_DUYOK3p4/TxcxC9LOrZI/AAAAAAAAARY/KQXomFZYz2k/s1600/history%2Bwomen%2Bcycling.jpg>this.

Immediate question: are you comparing contemporary images? The picture by Caillebotte is from 1877, so a generation before Sambourne' photos; I can't immediately find the date of Beraud's painting. But given the rapid changes in bustle design I don't think you can rely on what the impressionists did to conclude that there is distortion. What do Sambourne's ladies look like in his own cartoons?

I loved this post, DS. Thank you.

I went from hear to the Athenaeum art gallery, which specializes in turn of the century art, and I agree with you and disagree with lj. I had a very hard time finding paintings that did not have women in much the stances (or attention to the male gaze) of the Caillebotte and Beraud, even the ones by women painters like Morisot. The exceptions were a kinda curvy nuturing position in pictures of mothers with children (Renoir) also probably male gaze.

But honestly, women on the streets were the minority. Women-at-home, domestic spaces, were more common, and were more relaxed but mostly seductive...think Sargent recliners.

Still thinking and looking but this was good.

I think a similar case is the representations of horses running before the advent of photography in that it was assumed that the horses legs were all off of the ground at one point.

Well, they are, just not when the legs are extended, as painters depicted them, rather when they are pulled in under the horse's body.

Why are you comparing women to horses, lj? ;)


I am an arch-enemy of the concept of the male gaze. A hegemony only works to the degree it is universally (men and women) internalized, such
that direct resistance (rather than creative counter-hegemony) actually reproduces it. The "male gaze" is reductionist, over simplifying, decontextualizing, and a deliberate abstraction (reification, fetishism) from overall hegemony of capitalism, racism, imperialism, liberalism of which the patriarchy is only a necessary, equal, but not
more equal than the others moment.

1) Let us consider one contemporaneous subgenre: the peasant woman girl/cowherd. Daniel Ridgeway Knight, Julien Dupre, L'Hermitte.These women are allowed a more upright
independent posture.

So we can include a factor of class. Your urban bourgeois women are portraits of consumers and male consumption, think Thorsten Veblen, than erotic objects.
Women buy Vogue, and the pictures and ads in Vogue are not male masturbatory aids. The Caillebotte and Beraud are more about supporting Capitalist accumulation
than the patriarchy.

2) Second subgenre:Ladies in camisoles and crinoline deshibile reclining languidly on cottage porches. Tarbell is good at this.I can come up with a lot more. Even Singer Sargent and Whistler subtly sexualized their haute bougeois subjects.

Many or most painters, or the impressionists, were not conservative captains of industry. They were beatniks, bohemians, hippies just the types that might be generally thought to be predisposed to and supportive of 1st wave feminism .So what is with the more intimate relaxed sexualized images of women for themselves and their professional very liberal patrons?

It was considered a kind of resistance to a) upper class consumer rigidity and moralism, and b) to the orientalization and racializing of sexuality.

Like Hefner, the impressionists thought they were liberating rebels while simultaneously profoundly supporting consumer capitalism, and by abstracting the enemy, in reality even supporting the patriarchy.

To magistra, there is currently an exhibition in Berlin on the topic of changing fashion from the 18th to the early 20th century with special emphasis on the body-shaping (i.e. distorting) implements hidden under the 'shell' of fabric visible to the outside viewer. One is surprised that women were able to wear and move in some of this stuff and to survive to tell the tale. In many of these dresses 'striding' or even standing fully erect was simply not an option. But some were probably bullet-proof ;-)

Well, now I'm going to be over-thinking my rubber-necking (kidding, really, the neck vertebrae aren't what they were) for a week or two on account of all this.

Vive le aller d'un pas trainents

But seriously, I have, let's call her a very good friend, and she is one cracker jack strider, I mean, she can walk with the best of them, I'm telling you, talk about an independent posture, and, well, I am in a position to express my appreciation for this, which I do, often, which she appreciates back but nevertheless says, in so many words, "hey, I'm just walking, just getting from point A to point B."

Then she says, with a wink, "you're a pretty good walker your own self, I might add", which makes me pull a hamstring, trip over the next sidewalk seam and do a Chevy Chase into the shrubbery.

She said she thinks she consciously learned to walk briskly, eyes front, while living and working in a major midwestern, windy city as a younger woman and as a defense against the inevitable catcalls and whistles from the precious meatheads on scaffolding, some of whom weren't even construction workers, but guys in suits with briefcases hanging there by one hand three stories up doing their chimpanzee thing.

Simply, the structure of women's pelvises (who needs the bustle? the bonobos among us, that's who) lend a certain, let us say, complicated visual component to their everyday bipedal forward motion and men, those hopeless romantics, find the entire phenomenon mysterious and captivating and no biological explanations (the hip bone's connected to the ... thigh bone) or hegemononist reasoning (call me Daddy and let's stride down to Costco and spend $5000) seem to entirely dent that basic, mysterious whatever it is.

Until you're older, of course, and a younger guy of your acuaintance becomes a little too caddishly obvious in his public appreciation of said forward motion (let's face it, not everything is going forward at the same time; some features are going sideways contrapuntally .. oh, never mind) and you kind of take them aside and ask "So, you think that was for you, do you? How do you know she's not just, walking, you know, galumphing, like we all do, and maybe absentmindedly calculating the interest on her Christmas savings account?"

"Yeah, I know what it is, O.K.?, he'll say. But tell me you didn't catch that from the corner of your eye?"

"Oh, I saw. But it's when you got down on your hands and knees and panted and barked like a dog that I'm talking about. Girls don't find that charming."

As if you already don't know, I've never had a conversation like that with anyone .. well .. except for the other personalities inside my head.

Yes, Hefner had himself a heck of a little grift going on there, didn't he?

He'd even get David Susskind and William F. Buckley to kind of half believe the entire thing as they'd kind of cant their heads to one side wondering how is it THEY didn't think of such a line.

"Young lady, let's think of it in a purely philosophical context, as a liberation from the shackles of society's mores, which are silly on their face, if we really think about it. Now, I have a grotto I'd like you to see. No, you go first, and I'll follow to kind of keep an eye on things."

Brought to you by (name an expensive brandy).

A buddy and I once sneaked into his father's bedroom to look through the Playboys under the latter's bed (we were 36 years old; no, we weren't) and he had each of the covers wrapped in brown paper with the title "Hegemony Monthly" neatly printed thereon, presumably to confuse prying eyes.

If there is anything that can ruin a good masturbation session, it's thinking about Thorsten Veblen.

Just kidding, Bob.

This is all very interesting.

Sex sells.

Even when there's no man in the picture, he's there implicitly, as the artist or viewer: what we call the "Male Gaze".

i've heard that there are men who go through life without ever worrying how they appear to women, or how they can better attract women, or whether they are adequate partners for the woman they have somehow lured into their lair. i think they're called "gay" men - but even then, there's always mom, gazing from the porch, disapprovingly.

we need to come up with a clever phrase to disparage those wicked women, abstract or real, who so occupy our thoughts.

At this point, it sounds as if the boredom of the hospital stay will be the worst part. Get well soon.

Reading the comments, it's amazing how many of these familiar voices have had eye problems. Just for completeness, I'll chime in with optic neuritis which resolved.

previous is on wrong thread

Um. The woman reading while she walks - very uprightly - is wearing a corset to give her that tiny waist and enticing curve from the waist to the hips. You probably have no experience with corsets ... but a woman wearing one WILL stand and walk in as upright a position as possible, as bending over is really uncomfortable - it will compress the chest - lungs - even more and push the breasts up even further.

Nice to see Bob and what he says about 'the Male Gaze', I agree with. (I think) About disagreeing, I first have to admit, I'm such a crappy drawer that the idea of being able to draw so as to deal with philosophical and psychological points is unimaginable, but looking at the Béraud, and the gentleman behind and to the left of the woman, it looks like he's just not got the chops to draw people in motion (says the guy can't draw at all)

But about 'the male gaze', I'm in a situation right now where I cannot lift my head up at all, so all of the body language signals that I make about who I am, what I agree or disagree with, how I present myself, are basically gone. So I find myself going thru these cycles of doubt, worry, ahh f**k it, over and over. It's not a 'Male Gaze' that I am concerned about, it is the fact that I have to interact with people and I have to go on these attenuated signals from them about what they think of me. This suggests to me that there is some sort of 'Human Gaze' that we package ourselves. In so far as it is crappy that we have to advertise ourselves to other people with all the possibilities of screwups, mistakes, out and out lies, women have a crappier time of it, but that doesn't make it a 'male gaze', it makes it part of the whole package and it can't be neatly excised out and to do so is reductive.

The Calliebotte painting is an interesting choice. It is one of my favorite paintings because Paris when it rains was so beautiful and the way he gets the cobblestones to shine as well as the point of view for the buildings is able to put me back there. It is also at the Art Institute of Chicago, and one should never dismiss the power of seeing the actual painting, especially one as massive as this one (about 7' x 10') However, that ability to take me back comes at a cost that I didn't really think about until I started googling some discussion of the painting.

This essay suggests that Calliebotte wants to hide the reality of the events that gave rise to Hausmann's Paris, and conceals many things that built Hausmann's Paris, while this chapter pdf gives a detailed explication of the painting, discussing how those glistening cobblestones are linked to 'les pavés sanglante' as well as discussing the Male Gaze a bit.

Leaving aside the male gaze, the discussion of the Communards in relation to Calliebotte leaves me with a conundrum, do you like the painting because of your experiences or do you dislike the painting because it represents some sort of erasing of history? My initial impression of the painting (that I think I learned as a college student) was that the painting was reaction to photography, taking a shot that might have been made with a fisheye lens as a slice of life. In so far as the slice of life hides other slices of life, it's a problem, but there is no way to present all the slices of life equally, and Calliebotte has chosen a slice that resonates with my personal experience of being in Paris. In fact, the 'wandering strangers, regimented yet seemingly unconnected psychologically' matches perfectly that initial time living in Paris for me, which makes me understand why I like it so much.

I knew a couple of women who participate in historical recreations of the time of corsets and such. And they spent a significant amount of effort figuring out how to make a corset which gives (at least roughly) the image of the period ones, but without being agonizingly uncomfortable to wear.

It actually is possible to do that. Just not if they are being designed and made by men, like they were back in the day.

You're looking at too many French paintings -- check out Kirchner for stand-up walking women.

karl: Gosh, thanks!

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