The Body is The Bind
Defining the Feminine Construct
The feminine construct is a set of ubiquitous and compulsory cultural ideals for performing womanhood in society. Though too numerous to be compiled here, the ideals set forth by the feminine construct demand of women bodily perfection in health, image, and comportment; sexual desirability; emotional tranquility; consumerist extravagance; and hyper-domesticity.
The feminine construct thus manifests itself as hyper-vigilant monitoring of the body and self (self-surveillance) in response to the pressure on women to regard femininity as a project in which one must constantly work towards unattainable perfection in every category. Self-surveillance behavior requires that women watch the self as an outside observer in an attempt to monitor the progress of the body and self and to manage impressions of the body and self.
As a result of the above, the woman becomes her own overseer; she is both subject and object, both self and external other disciplining the self. This process psychologically fragments women by making the distinction between the authentic self and the affected self difficult to discern; the question “Who are you when no one is watching?” makes less sense when someone is always watching.
Along with the largely phenomenological approach to oppression that I incorporate into my thesis work, concepts established by Sandra Lee Bartky in Femininity and Domination include: women as the object to a man’s subject, femininity as spectacle, a gender-informed version of Michel Foucault’s panopticon as a metaphor for the modern manifestations of patriarchal power, and more. Bartky’s writing established for me the notion of the panopticon as a device for understanding women’s present-day oppression as an internalization of surveillance, so it is Bartky that I credit with much of the implied philosophical language of my exhibition.
I would be remiss to not mention Margaret Atwood’s canonical description of feminine self-voyeurism in The Robber Bride and Judith Butler’s theories of the ethical implications of limited self-knowledge in Giving an Account of Oneself.
Further, in creating the experience of my show, I am building upon a lexicon of feminist theory established by Rosalind Gill and Diane Negra in Gender and the Media and Interrogating Postfeminism, respectively. Postfeminism as a concept provides a path to understanding and analyzing the factious relationship between feminism and popular culture.
Patricia Hill Collins who, using the framework of intersectional theory created by Kimberlé Crenshaw, gave language to a theoretical understanding of interactions of racial and gendered oppression in systems of power. Collins authored the pioneering essays on stereotypes of black femininity.
A great number of artists and designers have created imagery that has helped me develop ideas for the themes and visual language of my exhibition. These include Mary Bond’s selfies once removed, Lauren McCarthy’s LAUREN, Sagmeister & Walsh’s Aizone 14–16, and others. More information about my thematic influences can be found here.
Using the research and influences outlined above, I proposed a series of visual experimentations that would reproduce the feelings of personal estrangement felt by women whose sense of identity is fragmented under the pressure of subjugation. The reproduction would make use of obstructed physical interaction and visual fallacy to impose self-consciousness and affected movement.
5–8 wooden structures to constrain viewing posture and comportment
5–8 posters applied to hidden or obstructed surfaces of structures
3–7 mirrors applied to hidden or obstructed surfaces of structures
1–2 elements causing affected perception of space (such as floor decal)
The Body is The Bind is showing in the Stone Gallery at 855 Commonwealth Avenue at Boston University from May 10, 2019 to May 16, 2019.
The Body is The Bind is part of the Spectacle 2019 Bachelor of Fine Arts Thesis Show at Boston University. Special thanks to the Boston University School of Visual Arts department of graphic design, especially professor James Grady. This show would not have been possible without the help of Zara Amdur, James Quinlan, and countless others.