Katlyn Le Leal
The Female Gaze - I. EYES. OURS. (excerpt)
Prompt: In this assignment, we were given the task of curating an exhibit in which we incorporate pieces of art that we learned about in this class. This project included a paper as well as an in-class presentation.
In this section of works, the paper explores the power or lack of power through the use of the female gaze. This collection spans from Ancient Egypt to Rococo to Contemporary Art and explores the complexities of the female gaze illustrating the different interpretations over time, as well as a modern interpretation in which it is used to empower.
“Many say that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. Although many know this proverb the origin is left unknown. The importance of eye contact has been present throughout history. “The special appearance of the human eye (i.e., white sclera contrasted with a coloured iris) implies the importance of detecting another person’s face through eye contact.”(1) Not only does eyes help us to see and recognize others; eyes also illustrates mood and emotions. The eyes have been an interest of fascination from books such as The Great Gatsby (2), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (3), in these books the motif of eyes are used as a sign of power, omnipotent, and unquestioned. In today’s society men have justified harassment and rape culture by saying “she was asking for it” or “she was flirting with me. . . I saw it in her eyes.” in excuse for their actions. Men have deemed the female gaze as purely sexual as well the female body. For example High Schools permitting female students from wearing yoga pants or even showing a bra strap in fear that it will “distract boys.” (4) The truth is society is propelled by masculine ideals and that is why people deem it acceptable for men to have more power over women. History has justified this sexist view on women by one of the most common terms “raping and pillaging” used to explain Rome’s wars with any other civilization from Gaul to Carthage. On the account of the Roman writer Livy, the tribe of Sabine was invited to join in the festivities of the Roman games, but instead the men were slaughtered leaving the women and children to be taken by Rome in the Rape of the Sabine Women. In explained in the story the rape was “justified” because the women were “happy” in Rome; of course after losing a husband, and any hope of returning to one’s home country “living” in Rome must be a “paradise”. (5) In Victorian times women were not allowed to “ refuse [a gentleman] unless one have a previous engagement” and women should be “rather be silent than talk nonsense.” (6) It is shocking how these close minded morals still exists in today’s society. From the Women’s March that happened last January to the current scandals of sexual harassment the female voice deserves to be heard. In this collection it explores the power or lack of power through the use of the female gaze. This collection spans from Ancient Egypt to Rococo to Contemporary Art, and explores the complexities of the female gaze illustrating the different interpretations over time, as well as a modern interpretation in which it is used to empower.
The first piece in the collection is Seated Statue of Hatshepsut which dates back to ca. 1479–1458 B.C. and stands H. 195 cm (76 3/4 in.); W. 49 cm (19 5/16 in.); D. 114 cm (44 7/8 in.) (7) Hatshepsut is seated; her hands held in her lap, and her posture is straight and rigid common in Egyptian Art. Hatshepsut also wore the Nemes Headdress which is one of the many crowns the Pharaohs used; typically this headdress is worn by a male King, but Hatshepsut wore these headdresses to illustrate her power and strength as a monarch. Hatshepsut took over the throne, when her husband Thutmose II passed away, as a regent because her step son was too young to rule. She was a successful ruler and was adored by her people. She adopted the name Maatkare which is the name used in all of the monuments she created. (8) Hatshepsut embodies the female gaze because she is strong, powerful, and unwavering, proving herself to her people and history of her worthiness to the throne. She is portrayed with her chin tilted slightly upward as a sign of defiance challenging to others to defy her power. Her stance is strong and regal as if she is waiting for her royal subjects to attend to her. Hatshepsut was such a strong, and powerful ruler her stepson Thutmose III tried to erase her from history by destroying her monuments and her name from history. The Seated Statue of Hatshepsut embodies the female gaze because it illustrates her power and defiance during a male dominated world.”
1 Akechi, Hironori. “Attention to Eye Contact in the West and East: Autonomic Responses and Evaluative Ratings.” Attention to Eye Contact in the West and East: Autonomic Responses and Evaluative Ratings, March 13, 2013.
2 Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York, NY: Scribner,, 1995.
3 Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.
4 McCombs, Emily. “Sexist School Dress Codes Are A Problem, And Oregon May Have The Answer.” Last modified September 5, 2017.
5 “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” Last modified February 2, 2015. http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history/rape-sabine-women-002636.
6 True Politeness: A Hand-book of Etiquette for Ladies By an American Lady. New York, NY: Leavitt and Allen, 1847
7 Seated Statue of Hatshepsut. 1479-1458 B.C. Ca. 1479-1458 B.C. From Egypt, Upper Egypt,Indurated limestone, paint Thebes, Deir el-Bahri & el- Asasif, Senenmut Quarry, MMA excavations, 192628/Lepsius 184345. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Egypt.
8 Roehrig, Catharine H. “Egypt in the New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 B.C.) -In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.