Once again women get a dick shoved in their face without consent. This time by the mass media. This time depicting women as cruel sadistic torturers.
Let’s talk about visual literacy and visual harassment. I really don't like this image and I'm not crazy about giving it more exposure, so let me explain why it represents the exact problem it is pretending to criticize. And why "missing the point" is part of the problem. Social media in Israel, where I live, has also erupted in wake of the tidal wave of sexual harassment stories coming out of both Israel and the United States. In a facebook post on November 12th 2017–
יש להניח שאין זה מקרה שטור אחר טור, במדור הדעות של הארץ, ניבטים נסיונות להפחית במשמעות ובהשלכות של קמפיין #METOO. ראשון…
Dr. Shlomit Lir commented on some of the titles of the Op-Eds written in the Haaretz daily and how they minimize the implications of the #MeToo campaign: a column fulminating about the Occupation as the ultra-silencer reverted to whenever Israeli society tries to look inward at its own issues, titles of two opinion pieces that invoke the fear of a witch hunt against men. Rather than acknowledging the social achievement the campaign represents, they are emphasizing the fear. This image on Newsweek’s cover also emphasizes – the fear. Whose fear is it? Who have the predators been throughout history? Who is hunting whom in these so called "work meetings?" What about the women's fear? Fear of speaking. Fear of being punished. Where is the image for the women's fear? All I have seen, year in and year out, are pictures of women sitting in a corner covering their faces in disgrace. So we are left either with cruel women or disgraced women.
This image represents an internal fear. Fear in the minds of one specific gender, not the historic social achievement of another gender and caste. It doesn't represent being freed from a long sentence of silence and shame. It doesn't represent the support women and others are giving each other now. It doesn't represent the courage needed to stand up and face these indifferent soul murderers. It doesn't represent the solidarity or the healing. This image represents cruel violence by an anonymous/faceless woman to disembodied ballooned male genitals, Once again we get a dick shoved forcedly in our faces, (albeit a plastic one), this time by the purveyors of mass media. What is this image saying?
If we take a moment to think back – this idea of castration-of harming a man's most delicate organ – whose was it? Women's? Uh uh. The idea of castrating men, of hurting male genitalia is the brainchild of other men. Of powerful male-bodied leaders. We find it in the fate of Chinese eunuchs, we find it in the historical practice of male circumcision. It's an idea which belongs to strong men who want to keep their territory safe from the lust of other men. Or strong men wanting to prove they are strong men, and can survive the maiming of the most sensitive organ. In other words, the issue is not about dicks, it's about power. It's about who is in charge. For some reason this is associated in my mind to another image which just surfaced in my facebook feed– posted by someone I truly respect in the Israeli art world. The image is of a classic painting graphically showing a woman with a man's decapitated head in her hands. Yuck. Who comes to mind? Isis, right? Is the timing of uploading such an image a coincidence? I asked. Because, you know, of all the art works available to choose from, this artistic image showing a woman's violent cruelty towards a man – now? Really? In our minds this causes us to equate women telling the truth about their lives to the cruel violence practiced by Isis. If we are going to use classical references – (Trigger) how about uploading the paintings of the Inquisition shoving an exquisitely designed and blazing rod into a woman's vagina? Why show a woman's violence toward a man at a time the price of male entitlement’s violence is being finally exposed? How many heads of women were (symbolically) lost in the work place because they opened their mouths to tell the story? Is anyone counting them?
Men’s fear is on the cover of the magazine. Not women’s achievement in creating an atmosphere that protects and validates vulnerable people.
בציור זה מתאר כריסטופנו אלורי את הרגע בסיפור בו מציגה יהודית לראווה את ראשו הכרות של הולופרנס. תמונה זאת זכתה להצלחה רבה…
The few times women appear in the classic history of art they appear through the eyes of a man, a.ka. "the male gaze". Either they are virgin naked Madonnas, (in order to please the eye of the man looking at the painting), or they are cruel temptresses (which express the male fear of being under their spell, because historically female sexuality is the devil at work). Or they are kind mothers (no sex please, mothers don't have sex). Or they are cruel cold-hearted murderers. Because these are the stories that have been told by men in the sacred books. Just like today, powerful male-bodied people ruled the communication technology – which at that time was writing. And the painters painted the stories told in these books. Because religion dictated the content, because religion ruled the money. And artists worked for those with the money. Women artists hardly appeared in the white European history of classical art. Women who do appear in the history of art usually came from rich and well-connected families. They painted what the rich audience wanted them to paint, in other words, what the male body wanted to see.
Newsweek’s cover is an extension and continuation of the harassment. It's visual harassment. It shows how far we are from understanding the meaning of the identity of the gaze, the meaning of the question –‘Who is looking’, and the meaning of what thought system and what set of values are imbedded in the interpretation. The Newsweek image demonstrates what intellectuals have named – "a phallocentric culture"- implying the strange idea that the world revolves around the male organ. The phallus. Is sexual terrorism connected to a phallus? No. It's dependent on power, status, and standing. It's connected to who has power over whom. The image I would have preferred to see on the cover of such a mighty magazine might be – the breaching of the dam on the mouths of millions of women. An escape from a thousand-year ghetto. Release from a heavy burden. Freedom from the isolation of the dungeon. Suggestions for images that are appropriate will be accepted with joy.
Shira Richter is a feminist artistivist and visual speaker