What’s Wrong with the (Female) Nude?
A Feminist Perspective on Art and Pornography
Insofar as erotic art and in particular the female nude makes male dominance and female subordination and objectification sexy, this chapter argues, it eroticizes the traditional gender hierarchy and in this way is a significant part of the complex mechanism that sustains sex inequality. To substantiate this claim, she offers a close analysis, supported by a long list of examples, of the different ways in which artworks belonging to the genre of the female nude can be sexually objectifying. She also lends some much-needed precision to the concept of the male gaze, and addresses two serious objections to her particular feminist approach. Firstly, if visual representations typically trade in tokens, not types, then the question arises how a picture can objectify women in general. Secondly, since many consider objectification to be a normal and even healthy part of human sexuality, one might wonder what is wrong with sexual objectification in the first place? This chapter concludes by underlining a significant difference between pornographic works and the traditional female nude: the latter not only eroticizes but also aestheticizes the sexual objectification of women, and does so ‘from on high’, art's venerated status investing the traditional nude's message of female inferiority with special authority, making it an especially effective way of promoting sexual inequality.
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