Did Manet invent the Video Vixen?

Mhm after WordPress told me that completing my fifth post symbolizes an important benchmark in the blogosphere (me thinks Jonathan Sterne’s blogging 101 that “Like restaurants, most new blogs fail within a few months”), I was already afraid that I may be starting to run out of steam this week. After frenetically pondering over possible blog topics, something finally crossed my path today that might be worth exploring a bit: let’s talk about the objectification of women – booom.

Now for Critical Media and Gender Women Sexuality Studies scholars – yeah those are the ones that proudly call themselves feminist, or as Ricky boy would say “The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness” – the objectification of women through the male gaze (I somewhat talked about this in the Gaga post) is really nothing new and exciting.

In my own research, for example, I’ve mainly engaged with this topic through looking at the degradation of females in Hip-Hop videos, specifically the emergence and portrayals of the “video-vixen;” A video vixen as defined by urbandictionary.com is “Not to be confused with the video ho, the video vixen is a woman of a different and astonishing nature. A video vixen is not thought to be easily attainable even though her skin bearing appearance may lead one to assume otherwise. Video vixens are known to cause premature ejaculation. See Maya” (one may assume this definition was written by a male?). You may take a look at one of those “problematic pieces” by accessing Gucci Mane’s latest song: “I’m in love with a white girl”

However, what some of you may not be aware of is that the objectification of women actually dates way back prior to the internet, soft-porn music videos, camcorders, and photography to colonial times and French impressionism – wait what?!

Let’s explore this idea a little more thoroughly. In the context of my African American Studies class, I’ve lately been reading a lot about the double colonization of African women, firstly by white colonialism, and secondly by black masculinity. O’Brien (2001) notes, women are placed “at the bottom of a hierarchy of value through the gendered response by the black man to his own racial oppression” (p. 100). Those two oppressions are thus irrevocably intertwined: the more feminized the black man is by white men, the more he is made inferior, and the more he needs to re-assert his masculinity and superiority over the black woman.

Hence, what Western women consider to be feminism is actually much different from what many African women aspire to. Over the past three decades many scholars of the “third world” have actually created their own version and concepts of feminism, described by such terms as “womanism” coined by AliceWalker, or STIWANISM (social transformation including women in Africa) coined by Nigerian scholar Molara Ogundipe-Leslie to provide an understanding of feminism in the African context.

So how can we trace the origins of female objectification? You may have come across the name Sara (Saartje) Baartman before. Born in 1789 in the Eastern Cape of present-day South Africa, Sara migrated to an area near Cape Town, where she was a farmer’s slave until she was bought by William Dunlop, a doctor on a British ship. At age 20, Saartje headed for London with Dr. Dunlop where, it was agreed, that they would get rich by displaying her body to Europeans, catering to Europeans’ sexual fascination with aboriginal peoples.

When Sara left the shores of Africa, little did she know that she would fuel the racist notions of black inferiority and black female sexuality in Europe. Dubbed “The Hottentot Venus,” she was exhibited as a freak and, in the process, juxtaposed against white ideals of superiority and sexuality. Prancing in the nude, with her jutting posterior and extraordinary genitals, she provided the foundation for racist and pseudo-scientific theories regarding black inferiority and black female sexuality. Due to agitation by anti-slavery advocates, she was later taken to Paris. Saartje’s predicament embodied issues of racism, sexism and colonialism.

After years of prostitution and poverty, she died in 1816 only to have George Cuvier, Napoleon’s surgeon-general, cast her body dissected in wax and articulate her skeleton. Her organs, including her genitals and brains, were preserved in bottles of formaldehyde. Her remains were displayed at the Musée de L’Homme in Paris until 1974. In May 2002, her remains were finally brought home to South Africa after nearly 200 years of humiliation and abuse. I don’t think there’s another example that is as stark in objectifying women …

However, we should not simply see this as a black-white dichotomy when it comes to objectifying women. Being a vivid lover of French impressionism (yes, I’m one of those kids that have been dragged into the “high temples of art” at an early age by their parents in order to get “cultured”) it may come as a surprise to you that painters like Édourard Manet were just as equally engaging in objectifying white women in the mid 19th century. In particular Manet’s painting “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe“ (Luncheon on the Grass) is exemplary here.

And Manet doesn’t stand alone, the next time you visit the Art Institute of Chicago or D.C.’s National Gallery of Art take a second look at paintings from Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and the likes. After all, “Vixens” existed long before they made it into Hip-Hop videos.

But hey if you’re tired of your current grad school, college student life, or your job, and need a change AmericanBeauty.com will give you hands-on advice on how to become a video-vixen, check it out! 😉

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