Art of Woman

ABC 7:30 ACT, formerly Stateline

Tonight is full moon, but we cannot see it in Canberra because it is raining and overcast. The full moon is celebrate in one of my photographs which was displayed as the background for a local current affairs program on TV, 7:30 ACT, formerly Stateline. How exciting is that! It was wonderful to see one of photos on TV! It is a cheerful photo that reminds us of the beauty all around us despite the current inclement weather.
Museum and Moon Reflections is part of an exhibition I’m working on in collaboration with Hazel Hall and Australian Poetry that will be shown next year. Last year a photo from the same theme was exhibited in “100 Views of Canberra”. A book of the exhibition of the same name was published by PhotoAccess, as part of Canberra’s centenary celebrations. This book is still available at PhotoAccess at Manuka Arts Centre.

Museum and Moon Reflections_Margaret Kalms

By Any Means

The other evening (7 January 2014) I snuggled up with my husband and watched TV. We watched a BBC crime show, By Any Means. You can follow it on ABC iview here. The show follows a crime fighting team who chase ‘the bad guys’ and use techniques that are not strictly ‘proper procedure’ rather in the style of Hustle. So the team members are not strictly police, although, several are ex police — “it is a grey area” the team leader, Jack says (Jack Quinn played by Warren Brown).

By Any Means is a light crime show suitable for families. The dialog is full of banter and there is little violence, just a few punches. It is easy to follow and fun. It doesn’t become bogged down with the horror of crime, stays focused on catching the bad guys, a bit reminiscent of Charlie’s Angels.

There are plenty of Blogs on the web talking about the strategy, plot and believability of the show. I will not add to that noise. Instead, in theme with this site, I will discuss an incident during the first episode where women’s periods are mentioned.

Jack assumes that because he is team leader, he has the most sensible suggestions. While discussing the case, Jess (Jessica Jones played by Shelly Conn) expresses a desire to kill the criminal, Mason. It would be quick and simple, but killing is not an option. When she repeats her desire to kill the criminal, Jack questions Jess’s judgement by taking a cheep shot at her womanhood, by saying “time of the month?”

Alpha males have been known to try to dominate women by reminding women that they will never be men. The implication is that men are the rightful leaders — you are not a man, so stop trying to be my equal. For many men, being a woman is an insult. The comment “time of the month?” highlights Jess’s womanhood inappropriately. It is designed to be an insult by implying that women are unreliable because of their periods. The implication is that women are ruled by their hormones and become irritable or moody and lack rational thinking as a result. This is an easy way for men to disregard and trivialise what a woman says without actually dealing with the issues she raises.

In this case, all of the team want to get rid of the criminal Mason. Why was Jess’s desire to kill Mason singled out and treated as inappropriate? Tom Tom (Thomas Hawkins played by Andrew-Lee Potts) cringes. He doesn’t want to get involved in this conversation, which is a typical bystander response — or lack of response. Tom Tom could have said that the comment was sexist and irrelevant to Jess’s capacity to work, but he stayed silent.

Jess defended herself by rejecting Jack’s sexist assumption as an unsubstantiated myth. He throws pseudo science back at her. Then Jess does an amazing thing. She boldly expresses her joy, power and deep spirituality in being a woman stating clearly that Jack wouldn’t ‘get it’ because he is a man. This is the first time I have seen such a bold retort to this common sexist stereotype. She takes back her power by embracing womanhood and celebrating her vibrant experience in being a woman. It is a really good comeback, even though it came across as a bit corny. I praise By Any Means because it gives women some powerful words to defend themselves in this common sexist situation.

I am proud to be a woman too.

View a preview clip.

View By Any Means - Episode 1

Realistic Female Body in Nude Scene Shocker

It is a privilege to introduce guest writer Jennifer Amos who has written this post. She has insights into how women’s bodies are portrayed in nude scenes in popular TV shows. I agree that the way women are portrayed in the media can have a huge impact on women’s body image and self esteem.


Realistic female body in nude scene shocker

Fans of British drama Downton Abbey may have either been upset or unmoved by the death of Lady Sybil in the third series that finished its Australian run last month. Readers of this site however may applaud her refusal to slim down for nude scenes when shooting the film Albatross recently.

Jessica Brown Findlay as the actress is known in real life has said that she has since regretted doing the nude scenes at all because she wasn’t aware she could refuse. She has admitted to a certain amount of naivety but she surely deserves admiration for refusing to conform to the supposedly ideal body image of ultra thinness.

Most films and television programmes do unfortunately still portray this ideal image that for most women is unattainable. Contemporary creative art and photography can play a role in promoting positive body images for women by avoiding the airbrushed super slim images so common across the popular media.

Young Australian women plagued by body image issues

It is crucial that young women and girls are exposed to as many positive representations of female bodies as possible given the worrying trend in eating disorders and body image issues. According to recent reports 
eating disorders affect as many as one in 10 Australian women. The research suggests that body image issues are presenting in younger children, especially girls, and around half of all 10 and 11 year old girls are unhappy with their body.

It’s a shame most young women and girls are more likely to see skinny models in magazines and painfully thin actresses on the big screen than read about how Jessica Brown Findlay admitted to eating burgers and drinking pints the night before shooting nude scenes. This is not always the headline news. The actress said she would never succumb to Hollywood pressure to be a size 0 and that she thinks it is terrible that women are criticised so much because of their bodies.

Brown Findlay admires strong women and recently enjoyed playing a strong female role in the television adaption of Kate Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth. There certainly aren’t that many roles out there portraying strong women that go beyond the objectification and sexualisation of 
female body image but a few serve as interesting examples. Rather than eating burgers and not worrying about the consequences, Angelina Jolie trained for months and months and lived on a high protein diet to bulk up her muscles and strength before she filmed Tomb Raider. This was a role that was never going to have an idealised or realistic body image - instead Jolie went for powerful and worked very hard at attaining it through diet and exercise. Hilary Swank reportedly relied on protein supplements and shakes all day in addition to hard core training to be super fit and strong for her role in Million Dollar Baby. Strong, even powerful female role models on the big screen can only have a positive effect on young women but it would be great to have more realistic characters with equally realistic bodies that normal women can relate to. Young women should be able to recognise normal bodies up on screen or in photographs that aren’t the result of extreme fad dieting or hard core physical training.

Reality check for mainstream culture please

Cinema and television can sometimes be a great art form, but it does not work hard enough to help promote a healthy and positive female body image and sometimes it is guilty of doing just the opposite. Women and young girls are constantly bombarded with unrealistic and unattainable female bodies and images that rely on objectification and mythical ideals.

Art and photography can and should be used on a wider scale to reach more mainstream audiences with a positive message for women. Going beyond art galleries and niche exhibitions, art needs to be out there in the public arena portraying women as they really are.

Cultural and advertising imagery should not be relying on the safe Hollywood ideal of women that is ultimately so damaging to the self-esteem and body image of thousands of young women and girls. Only by changing the way women are portrayed in all cultural and artistic mediums can we hope to let young women and girls know that it is ok to normal.

Jennifer Amos

Anatomy For Beginners - SBS

On Tuesday evening 18 May, I watched a programme on SBS TV, “Anatomy For Beginners”.

This has been a fascinating series of documentaries showing how our bodies work by dissecting plasticised cadavers and by skilled painting on live nude models. Presented by pathologist Professor John Lee, Dr Gunther von Hagens expertly and deftly dissects the human body in a way that shows how the various organs and systems connect.

I watched the episode titled “Reproduction” and was amazed at the intricacies of the inner working of a woman’s body. Dr von Hagens had a series of foetuses in different stages of development. I was looking forward to the different phases of the womb during the menstrual cycle.

Yet not one word was spoken about menstruation! How can a programme about human reproduction ignore menstruation??? Menstruation is fundamental to both woman’s fertility and her sexual availability. We were told the full workings of ejaculation. Why not menstruation??

Dr Gunther von Hagens dissected a womb yet did not explain about the lining and preparation for implantation, nor the menstrual cycle that cleans and replenishes the womb.

This oversight confirms to me that there is still a great deal of silence and denial of menstruation. Despite our scientific culture, there is still an unwillingness to acknowledge this important part of a woman’s body. Menstruation occupies up to one quarter of a woman’s life during her fertile years. This is a lot of time and it impacts on a woman’s life in important ways.

But Professor John Lee and Dr Gunther von Hagens did not think it important enough to even mention during an episode devoted to reproduction!!

You can see the episode here.

Labiaplasty

Last night I watched “Hungry Beast” on ABC TV. This program, presented by plucky young people, picks out interesting and controversial snippets of news and themes. To quote from their website, “ It covers everything from the silly, to the serious, to somewhere in between; always from a different perspective.” Last night was an article about labiaplasty. You may view this online on the following web address. I am writing this link out in longhand, separately because the clip contains images of genitals and talks about genital surgery. These images are rated as M15+ and if such material offends you, do not click on the link;
http://hungrybeast.abc.net.au/stories/labiaplasty

There were two aspects to the report;
  1. the censorship laws that allowed full frontal nudity only if labia are not visible
  2. the increase in the number of real women having plastic surgery to cut off their perfectly normal, healthy labia.

The censorship laws are accommodated by some magazine editors by manipulating photographs of women and trimming their labia digitally within Photoshop. The women models remained healthy and intact, but of course the image is a construction, not a true representation.

Unfortunately the publishing of these altered images gives the public the impression that labia are not normally visible. Normal women are seeing their genitalia as ugly and in need of modification. The plastic surgeon called it “surgical improvement”! Of course he would, it helps his business to call it improvement. I am horrified by this. Surely labiaplasty is genital mutilation. All surgery carries risk, infection, poor workmanship, healing problems, scarring, loss of sensation, even death from complications. This is a lot of risk for something that is not even a true representation of women and is totally unnecessary.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect the population from damaging sexuality, not promoting genital mutilation!

There is also a possible connection with pedophilia. Sexually immature girls have small labia that are not visible from the outside - “a single crease” to quote the Photoshop artist. When a woman reaches puberty, she grows breasts and labia. These are normal secondary sexual characteristics of womanhood. The censorship laws are requiring adult women to look like little girls! If men become habituated to these images, it is a small step to finding under age girls themselves sexually arousing and desirable.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect under age girls, not turn them into objects of desire!

Our culture already sexualises under age girls to a great extent causing enormous suffering to women. This is one more example. You can read more about the sexualisation of girls in, “Getting Real” edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, published by Spinifex, 2009.

Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby


At the Wharenui
Download a 6meg .mov clip.

Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby, is a humorous, bold and irreverent TV programme from New Zealand about a fictional boys high school starring David McPhail. Tepapawai Boys High is threatened with closure and the school attempts a variety of activities and avoidance tactics to avert the inevitable. Mr Gormsby is an ‘old school’ style teacher with a plethora of politically incorrect attitudes and behaviours that highlight the absurdities of life. The students are rambunctious and defiant about learning almost to the point of being unteachable, but they do not want the school to close either. The result is a comedy that makes many social comments on education and human frailties, as the students and teachers co-operate to fight a common enemy, the Education Review Office (ERO).


Mr Gormsby with the Education Review Officer

In Series 2, episode 6 titled “An Inspector Calls” tackles the often avoided topic of menstruation. Mr Gormsby uses implied menstrual customs to avert the ERO inspector from inspecting a
wharenui, a traditional Maori meeting house. He blurts out a string of menstrual euphemisms and confronts the ERO inspector. The fear is that a menstruating woman would reduce the sacred power of the carvings in the wharenui. There is often a relationship between fear and respect, for example, a strict and disciplined teacher often has the respect of the students. The mystic power of a woman to create life engenders both fear and respect and must be treated carefully. Part of the insult for the ERO inspector is that a woman’s menstrual status is considered a personal and private matter in western culture, irrelevant to her ability to perform her duties.

Many traditional cultures had restrictive and sacred customs associated with menstruation. Although Mr Gormsby’s aim is stalling the ERO inspector, there is evidence that menstruation required specific treatment in traditional Maori society. This is an article describing some menstrual customs in Australia and New Zealand,
New Zealand Institute, 1904. Full article can be found in the National Library of New Zealand.

A more modern article gives a Maori interpretation of
celestial bodies and describes the moon in female symbology. Some traditional cultures required women to have exclusion in separate huts, during their menstruation. One example is of Ethiopian Jews who settled in Israel Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. This exclusion allows women space and privacy under the protection of purity rites. In highly patriarchal societies, this totally female space was potentially a refreshment, a time out for women.


Photo - Margaret Kalms

Please, do not get the impression that Maori culture is stuck in the past. Wharenui are a cultural focus for Maori life both past and present. A descriptive background and short history of wharenui is found in this
Education Resource, used with kind permission from Wellington City Gallery, Te Whare Toi. This resource includes definitions of many Maori sacred words and explains how symbols of today’s modern world view are incorporated into contemporary Maori ideas.

Modern art is revitalising the wharenui with new building techniques, technology and modern symbolism. Here is a wonderful modern rendition of a wharenui by a modern fractal artist,
Rerewhakaaitu, which includes a description of the meaning of wharenui that is well worth reading. The Chrysalis Seed Trust magazine which explores the intersection of art and faith, describes the potential for Maori tradition to be integrated with the Christian faith in meeting houses. Many wharenui have become churches.

This integration of indigenous culture with mainstream (western) culture has not happened to the same extent in Australia. Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby is an amazing blend of the issues of indigenous culture and spirituality with mainstream and can teach us all to look life directly in the eye and face many difficult issues with courage and bold, good humour.

The Gruen Transfer - feminine hygiene

The advertising of women's sanitary products was featured recently on "The Gruen Transfer" on ABC TV, episode 6, 2/7/2008.  It is sub-titled: feminine hygiene; the things with strings and the things with wings! The commentary is lively, making fun of the language used to advertise these products. There are a lot of euphemisms and symbolism around this issue. No-one is willing to be frank on public TV. Some of the ads play on embarrassment, double meanings and timing give the advertising humour.

It was unfortunate that the panel consisted of only one woman and four men! The men, to their credit, do show a lively interest. I love the suggestion that tampons should come wrapped within a kinder surprise!

I wanted to see a young woman's opinion. The advertisements are aimed at young women, and it would have been interesting to know how young women react to these issues. Are there different attitudes with the different generations? Are young women more free and open, or are they trying to hide all the evidence of menstruation as past generations did? How does menstruation fit in with their lives? Do they have different needs and expectations of the products because of their different stories, adventures and experiences?
I did enjoy the humour and suggest you check it out on http://www.abc.net.au/tv/gruentransfer/download.htm