1 In contemporary society, there are an abundance of images of women and men that we, as citizens of the world, are confronted with on a daily basis. From the advertisements posted on walls and billboards, to the magazines that can conveniently be found gazing out from the racks in the checkout line at the grocery store, these illustrations of life work to shape our conceptions of beauty, gender and sexuality, and what we view as “normal”, whether we are aware of their doing so or not. It is through these images that society allows itself to be manipulated, shaping the way that men view and portray the opposite sex, therefore influencing the way that women see themselves and expect or desire to be seen by others. Often we pride ourselves on the fact that more and more people in society today are becoming aware of these limitations and expectations that are put on the female sex. But a look at images of both genders helps to give a greater understanding that, although the situation has improved, the goals and mindsets of both men and women in society are not far from those that were in existence centuries ago. All that a person needs to do to see this is to pay attention to the fashions, media, and advertisements that abound in our culture. A common theme throughout the historical interactions between the two genders is the desire for men to have control over women, and the world of fashion is prime evidence for this. For many years it was a male-dominated industry, allowing for a few men to have almost complete power over what women “chose” to wear, which of course was influenced by what the designers debuted as their fashions for the year. As Susan Faludi wrote in the chapter “Dressing the Dolls: The Fashion Backlash” from her book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, “It was not enough that women buy more clothes; they had to buy the clothes that the couturiers told them to buy. 2 Designers wanted to be in charge of „dressing women,‟ as the Council of Fashion Designers of America phrased it.” (Faludi 172). Using women like their own personal Barbie dolls, designers could lead them to wear more feminine or masculine outfits. This was evident in 1987 when Christian Lacroix attempted to popularize the “High Femininity” fashion, which idealized the 19th century Victorian look, producing dresses covered in “twenty pounds of crinoline and taffeta” (169). Women were becoming increasingly independent and gaining more and more rights in both the workplace and their personal lives, which resulted in these paranoid men attempting to put them back into a place where they could still comfortably control them. In a quote from Faludi‟s book taken from a Victorian male‟s testimonial, “If you want a girl to grow up gentle and womanly in her ways and her feelings, lace her tight.” (173). Not only does this speak of the attitudes of the fashion industry, but also the desires of every male out there, serving as yet another excuse allowing them to justify the restrictions that they put on women. Alongside controlling them, men wanted to be able to sexualize females. Part of the process of doing this involved creating the desire in women to wear items that they were convinced made them feel sexy and confident, which were really just a ploy on the part of men to have women wear these. An example of this is Victoria‟s Secret, begun by a man as “a store to cater to his gender” (190). In a truly deceiving way, he was able to convince the public that the store was run by a woman, who would show the American women what she liked to wear. As Faludi says, quoting the creator of the store, Roy Raymond, “[…]women bought this very romantic and sexy lingerie to feel good about herself, and the effect it had on a man was secondary.” (191). Considering that this came from a man who had no idea what it was like to wear any of these items that gave women 3 this so-called “freedom”, leads me to pose the question that must have been on many women‟s minds when they were getting dressed: Who would willingly wear a garter belt or a corset, without the male population urging them to? Fashion photography is another world that has often been used by men to manipulate the societal image of women. As in the work of both Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, women can be seen in awkward situations and positions that provide an eroticism to male viewers that is evident in much of the rest of the fashion world as well. As Rosemary Betterton wrote in her book Looking On: Images of Femininity in the Visual Arts and Media, “Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton have applied the conventions of the erotic photograph in order to „make strange‟ or challenge some of the „stereotypical‟ notions of femininity and female sexuality which inform the dominant conventions of fashion photography” (Betterton 62). These images often put females in compromising positions, allowing men yet another way to have control over them. Newton shows this through his image Self-Portrait with Wife and Model (done in 1981), which not only shows the fragmented back of the model, but reveals more about the scene through the reflection of the entire front of the woman in the mirror. The artist can also be seen in this reflection, while his wife observes from the side. Examples of this type of work can also be seen in the black and white images by Bourdin, showing women in sexualized positions with parts of their faces hidden, helping to objectify them. Though the use of light and shape give these figures an artistic beauty, the fact that they are women being photographed by a male artist cannot be overlooked, partly due to the exaggeration of their feminine characteristics, such as the thighs and hips in the image on the left, and the breast in the one on the right. Another work by the same artist uses the 4 complimentary colors of red and green to cause the woman to stand out. Alluding to the sexual and victimized nature of the position she is in, the look on the face of the model which is reflected in the mirror she is looking into, serving as a reference to the vanity and importance of beauty in her gender, shows her discontentment with being in such a position. Media is another way in which images of women and men are shown. Used as an incredible tool to reach vast numbers of people, examples exist very effectively in the form of magazines. It is here that the manipulations of the female sex and the expectations that are made of her can be seen, whether in a product geared towards men or women. Supposedly aimed at women, Cosmopolitan can be viewed as a way that men have been able to control the way that women are portrayed in images and the media. With article titles littering the cover, the majority of them have to do with relationships with men or how to better please a man, and the ones that have more of a self-help purpose are relegated to the bottom of the page in smaller print. It is headlines such as “Be a Sex Genius!”, “Little Mouth Moves that Make Sex Hotter”, “The Silent Way He Shows He‟s Whipped”, and “Weird Male Behavior Decoded” that show the obsession that even the seemingly powerful and independent women of our world have with pleasing and understanding men, especially in regards to sex. Magazines geared towards men still use most of their pages to show images that promote the idea of women as sexual creatures who exist for male pleasure. They tend to skip the emotional cover stories that the women aim for, and instead immediately grab the attention of their readers with lines such as “What You Can Learn About Sex From College Girls”. It must be said, though, that while the insides still boast image after image 5 of nude females, the cover pages do a better job than the comparable women‟s magazines of attempting to acknowledge current affairs and the world around them, with articles such as “Has the FBI Come Unglued?” and “Mind and Body: Why Some People Get Sick and Others Don‟t”. So even in this society where women claim that they are more independent and empowered than ever before, there is still an obvious reliance on the acceptance and approval of the men who remain the dominant gender. It is true that many women are doing their best to combat this image, with a prime example being Oprah. Having created an empire that is built around giving women strength, confidence, and power, her magazine is a reflection of this. They focus more on daily life of an average woman, instead of the idealized sexual being that men tend to imagine. Her article titles on her cover are evidence of this, including such things as “9 Ways to Heal the World…by Shopping!”, “Two Foolish Habits of Otherwise Smart People”, and “3 Simple Questions that Solve Every Dilemma”. The photographs taken by Robert Mapplethorpe that were commissioned by Lisa Lyon after she became a world champion body-builder are also examples of the way that media can be used. His entire series, entitled Lady: Lisa Lyon, done in 1983, shows her as she wished to be portrayed in the peak physical condition of her life. The images can be seen as both sexualized and beautiful, providing a great juxtaposition since the feat that she had accomplished was such a masculine one. Many of the photographs show her in unnatural positions, often working to abstract her so that the form of the figure is what is most important, instead of the feminine details of the figure itself. Even though the series was done by a male artist, it seems more reasonable to see a woman in these positions since they were her idea and choosing. 6 “The visual is particularly important in the definition of femininity, both because of the significance attached to images in modern culture and because a woman‟s character and status are frequently judged by her appearance.” (Betterton 7). This quote by Betterton addresses the last issue to discuss, which is how images of women and men are used in advertisements. According to her, women have typically been shown as either “housewife or whore”, alluding to the fact that “women‟s place was really in the kitchen or in bed” (20). These ads have led women to believe that beauty and sexuality are the most important things. While this comes from a male perspective, with the goal of making women into what men want them to be, nowadays more women are attempting to use this same sort of thinking, but with a different goal. The idea is that if women feel more beautiful, they will have more self-confidence, and therefore be able to make and achieve more goals. One of the most obvious examples of this in contemporary advertising is in the new ad campaign currently being used by Dove, the “Campaign for Real Beauty”. According to the article “Dove‟s Campaign for Real Beauty” on the Media Awareness Network website, it was begun as a result of statistics they found after polling women that showed that “More than two-thirds (68%) of women strongly agree that „the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can‟t ever achieve‟,” and “The majority (76%) wish female beauty was portrayed in the media as being made up of more than just physical attractiveness.” Incidentally, the product that they are trying to sell with this campaign is firming cream, something that is used by women to feel more beautiful and better about themselves, insinuating that they need to fix the problem of cellulite while simultaneously saying that they are beautiful the way 7 that they are. This aside, the idea of everyone being beautiful is one that has benefitted the women of the world already, and the emotionally driven commercials lead women to feel so empowered just by being who they naturally are that the point is still a good one to make. This campaign by Dove is just the first of many that are sure to follow, which place the emphasis on the female beauty within, and an acceptance of who they really are. While many aspects of life have changed for women over the centuries, there are many things that remain the same. This includes the manipulation by men of the images that fashion, the media, and advertisements produce, and therefore that women have of themselves and expect others to have of them. Many improvements have been made, but there is still a long way to go before this cycle will be completely broken.