Gender as a construct has been the topic of a mass debate in recent years and has always been a topic in the world of art. Gender in the instance of this post is merely being discussed in the context of what the "roles" are and how they have been tackled in the realm of art. The genders of art have always had a canon, most notably in Ancient Egyptian art.
In Ancient Egypt, before and after the rule of Akhenaten in the 18th dynasty (which ended circa 1336 BC), the depiction of male pharaohs were blocky, with them having sharp and angular features. They were often rigid in a standing pose or in a pose that depicted power such as the pharaohs participating in the hunt or in war. The women were depicted with softer, more rounded features that were also more fluid. The period of Akhenaten's rule is considered an upheaval of old traditions and canons as the art portrayed men and women with soft, rounded features and in more fluid poses.
After the end of the 18th dynasty, canon returned to status quo and men and women began to be portrayed in different canons once more. These canons traversed the ages and are still prevalent in art today, though the canons have be subverted and inversed many a time in character design depending on the characters'...well character.
The performance and observance of gender roles is what led to the creation of canons in the art of not only Ancient Egypt, but other ancient civilizations as well. Women, while they took care of the home and families were seen as subservient and objects of desire and lust by the men and thus presented as such in the art of the time.
However, those roles as they were are not what they are now in entirety. In works, series and standalone pieces, of TV shows, movies, books, and comic books the gender roles of women have began to encompass much more than the maternal, subservient tropes. Women in media, and in real life, are portrayed as super heroines, lawyers, scholars, doctors, detectives, vigilantes, so forth and so on.
“Gender.” Ancient Egypt, www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/people/gender.htm.
Gordon, Aqualus. “The Stigma of Masculinity.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 Oct. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-brothers-keeper/201410/the-stigma-masculinity.
Kranzberg, Nancy. “Portrayal Of Women In The Visual Arts Throughout The Ages.” St. Louis Public Radio, 6 June 2014, news.stlpublicradio.org/post/portrayal-women-visual-arts-throughout-ages#stream/0.
McLaughlin, Elise. “The Art of the Amarna Period.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 22 Sept. 2017, www.ancient.eu/article/1110/the-art-of-the-amarna-period/.
When it comes to perception, a myriad of reasons can affect how the viewer sees and perceives certain things and actions. These can range from personal experience to cultural norms. However, body language is the key that many people use to perceive emotions. Even in cultures where it is considered impolite to show emotion in public, the subconscious nature of body language can tell all. It can divulge not only a person's current emotional state but it can tell a person much about another's overall personality.
Let's examine an example.
The image above is a comparison of two of the main characters of my series StepSisters. Both young women are opposites of each other by nature. From examining their body language alone, you can see that Mariya, the girl on the left, is far more confident and dominant than Amy, the girl on the right. Her, Amy's, stance is more drawn in. Her knees are closer together, hands folded, shoulders slightly slumping: all of these denote a more demure and submissive disposition in her. The softness of her stance is in the common interpretation of a feminine person. Mariya on the other hand is more rigid. Her shoulders drawn back, feet planted firm, and straight posture exudes confidence. The placement of her hands denotes an aggressive nature.
The universal nature of body language is best exemplified by an experiment conducted by Thalia Wheatley, of Dartmouth College. Her and her co-researchers traveled to Cambodia to study the Kreung tribe, one of the indigenious groups that lives in Cambodia's highlands. Their research consisted of not only showing a number of Kreung videos of an American woman making displaying both positive and negative emotions but also had a traditional Kreung perform make facial expressions relating to said emotions. The group of researchers also showed a group of Dartmouth employees and students the video of the Kreung performer. The goal of the study was to document how emotion and body language was a bridge between cultures. The results were a sixty-two percent accuracy rate and an eighty-five percent accuracy rate respectively.
Vitelli, Romeo. “How Universal Is Body Language?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 12 Apr. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201704/how-universal-is-body-language.
“Expressing Emotion through Posture and Gesture.” pp. 1–21.
Before we begin let's take a moment to ask: what is media? Media, as defined by BusinessDictionary.com, is communication channels through which news, entertainment, education, data or promotional messages are disseminated. It includes every broadcasting and narrowcasting medium like newspapers, TV, the internet, radio, billboards, etc. In reference to art, media refers to the type of art (sculpture, painting, graphic novels, etc) as well as the materials used to create art.
Now, let's discuss culture and gender roles and how media relates to both of these ideas. Culture, in the simplest definition, is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people encompassing language, religion, art, music, social habits and cuisine. To experience it in its fullest one must be fully immersed in a culture. Each culture has its own set of gender roles. In most cultures, women have seen as the caretakers of the family for centuries. They take care of the children, the home, and their partners while the men are seen as the breadwinners.
So where does media come into play? Media, be it TV or magazines, has aided in both subverting and promoting traditional gender roles as well as allowing people to learn more about other cultures. Currently, on TV one can see images of strong, independent women making waves and fighting in male dominated industries to prove their worth. However, the media is a double edged sword. For every positive image that is portrayed, there is a negative image waiting to be seen on another channel.
An example that comes to mind is the portrayal of Black women in media. For every image of a Black woman being a scholar, a doctor, lawyer, teacher, businesswoman, homemakers, etc, there are images of Black women that portray us as video vixens, ghetto hoodrats, unlovable, or damaged to name a few. However, all of these portrayals are a part of Black culture even if some of them aren't the most positive. A thesis written by Tiffany S. Francois that briefly covers how the portrayal of Black women shifts from slavery time to the time of Blaxploitation films notes that the two main portrayals are that of the submissive, sexually fetishized 'Mammy' figure and the freed, independent woman who reclaims not only her sexuality but herself from past hurts. These two images have became an ingrained part of Black culture and the role of a Black woman.
However, just because a culture dictates it does not mean it cannot be owned and reimagined in a different light. It is best described by the theory of womanism: "one's femininity cannot be stripped from the culture that it exists within" (Philips).
Collins, Patricia Hill. “What's in a Name?” The Black Scholar, vol. 26, no. 1, 1996, pp. 9–17., doi:10.1080/00064246.1996.11430765.
Francois, Tiffany S. “How the Portrayal of Black Women Has Shifted from Slavery Times to Blaxploitation Films in American Society.” High Point University, Running Head: Shift in Portrayal of Black Women in America, pp. 1–12.
“Media.” BusinessDictionary.com, www.businessdictionary.com/definition/media.html.
Phillips, Layli (2006). The Womanist Reader. New York: Routledge
The conceptualization of this study began with the question "What?". What do I see in my art? What do others? What is the common thread in the majority of my pieces?
And the answer to that is: women. But not just women, women that both challenge and perpetuate the stereotypes of our "gender". Women that are feminine, masculine, dainty, muscular, seductive, conservative...the list can go on for a while if given enough time but that's beside the point.
The title of this post says "within graphic novels" for a reason. If you will take a minute to browse through my portfolio you will see that a lot of my works have been heavily inspired by graphic novels. The other reason for this is because of what appears to be a lack of graphic novels created by women for women within the mainstream comics industry. They are few and far between, with many being written by men while also turning down female writers. I will stop there to keep from getting off track, though it is something that will be discussed in later posts.
This is only an overview of what's to come so stay tuned.
The following blog posts are an in-depth study about how women and gender in general are perceived. These perceptions are vast, varied and ancient. Each post is meant to compile and observe how these perceptions came to be over the ages and throughout different societies based on different aspects of society as a whole.