Home / WorldWide / “Men Act, Women Appear.” Reading Emily Ratajkowski and Catherine McCormack

“Men Act, Women Appear.” Reading Emily Ratajkowski and Catherine McCormack

Look closely at the history of art writes Catherine MC Cormack and it is unusual to see women enjoying themselves on their own terms without the involvement of a male character or performing like Venus for a male gaze. In that one sentence—characteristic of MC Cormacks book Women in the Picture for its economy authority and intellectual depth she neatly summarizes the fulcrum around which swung one of the great recent Internet flame wars over feminism and women bodies.I speak of the debate following the release of Robin Thickes music video for Blurred Lines in 2013.

For those who dont remember andor missed this debate it was thus the video—made by a female director with an allfemale crew and starring three female models—cut an unrated version which showed its three models dancing in little more than Gstrings. With the models interacting with farm animals and bizarre props at one point there are even giant balloons reading ROBIN THICKE HAS A BIG DICK throwing their bodies around with abandon the video took on an energy that felt more than a little dirty and clearly pushed peoples buttons. Thus the polarized reactions.

Some saw the making of this video as a glorious instance of what McCormack finds so uncommon in the artistic world women enjoying themselves on their own terms. But others saw it differently. They pointed out that this party is intruded upon by three powerful men—Pharrell Williams T.I. and Robin Thicke—musical superstars whose mere presence seems to turn these models from partiers to performers for a male gaze. So is the video female potential or female subjugation?

In her recent book of essays My Body Emily Ratajkowski who used her star turn in the Blurred Lines video to catapult herself from just another promising model to an international superstar registers her own opinion on the matter. She makes it clear that she saw the video shoot as a femalecentric space in which she felt fundamentally safe yet it is also a space that was undeniably complicated she closes the essay by leveling accusations at Thicke for drunkenly groping her breasts during the shoot and she also expresses very conflicted feelings at using her beauty and sex appeal as a way to gain career career.

The fact is that the Blurred Lines video brought Ratajkowski a level of renown she could only dream of before. It became a complete sensation and suddenly Ratajkowski had millions of new fans. Brands that had shunned her now begged to establish partnerships. Yet for all that success she was disappointed to realize that attaining the markers of success and desirability that she was taught would make her whole in fact did not solve her problems Strangers greeted me with enthusiasm she writes. Famous men Id had crushes on as a child hit on me. Beautiful women talked to me as if I were one of them. Yet I felt like I was spinning out of control.

Regardless of attaining recognition that few women ever will Ratajkowski was still caught up in negative selftalk and selfloathing still undermining and diminishing herself. She was in her early twenties and it is a moment of realizing that the journey to a satisfied happy womanhood will be much longer and more complicated than she had believed.

The whole episode reads chronicling like just another chapter in the millennialong story of women in art that McCormack so painstakingly in Women in the Picture. McCormack is looking all the way back to ancient myth investigating the very earliest origins of the demeaning archetypes and sexist narratives that have defined women for millennia and she is taking her investigation all the way up to 2020 offering a fascinating reading of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallions celebration of female sexuality WAP.

Throughout her interest is in documenting how certain ideas about women have become encoded into the stories Western society tells itself through its art popular mythology and entertainment. She wants to document so that she can then these stories of them transforming their female victims into active agents.

Women in the Picture is a work of scholarship in which McCormacks personal experience as a woman coping with the pressures of such stereotypes and biases only seldom appears and she writes with a scholars methodical magisterial voice. By contrast Ratajkowskis book is passionate and snappy limiting her purview to her personal experience and the relatively short time frame of her life—as she writes Im still grappling with how I feel about sexuality and potential. The purpose of this book is not to arrive at answers but to honestly explore ideas I cant help but return to.

Even as My Body and Women in the Picture are very different in how they approach their subject—and how they feel to read—they also seem to go together the two inquiries into sexism coming from women at different points in their lives make for charming complements.


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