If you, like me are a regular Daily Mail scroller whether it be on their website or through snapchat, I urge you to take this new approach. Over the last few months during my daily scan of the Daily Mail website I have been noticing more and more/trying to spot how unknowingly unbalanced their article titles are. Their choice of wording and the way they imply women show themselves off is something we need to act against or at least acknowledge as forward thinking Millennials. Furthermore, how the content of their articles is so banal yet to the unassuming eye, impactful.
I am not intending to wage a war against the Daily Mail and they are by no means alone in the way they depict women in the news, yet I believe it is a good place to start. Throughout this article I am going to link modern news stories to the manner in which female body has been depicted throughout the history of art, as I believe the progressions and reactions are exemplary to the men and women of modern day society. I will use the term objectification of women throughout this article and before I dive in, I think it is important to explain it with reference to artists who have explored it and marketing campaigns that have objectified. I will also use the term the ‘male gaze’ which I’m sure most of you will have heard of but I think a definition is always in order.
The objectification of women can be quickly defined as the likening of a woman to an object, and objectification alone can be very easily linked to sexual objectification which you see daily in the Daily Mail (pardon the pun). I do not mean likening women to objects in a literal sense like the artist Allen Jones who quite literally made the sexualized female body into tables (see photo below in case you couldn’t quite imagine it). The Daily Mail less ostentatiously creates news articles purely focussing on the way certain person looks or is dressed. The term the ‘male gaze’ is a relatively modern term which was created by Laura Mulvey as a way of describing the way women were made into objects for the viewer who is put into the perspective of the heterosexual man.
Today (17/07, as I write this) the first four articles on the Daily Mail snapchat feature articles on female bodies, one commenting in how it ‘sizzles’ as if it were a piece of meat in the BBQ. The news site has made their first four features about the physical appearance of the female body. To the unassuming eye this seems normal but the reality is that the objectification and the discussion of the female body as a purely physical and sexual entity should not be the norm. I am aware that there is no way to stop this type of media and perhaps for certain celebrities this is their best form of publicity however in terms of the feminist movements for change and indeed art historical attempts for change which I shall discuss, it is important that we as 21st century social media children learn to spot objectification of the female form. I am also aware that this topic also affects male celebrities however I believe it to be on a lesser scale.
If I were to show all the examples I have found on the Daily Mail that I have found in the last few months this article would be verging on dissertation length. However, I feel it is important to share some of the headlines that stick out to me as being most evident of the objectification and sexualisation of women.
Below we see a headline that instantly identifies this person (who is yet to be named) as being bra-lees, firstly is this even news? Secondly it is interesting to consider whether this is simply a marketing tool as ‘sex sells’ I believe is the phrase or whether the editors over at the Daily Mail think that this is newsworthy and will draw the attention of the casual reader/scroller. I think it is important to point this out as women in the 21st century, we should not be defined by what we wear or in this case are not wearing and this is exactly what can be seen in this headline. Now let’s talk about that fact that her outfit has not only been deemed ‘very skimpy’, no instead they felt the need to highlight how VERY skimpy it is, as if we cannot read words in simply lowercase. It is articles like this that within 19 words have shamed Pascal Craymer, who by the way is an actress as she attends a charity event. If all my wishes came true and the Daily Mail were to eliminate the sexual objectification of women from their mantra perhaps it would say ‘Actress Pascal Craymer attends Charity Event’ but here’s hoping.
In the media, women are often reduced to the sum of their body parts, defined by which feature is ‘on show’. The words ‘flaunts’ ‘reveals’ and ‘showcases’ often headline images of celebrities, even teenagers going about their daily life. These words imply that women have contrived themselves for the male gaze, that they have actively adorned themselves with items that manufacture their bodies into the object for the male gaze, the gaze of sexual desire.
To further explain the term ‘Male Gaze’, it I refer to Titian’s 16th century work of art Venus of Urbino. Venus, the central figure in the painting, has been positioned in every way to satisfy the male gaze. She has been fashioned by Titian in the Venus Pudica pose, a term used in Western Art to describe the classical figurative pose, an undressed woman who covers herself with one hand. This hand is intended to draw the viewer’s eye to the point that is being hidden. A pose that invites the male gaze can be seen in painting’s by Botticelli and Manet and in ancient sculptures by sculptors such as Praxiteles. From the positioning of her arm which leads the eye and suggests compliance, to her direct soft gaze and her flirtatious even inviting smile. She becomes the passive object for the male fantasy. The room in which she lounges in does not suggest a mythologized space to house the natural women, instead she has been fashioned in an inoffensive passive reclining position, and becomes the object of the male gaze.
With reference to women being solely defined by their physical body parts it is also worth mentioning the image which was printed on their front page around the time of the elections. This image (seen below) not only reduced two female politicians who arguably hold the highest political positions in the United Kingdom down to their legs but also create the idea of competition between two women. As if young girls of the 21st century didn’t have a hard enough time trying not to compare themselves with images seen social media sites such as Instagram and Facebook, with this they are being encouraged in this act of comparison. Comparison of not their successfulness or political strength but of their physical feature, forced by one of the most read News website and paper in the country.
Throughout the History of Art, the typical role of the female was to be passive, to entertain the active male gaze and sit as an object of beauty, or even sexual objects. The women were fashioned to be seen as objects of desire, from Manet’s Olympia to Picasso’s Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon, the women are positioned passively for the male gaze to admire their features or fear their femininity and sexuality in the case of Picasso and his Demoiselles.
However, from the 1950s onwards, female artists began to fight back, with the likes of Tracey Emin, Hannah Wilke, Louise Bourgeois and Cindy Sherman all playing with the notions of the female body and the ownership of their own bodies. Female artists during this period instigated the disruption of the male gaze. The 1960s in particular saw the rise of the feminist art movement which saw the questioning of traditional notions of beauty (especially Hannah Wilke) and gender. Their intentions were to create art not merely for aesthetic appreciation but rather aimed to force the questioning of women’s gender roles in society. They also succeeded in bringing to the forefront the way female artists had been sidelined and rejected from attaining canonical positions in the history of Western art.
Art Historians such as Gombrich who wrote The Story of Art left female artists out of his discourse in favour of discussing the way the female bodies were depicted, manipulated and fashioned by male artists. Although, in response and retaliation to Gombrich, from the 1950s onwards many art historians such as Griselda Pollock have been actively bringing women and their skills back into the art historical discourse. I find many similarities in the editing of the Daily Mail and in the female fashioning in art history.
Media in 2017 is central to our everyday lives, we see it on our phones, in newspapers, on our TV’s and even on busses and on the sides of buildings. The Daily Mail is a huge part of the media sector, to give you some figures, in June of 2016 it was reported that the Daily Mail reached up to 29 million viewers a month and in 2017 publishes new articles daily. With this in mind we need to open our mind and grab a bucket load of salt when reading their articles which discuss the seemingly famous celebrities of our culture. It is important to be aware of the moments when women are objectified and misrepresented in an attempt to combat the dehumanisation of women in the 21st century.
The Daily Mail is not alone, many other marketing companies and campaigns ignore the rights of women and lack the respect for the female body. I think this video sums up the state of marketing in the 21st century.