Materialising female desire

Illustration: Regina Rivas ©

These women express their visions of sex and desire with no shame. They share images erotically charged. They defy the male gaze by taking an active role. That's their revolution.

The romanticised idea of Paraguayan women is built upon the legend of the brave residentas, who reconstructed their country after the Triple Alliance War. ‘The Paraguayan woman is the most glorious in America , Pope Francis pointed out during on his visit to the country. With his statement, the Pope highlights the notion of self-sacrifice, which has been considered as one of the main features of the female population across the history of this nation. However, what it could be interpreted as flattering at first sight, needs to be problematised. Putting the emphasis on principles such as resilience and sacrifice, what is it valued, in fact, is their capacity for recovering from pain. What is never put into discussion, on the other hand, is their pleasure. The Paraguayan woman is the stoic mother, the tireless worker, the virginal heroine. She is ‘glorious’, such as the Virgin Mary.

Therefore, the idealization of self-sacrifice can be understood as a mean for keeping women oppressed. The representation of pleasure, on the other hand, is the symbolic way in which these young women defend their agency. Here, we understand pleasure in the broad sense that the definition allows: as enjoyment, as opposed to necessity, and as sensual gratification. The images on this section crystallise diverse representations of pleasure that challenge the romanticised notion of Paraguayan women. In terms of visual culture, it could be contended that they also subvert the relations of looking, which are still dominated by the male gaze.

In order to explain this, it is necessary to draw on Laura Mulvey’s theory. Framed within a psychoanalytic approach, Mulvey (1989) studies the mechanism through which mainstream Hollywood cinema objectifies women. The feminist film theorist articulates the concept of ‘male gaze’ around the notion of scopophilia, or pleasure of looking. According to her, three types of gaze can be found in cinema: the one of the film narrative itself, where the male character looks at the female character as an object of desire; the one of the spectator, which is constructed through a series of narrative mechanism to identify them with the main character; and lastly, the one of the camera, which contributes to the former perspectives. All three mechanisms work together by using pleasure ‘to reinforce the dominant order’s conception of gender’ (Gamble, 2001, p. 295).

The aim of Mulvey’s essay is to ‘break with normal pleasurable expectations in order to conceive a new language of desire’ (1975, p. 59). The same could be contended to these lines, inspired in the way in which young Paraguayan women represent their own fantasies and desires. It is a celebratory account, rejecting the picture of suffering characters that is emphasised in the national discourse. On the other hand, the women portrayed take an active role, as opposed to the passive one that is given to them within the patriarchal order. These images emphasise the agency of women over their own body and over their sexual life, as the picture of artist Missil (@missil_) claims loudly and clearly. While she poses looking at the spectator, she wears a top with the sentence: ‘I choose how to get dressed and with whom I get undressed’. The serigraphy of Camila Cadogan (@camila_cadogan) follows this strong statement. While the erotic photography of the blogger Andrea Montanaro (@chinchillaudaz) taken by the photographer Rut Montenegro (@rut_omg), in which Montanaro is liberating herself, expresses the same message that the illustration of the comic character Anita dice (@anitadice): Taking care of our own pleasure is a way of being free. Finally, the black and white kiss is part of a photo essay made by Nathalia Planás (@nathplanas) and titled Orbicularis Oris, in which no race, gender or role can be distinguished; just the mouth of two people in one act: kissing.

REFERENCES

Gamble, S., 2001. The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfeminism. Oxon, New York: Routledge.

Mulvey, L., 1989. Visual and Other Pleasures. London: Macmillan.

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