Women in the Public Sphere: Gendered Responsibility -2019

CW: Violence against women/sex workers, femicide

On Tuesday the 13th of August this year, a woman was stabbed to death while at her place of work. Police described the attack as ‘terrifying carnage’ and it was initially speculated that it was perhaps linked to terrorism, which they later clarified was not the case (ABC News, 2019). The attack happened in the early afternoon and was played out quite publicly with a number of eye-witness accounts immediately releasing footage of the ‘rampage’ to social media sites. It wasn’t long before the focus shifted away from the perpetrator and onto the victim whose occupation became sensationalised and central to the discourse emerging from the attack. Michaela Dunn was a sex worker working under the decriminalised model in the state of NSW and was still not safe from misogynistic violence which ultimately took her life. This essay will explore a number of intersecting factors that have converged with Michaela’s death and will interrogate the cultural perception of such an event. I will begin with a discussion on how violence is used to enforce patriarchy and how that links to ideas of appropriating of femininity. Statistics highlighting how prevalent misogyny is within contemporary Australian society rounds out the first section. The next section will analyse the role of discourse and mass media and how the pathologisation of both perpetrator and victim have direct impacts on our cultural understandings of gender roles. An internalised tension between sexual vigilance and the right to feel safe is also discussed in regards to gendered responsibility. The final section will consider the impact of dichotomous understanding of women through the Madonna/whore complex.

In a patriarchal society which is organised in a way that give men the majority of power; they dominate, oppress and exploit (other men and) women as a way of maintaining that power, violence is often employed when there is a direct challenge to that power (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 394). Kane & Schippers have suggested that women are the gatekeepers to heterosexual activity and therefore hold a potential power over men; “men fear women’s ability to use sexual allure as a manipulative tactic to ‘unman’ them” (cited in Bareket et al, 2018, pg. 520). In this regard the stigma that is attached to sex workers makes a little more sense as sex workers directly threaten the patriarchal dominance through their awareness of their sexuality. Double standards are rampant in modern society, especially when it comes to sexuality and sexual practices between the genders. Bareket et al. argue that double standards play a specific role in line with patriarchal ideology and seek to regulate, control, and restrict women’s sexual expression and sexuality (Bareket, 2018, 2018, pp. 520-521). Violence against women is no new phenomenon but the rise in visibility has gained worldwide fame through the recent #metoo movement. The movement highlighted how prevalent misogyny and sexual violence against women really is and along the way created a community of survivors rallying for social change (Me Too, 2019). Vicious attacks on women like the one that tragically took the life of Michaela Dunn could be argued as an attempt at restoring social order to the world (Butler, 2004, pg. 34). Kimmel further argues that “Men’s violence toward women does not happen when men’s power over women is intact and unthreatened; rather, it happens when men’s power breaks down, when his entitlement to that power is threatened and insecure. Violence is restorative, retaliatory.. When that entitlement is aggrieved, they don’t just get mad; they get even” (cited in Everbach, 2018, pg. 17). The aggressive nature of these sorts of attacks place women in a particularly vulnerable position in wider society as Gilchrist et al revealed that “although women are not inherently more fearful of crime in public spaces than are men, women’s fear is strongly associated with the performance of appropriate femininity” (cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). The discussion that followed included a number of examples of ‘flawed femininity’ including “walking home alone at night, or drinking too much alcohol” (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 345). Sex workers may be seen as the embodiment of everything anti-feminine, the perfect example of inappropriate femininity.

Given the precarious nature of sex work in much of the globe it is difficult to obtain true figures surrounding attacks and murders of (predominately female) sex workers. Often seen as the most vulnerable in society, it has been suggested that the more labels attached to a woman, the less she is seen as a full human in the eyes of others; nobody cares much when a ‘street-based, ‘homeless’, ‘drug-addicted’, ‘trans’, ‘woman-of-colour’ goes missing, or even worse, is murdered (Fox & Wykes, 2015). The statistics around violence against women in Australia are slightly easier to gather and prove that gendered violence is a patriarchal epidemic deserving of attention and scrutiny. According to Our Watch a woman in Australia is murdered on average once a week by either a current or former partner; a third of all Australian women have experienced physical violence; a fifth of Australian women have experienced some form of sexual violence; almost 10% of Australian women have experienced violence at the hands of a stranger; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were experiencing violence at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women (Our Watch, 2019). When incidents such as the murder of Michaela Dunn occurs it is a stark reminder of the value that women hold in society, and that female sexuality does not hold the same respect and value as male sexuality.

In an article by news.com.au the main problem represented in the reporting is that violence and murder are a part of the job if you are working within the sex industry. The article has a number of quotes from a prominent sex worker who goes by the name of Jessie-Lee Pierce who states; “I’m not shocked by it [Michaela’s murder], but it saddens me because I think violence and murder are a part of our job” (cited in Graham, 2019). The words expressed by Jessie-Lee are an example of internalised whorephobia and highlights the gendered responsibility that women are expected to carry while navigating through society. Her words appeal to many anti-sex-work radical feminists whose ideology rests on the idea that sex workers “become the victims of regular sexual objectification, exploitation, and violence; and that, by participating in this kind of industry, sex workers become co-perpetrators of these crimes” (Miano, 2017). This perception is highly damaging as it places the blame on women working within the industry and frames it as though sex workers are responsible for any violence inflicted on them. The mass media then plays its part by exacerbating and reproducing these narratives further excusing the behaviour by men. The discourse surrounding sex work, bodily autonomy, as well as questions surrounding appropriate forms of labour always have a gendered focus and the responsibility of men is a constant silence throughout these public discussions. One of the ways that the media perpetuate the gendered nature of public sexual discourse in regards to violence is in the way that perpetrators are presented to the public. A number of scholars have argued that violent men are represented in one of two dichotomous ways; on the one hand we see media representations of vicious ‘monsters’ and ‘assholes’; and on the other we have presentations of ‘normal’ men who are facing a misunderstanding or even a full fabrication (Quadara, 2014; Fanghanel & Lim, 2015). By pathologising the perpetrator as an irrational abject figure, the concept of risk is externalised and the ‘asshole’ functions as the source of danger relieving ‘society’ of the responsibility to manage similar issues of safekeeping, public danger and security. The role of governmentality becomes apparent here as motivations behind these abject attacks are individualised and are not seen as a symptom of wider rape culture. Instead, these figures become anomalies and a scapegoat for which other (good) men publicly condemn the attack while shouting “not all men!”. The lived effects of the invisibility of these ‘normal’ men results in what we now have come to consider as rape culture, feminist writer Clementine Ford argues in her book; “[rape culture] characterises a society in which the impact of sexual violence is not only minimised but the definition of what constitutes ‘real’ sexual assault is considered up for public debate and scrutiny. It enforces and codifies the language of victim-blaming and perpetrator excusing” (Ford, 2018, pg. 293). Consider the statistics from the ABS Personal Safety survey 2016; over half a million women (553,700) experienced sexual assault by a male they knew (87%), with only 1 woman out of every 10 reporting the incident to police (ABS, 2017). Perpetrators are created through the legal discourse, that is, their performativity needs to be verified in order to be legally labelled as ‘perpetrator’. The failure of so many cases to be reported (and subsequently of those that are reported but fail to reach a conviction) truly defines the rape culture we currently live in.

It is clear through the reporting that emerged after Michaela’s murder that discourse and language are extremely telling of the gendered inequalities in wider society. In many of the articles in the days that followed much of the focus was on the ‘heroic’ men who stopped the perpetrator once he was out in the streets; “social media has been full of praise for the men, and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said they were ‘the highest order or heroes’” (ABC News, 2019). Some within the sex worker community have spoken out about the dominance of the ‘hero’ angle in the media, suggesting that the overshadowing of Michaela’s death highlights the disposable nature of the ‘prostitute’ in society; “her job does not make her a lurid story” (McGowan, 2019). Speaking in regards to the media framing of two particular incidents in Melbourne a number of years ago Jane Gilmore argues that “women are not people in the eyes of the news, at least not the way men are. Women are tits and arse, they’re glamorous or fat, they’re wives or mothers or stupid or demanding or nagging or annoying or sweet or pretty. Men on the other hand, are fully-rounded, complex people- as long as they’re not too womanlike” (Gilmore, 2019). Simone de Beauvoir argued that society needs prostitutes as scapegoats; “the existence of a caste of ‘lost women’ makes it possible to treat ‘the virtuous woman’ with the most chivalric respect” (de Beauvoir, 1949, pg. 613). The explicitly titled; “’She was a whole person’: Michaela Dunn’s murder and its impact on Sydney’s sex workers” further alludes to the point that women within the sex industry are less-than-whole beings, with society focusing on the sexual dimension of the work as the question of morality trumps all questions surrounding rights and autonomy (McGowan, 2019; Mac & Smith, 2018, pg. 25).

For many women, an internalised tension is always in play in regards to personal safety and/or freedoms. On one hand woman believe they should have the freedom to wear/say/do what they please within public spaces without fearing for their safety, yet on the other they are equally aware of their personal obligation to be safe in public spaces. This vigilance of personal safety is extremely gendered and emerges through particular discourses which are further perpetuated through mass media. Fanghanel & Lim argue that the representation of women within the public realm as problematic stems from the 19th century construction of gendered public and private spaces (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 342). They argue that the public domain was seen as the man’s place while the private domestic sphere was expected to be inhabited by women. The sexual vigilance women face serves to solve the ‘problem’ of women in public spaces and is an example of victim-blaming discourse, a key component to wider rape culture. At the beginning of the 20th century women were increasing their presence on the labour market and scholars have suggested that the discourse surrounding trafficking of (predominately white) women “helped to draw the literal and figurative borders of the ‘nation’, and became a way to police (especially) female and non-white sexuality more broadly” (Laite, 2017, pg. 38). The anti-trafficking discourses which began to emerge around this time put emphasis on the anti-exploitation of particular bodies within sexual labour paradigms. However as a number of scholars have suggested this perspective was carefully calculated to ignore certain intersections of work and sexual labour, specifically for women, as their unpaid labour was still crucial to the workings of the capitalist system (Laite, 2017, pg. 42). The moral panic that was created at this time helped distract the public away from the inherent exploitations built into the capitalist system and stressed the “moral over the monetary” when discussing the plight of the sexually fallen women who had ended up in the sex industry (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). For many women had consensually chosen to step into the field of sex work as a way of gaining financial freedom at a time when there were very limited (paid) employment opportunities, in line with de Beauvoir’s argument that equality is not a possibility without women’s economic freedom from men (de Beauvoir, 1949). Although the unemployment rate for women in Australia is a considerably low 5.2%, women are still seen as imposing on the public male domain and remain ‘responsible’ vigilant subjects within wider society (Australian Government, 2019).

Fanghanel & Lim have argued that the ‘safekeeping’ that women are expected to perform in their everyday lives is an extremely gendered experience and links back to the performativity of gender (Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 344). As one of Butler’s core ideas she argues that “it is important to distinguish performance from performativity: the former presumes a subject, but the latter contests the very notion of a subject” (Butler cited in Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 392). In other words it is through the performance that we are constituted as subjects and that doing brings into being that which it names. For women in society are also often portrayed as a dichotomous entity embodying either the virgin or the whore (Brownmiller cited in Fanghanel & Lim, 2015, pg. 343). Stemming from psychoanalytic theory, Freud coined the term Madonna-whore complex to stipulate a hindrance that some heterosexual men face when engaging with the opposite sex (Bareket et al. 2018, pp. 519-520). Freud’s understanding of the Madonna/whore complex stems from his psychoanalytic training and disregards all social and cultural aspects arguing instead that the root causes lie in the unresolved sensual feelings towards the mother. The Madonna-whore complex speaks to the way women are expected to perform (in)appropriate femininity represented by both the Madonna (good, chaste & pure) or the whore (bad, seductive & promiscuous). These polarizing perceptions have long existed and can be traced back to the ancient Greeks which has, over time, permeated outside of the Western context (Pomeroy, 1975; Bareket, 2018, pg. 519). Coming back to the original argument presented by Fanghanel & Lim, what they suggest is that within media discourses, the types of women who are attacked are presented as not performing the right kind of femininity. In the case of Michaela Dunn she was quite literally a whore, an aspect of her life which was sensationalised throughout the media as a way of dehumanising her to the public. It highlights the way in which we organise and stratify different sexualities and reveals how society punishes or rewards certain kinds of intimacies. Mechanisms for holding accountability through governmentality are more apparent from this perspective. Pathologisation of Michaela as the ‘whore’ not performing the right kind of femininity and the condemnation from those even within her own community speaks to the way women are expected to be in society. The ‘safekeeping’ advice women are confronted with on a daily basis comes from a number of sources including other women. Coming back to the article posted on news.com.au Jessie-Lee also implies that particular websites attract “sick” clients and that advertising on higher end websites, instead of the classifieds page Michaela was advertising on, could have had a potentially different outcome (Graham, 2019). Jessie-Lee fails to condemn the behaviour of the murderer, maintaining her position that violence is a part of sex work and even ended the article with tips for other workers to “eliminate as much risk as possible” (Graham, 2019).

This essay has attempted to highlight that the way in which mass media, and increasingly social media, frames particular events and the importance of language to perceptions. Michaela Dunn’s death was overshadowed by the pathologisation of her killer, as well as the sensationalism of her job choice. Women who are sexual continue to be demonised by society, an interesting paradox given that women are socialised to recognise themselves as sexual objects yet are highly punished when they recognise and attempt to capitalise off of that very same sexuality.


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Has Modernity Afforded Women More Sexual Freedom? -2019

The perpetuation of historical myths surrounding female sexuality has transcended into the modern through a collective imaginary. Jasanoff suggests that often the line between real and imagined realities is blurred and “observed facts of nature are refracted through collective desires for logic and order, producing authoritative representations of how the world works- as well as how it should work” (Jasanoff, 2015, pg. 6). The collective imagination of citizens within a patriarchal society dominated by a threat of violence is inevitably going to internalise the expectations of their social role and perform their expected identity to the best of their ability. Female sexuality throughout time has been suppressed and far too often is accepted as biological fact, rather than understanding it through a cultural or social lens. Some scholars have argued that this suppression is “one of the most remarkable psychological interventions in Western cultural history” (Baumeister & Twenge, 2002, pg. 166). My main argument in this essay is that modernity has not brought sexual liberation to women, and from a Foucauldian perspective the fact that much of the sexism and suppression of sexuality is happening subtly makes it all the more hard to resist. This essay will interrogate some pivotal moments that are at the intersection of discourse, power and sex. I begin this essay with a discussion on the historical construction of the division of labour and what that meant for social gender roles at the beginning of modernity. Next I will focus on the dominance of science and the legacy that remains from a number of influences at the time. A discussion on some of Foucault’s ideas, specifically that of discourse and the use of some examples within that paradigm will be explored, which have helped shape our understandings of modern day sex work. Braidottis understanding of humanism is also referred to and discussed in regards to the silent dominance of such a problematic term. The final part of the essay will have a look at Foucault’s understanding of biopower and how that is employed in the modern context. The sexual revolution of the 60s as well as the recent #metoo movements will be discussed in regards to female subjectivity to argue my point that women are no more sexually free than pre-modernity.

In regards to sexuality, the female body has historically been imposed with external meaning stemming from a patriarchal gaze. The 18th century saw many social and cultural changes stemming from rising capitalism which shifted the importance of existing institutions such as marriage and the family. The rise of capitalism brought about structural changes in which production moved outside of the home and individuals were expected to sell their labour for a wage. Some scholars have suggested that new understandings of gendered roles during rising modernity were understood through the separation of paid and unpaid labour; women were responsible for the reproduction of labour while men were responsible for wage work and financially supporting the family unit (Tilly & Scott cited in Dempsey & Lindsay, 2014, pg. 19). Marriage as an institution was dramatically changed towards the end of the 18th century when the idea of romantic love made its debut within the wider society (Giddens, 1993, pg. 39). Romance within marriage was a modern phenomenon; previously marriages were based on economic development rather than passion and love. “The complex of ideas associated with romantic love for the first time associated love with freedom, both being seen as normatively desirable states” (Giddens, 1993, pg. 40). This connection between love and freedom was able to distract society from existing economic aspects of marriage, focusing more on the social and pushing the economic into the background. In early modernity, women would alternate between productive (paid) and reproductive (unpaid) labour, it was near impossible to do the both simultaneously (Dempsey & Lindsay, 2014, pg. 21). Simone de Beauvoir recognised this separation of paid and unpaid labour as a key site for the subordination of women, she argued that without economic autonomy from men; “she remains a vassal, imprisoned in her condition” (de Beauvoir, 1948, pg. 721). She was speaking at a time when women were entering into the labour force at rates higher than ever before, afforded more civil liberties than generations of women before her. Suppressing female sexuality was an important patriarchal tool that helped women understand their role in society as passive, secondary citizens. The way in which women came to embody themselves was dependent on the meaning given to them by patriarchy and men which has taken different forms over time. De Beauvoir also argued that the biological condition of women was not a handicap in itself; rather the negative meaning is imposed from the oppressive and hostile society externally. From her phenomenological perspective she also recognised that cultural and social changes happen over time, and that there was still a considerable amount of work to be done before women would lose the cultural marker of ‘other’.

There have been a number of significant influences in regards to the way we understand modern gender, sex and sexuality. It was the 19th century that saw a push towards scientific understanding to discover truths about the world, as science was coming to be accepted as the highest order of fact. Foucault suggests that it is considered a form of knowledge that is immune to different political and historical conditions, potentially considered an ahistorical platform of knowledge production. Foucault recognised this blind acceptance of ‘science’ and considered himself to be ‘anti-science’, challenging the epistemological privilege that was attached to scientific understandings within dominating discourses. While the leaders of this dominating discourse are commonly institutions such as governments, or entire industries such as the medical or legal fields, Foucault recognised that an analysis of all practices including the ordinary experiences of communication, or discourse, hold vital information to understanding sexualities over time. One of the key issues that plagued gendered understandings of early modernity was a penchant for looking back through history in an attempt at understanding the role of women, rather than looking at the possibilities afforded to women, especially in the context of new technological developments. Freud is sometimes seen as a victim of the failed recognition of historical changes, accepting the universal ‘man as default’ that society had thus far dictated. Feminist critics such as Kate Millet argued that: “the effect of Freud’s work, that of his followers, and still more of his popularizers, was to rationalize the invidious relationship between the sexes, to ratify traditional roles, and to validate temperamental differences” (Millet cited in Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). The legacy that Freud left behind is extremely influential in the way we understand the human psyche and many of his theories were left unchallenged for much of the 20th century. Freud accepted the narrative passed down throughout history that women are “not in control of their biological processes, and this led them to be victims of penis envy” (Freud cited in Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). The discourse surrounding the role of women for much of the newly industrialised contexts leading into the beginning of the 20th century focused on the biological lacking of women, regardless of the social context and ignorant of new technological advances. The idiom of co-production seems applicable here as a recognition for the inseparability of the way we represent and know the world and the ways in which we choose to live in it. Jasanoff argues that “knowledge and its material embodiments are at once products of social work and constitutive of forms of social life; society cannot function without knowledge any more than knowledge can exist without appropriate social supports” (Jasanoff, 2015, pg. 3). Jasanoff’s point here is that knowledge, specifically scientific knowledge, cannot be constructed as separate from the social and as a result implicates political motives, biases and basic misunderstandings within the order of knowledge. Freud’s scientific understanding of the female psyche was biased on his understandings of the role of women in society passed down through a collective imaginary. For this reason it is important to trace back through history to understand the social construction of the role of women leading into modernity. Luckily, Foucault has done that for us.

In his 3-part (unfinished) series on the history of sexuality, Foucault explores different understandings of sex and sexuality across time and in a number of contexts. Foucault himself understood the importance of context and was not afraid to change his opinions or views given new information or ideas. He recognised the lack of interrogation surrounding sexualities, specifically from a humanities perspective, and dissected different discourses to better understand the social construction of how we currently understand sexualities. Focusing on discourse, Foucault recognised that from the 17th century there were two main perspectives or ‘orders of knowledge’ surrounding sex: reproductive biology and the medicalised perspective (Foucault, 1978, pg. 54). Within the medical discourse specifically, Foucault noted that doctors began to view their patients from a medical gaze, dehumanising their patients and seeing them as a set of organs rather than a person. When looking at discourse, Foucault argues it is important to not just look at what has been said or discussed, but to look at the concepts and ideas that are silent, that exist on the margins. The continuation of particular discourses perpetuate into contemporary times as Holland et al. conducting research on adolescent girls in the 90’s discovered; “The topic of sexual activity set both the young women and the interviews limits on how they could talk about sex, since the dominant culture has no acceptable language for discussing sex in ways which are not clinical, obscene or childish” (Holland et al. 1994, pg. 24). These contrasting discourses helped to shape the understanding of monogamous, heteronormative sex as the natural and correct form of human sexuality. The basis for the push towards monogamous heterosexual sex lies in the need for reproducing labour for the capitalist system, as previously discussed. The 17th century is an important turning point in regards to sexuality as Foucault suggests the rise of regulated sexualities coincides with the rise of the capitalist system and the industrial revolution. The way in which sexuality was repressed actually made way for new sexualities and understandings of sex, and changed the dynamic of power in regards to the way that sex was talked about. Foucault proposed that the secret nature of pushing sex into the private sphere gave power to different institutions and the discourses they employed, recognising that power was not always centralised and that there were both positive and negative power dynamics. Within certain discourses, such as the legal and medical fields, a binary of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours emerged. The notion of ‘perversion’ was able to flourish outside of these discourses but owe their creation to the repression within particular institutions. The medicalisation of sex meant that the experts on sexuality were the doctors and professors who had been socialised in much the same way as Freud, and the gender bias inherent throughout history was legitimated through ‘scientific’ understandings of sex and sexuality. Another legitimating discourse that was extremely influential to our current understandings of womens labour and sexuality stems from the way in which sex trafficking was framed at the beginning of the 20th century. With more women entering into the labour force than ever before a new threat was perceived and discussed in the public sphere. In 1927 the League of Nations created a new committee in order to undertake research investigating the exploitation of women within the entertainment industry. Many girls aged 15-25 were travelling internationally for the purposes of work and the League of Nations believed that these women were at high risk of being duped or coerced into the sex industry. What the advisory committee found was that there was a direct link between the exploitative nature of women’s (licit) work and a susceptibility to the sex industry (Laite, 2017, pg. 48). Put simply, the economic inequalities between the genders was the driving factor for many women seeking a living wage turning to the sex industry (consensually) as a means of surviving. However, while the committee recognised the economic basis as the catalyst for many women turning to sex work, their report focused on the moral rather than the economic; “Though members of the Traffic Committee bemoaned the influence of women’s low wages and subsequent poverty, they emphasised the moral over the monetary” (Boris cited in Laite, 2017, pg. 48). This is one of the many examples throughout history that highlights the power that is held in discourse. As Foucault argues, we can see that the materiality of this particular discourse has been produced within a particular social order where women were not seen to hold sexual agency or autonomy of their bodies. The morality discourse surrounding female sexuality continues to persist and women today are still stigmatised for taking ownership of their bodies and sexuality. Those who hold the power within the social order are the producers of the discourse and within this discursive order they legitimate knowledge through their own definition completely discounting those who are silenced or repressed.

The concept of humanism is also important in understanding the historical construction of suppressed female sexuality. Humanism stemmed from the enlightenment and opened a new way of living through a more secular separation from God. The Enlightenment period signalled the beginning of a new modern world highlighting a number of ideas that persist into our contemporary society. Some of these ideas include: reason and rationality (as the basis for organising knowledge); empiricism (observing and collecting information through the senses); scientific understanding of the natural and social worlds; universalism and a search for general universal laws; progression of humans (improving the human condition was possible); individualism (all knowledge comes from within); tolerance of other religions or doctrines; freedom (we are born with choices); and secularisation (in conjuncture with tolerance) (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 15). Stemming from Western Europe these hegemonic understandings of what it meant to be human privileged the (white, cis) male who embodies much of the above and is understood as ‘intrinsically moral’ (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 13). The narrative of ‘male as default’ has its roots in ancient Greek scripture but the ideology of humanism was adapted in the 20th century by Europeans who saw themselves at the forefront of modern human civilisations. As Braidotti suggests; “This Eurocentric paradigm implies the dialectics of self and other, and the binary logic of identity and otherness as respectively the motor for and the cultural logic of universal Humanism” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 15). In this respect ‘otherness’ is represented by those who fall outside that default status; sexualised (women, non-binary etc.), racialised (non-white), and naturalised (the environment and natural) others. Given that reason and rationality are afforded to the default human, the ‘others’ are inherently seen as irrational, and inferior and are “reduced to the less than human status of disposable bodies” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 15). The humanist paradigm has always prioritised the masculine worldview ignoring the subjectivity and agency of those that fell into the category of ‘other’ and although debates around post-humanism have been circulating since the 1960s, remnants of humanism are still present in our contemporary society. For example a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine found that women were less likely than men to be resuscitated by CPR in public because women have breasts (Prasad, 2019). The way in which society has sexualised the female body as well as the use of ‘neutral’ (male) mannequins for training purposes has resulted in a 23% gendered gap in the odds of survival when needing CPR. In similar vein, Jenny Valentish’s book about substance abuse outlines the gendered bias that still persists in much academic and medical research where researchers are constantly told that (female) gender-specific research is pointless; “it [would be] a waste of time to address anything to do with women because men are in the majority and that’s where the focus should be” (Copeland cited in Valentish, 2017, pg. 271). Here we see the masculine view that only the majority is important, re-centring the idea of humanism. Valentish also discusses the fact that in many medical and physiological studies, menstruating women are seen to be an anomaly and are excluded from participating in the studies (Valentish, 2017, pg. 273). This in itself has resulted in a number of drug-related deaths in women, clarifying Braidotti’s point on disposable bodies. Humanism is so pervasive in our society, that for much of society it remains unseen, making it difficult to recognise and resist.

Women and those considered ‘other’ as disposable beings can be analysed through the tactics of suppressed sexuality. Women, and their sexualities, have been suppressed as a way of upholding patriarchal values through the threat of, or actual violence. The origins of patriarchy have been debated but for the sake of this essay I will be using the term patriarchy as defined by Christ who suggests that “patriarchy is a system of male dominance in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality with the intent of passing property to male heirs.. [It is] rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, and in which men who are heroes of war are permitted to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people” (Christ, 2016, pg. 218-220). The legitimisation of violence stems from prehistoric times when war was common and threats to power and resources held by men resulted in an assertion of violence. Sovereign power continued the legacy of legitimated violence and it wasn’t until the Enlightenment period that Sovereign power conceded to the role of State authorities. It is the shift from Sovereign repressive power to a more normalising invisible form of power that marked a new understanding of the role of self-governance and subjectivity in modernity. Foucault differentiated between the Sovereign “right to take life or let live” and the modern State power that exercises “the right to make live and to let die” (Foucault, 1978). The publicity of such harsh punishments in pre-modern times made for an awareness of the power dynamics existent in society. With modernity came a new dynamic of State power in which the prison was born and punishment moved away from the public eye. Moving into a more subtle form of power, Foucault argues this normalising power seeks to control bodies under the guise of ‘protection of life’, in direct opposition to the previous power dynamic. Foucault’s terminology for this form of power is biopower which literally means having power over another body; “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” (Foucault, 1976, p. 140). The connection between biopower and self-governance is strong and the role of self-surveillance in modern societies is confusing understandings of gendered subjectivity, especially in the virtual world and in social media. Hidden State power makes it harder for resistance and I suggest a similar thing is happening in regards to sexism in contemporary times, in part thanks to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Lewis suggests there are 3 core components of modern sexism “(1) a belief that sexism is no longer an issue in society and is a thing of the past, (2) negative attitudes towards women who fight for equity and (3) resentment toward women who advocate for affirmative action of gender conscious policies and practices” (Lewis, 2018, 383). The invisibility of contemporary sexism makes it difficult to resist, difficult but not impossible.

The normalisation of biopower has resulted in many misogynistic tendencies being accepted not just by men, but women have also unconsciously internalised many sexist ideas about the world. In a 2002 study, Baumeister and Twenge found that suppression of female sexuality was actually enforced more by other females than by men; however I propose that this suppression has been about protection rather than competition as the article suggests. They found that when women were in power they restricted sexuality more than when men were in power, who they found pushed for a more liberal sexual freedom (Baumeister & Twenge, 2002, 195-96). They argued that female suppression comes from the perspective that sex as a resource in limited supply therefore suppressing other females sexuality increases her own chances of securing the resource. My counter-argument is that the internalisation of misogyny, and the resulting suppression of female sexuality, is a result of the socialisation and conditioning of young women who see harsh consequences for their actions unlike that of the opposite gender. Constant policing of womens bodys in public spaces, (social media, breastfeeding in public, the debate around abortion etc.) have taught women that their bodies are intended to be passive, making embodiment a difficult process. Passivity as a trait of femininity stems from biological understandings as Foucault pointed out. Foucault was particular in discussing generalised sexualities and glossed over specific gender ideas, rarely speaking explicitly about female sexuality. In his essay around pleasure from the second volume of The History of Sexuality, Foucault recognised the language that has been employed in regards to what constitutes as sex: penetration. He argues that penetrative sexual relations are always a specific power dynamic in which the person who is participating in the penetration act holds the power over the submissive subject. Again this understanding stems from the humanist approach that recognises sex to involve a phallic object, therefore excluding women as active participants. Women in this paradigm are understood as biologically submissive and Foucault saw no reason to question the ‘nature’ of the role of women; “As for the woman’s passivity, it did denote an inferiority of nature and condition; but there was no reason to criticize it as a behaviour, precisely because it was in conformity with what nature intended and with what the law prescribed” (Foucault, 1984, pg. 2015). From the Foucauldian perspective suppression of female sexuality was a given due to their biological role of passive receiver. In his discussion Foucault outlines examples from the Ancient Greeks in which boys were sometimes seen as sexual objects. As a passive receiver of sexual penetration the receiver is viewed as an object; specifically an object of desire and/or pleasure, and the idea that one would enjoy the role of passive receiver contradicts the understandings of masculinity and dominance that the penetrator represents. The inferiority of the person who played the passive role was only called into question when the ‘objects’ were boys. In this example Foucault discussed the incompatibility of wanting and enjoying being the object of pleasure and the self-discovery that was necessary in order for the boy to become a man. In the context of women, this speaks to gendered understanding of subjectivity; the ideals of the feminine are in contrast to the ideals of the ‘human’, as previously discussed.

Modernity brought about many social and cultural changes and beginning towards the end of the 19th century was what is now considered the first wave of feminism in the West. This first wave movement was sparked by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, strong abolitionists fighting for the women’s right to vote, which was actually sparked through racism: black men were given the right to vote in 1870, offending these upper-class white women who believed they should have the right to vote before the former slaves (Grady, 2018). While suffrage was the main goal for these first wavers, they also recognised the lack of equality in areas such as education, property ownership and employment rights. Securing the right to vote in the early twentieth century seemed to end the first feminist wave, not because equality had been achieved, rather the goals of the feminist movement had been fractured and the movement failed to unite in their primary goals. But it wasn’t a simple shift in the public understanding of women’s role in society; many psychologists at the time including supporters of Freud suggested that “political feminism [is defined] as an evil which by encouraging women in their drives for economic independence and into denying the need for male protection were attempting to remove the beneficial ‘economic drives’ that were such a bulwark to marriage and family” (Bullogh, 1980, pg. 68). Given that sex was understood through the medicalised discourse during this time period the opinions of these ‘experts’ were minimally challenged until the second wave of feminism. The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s brought about new understandings of the existing gender order. Spurred by the release of The Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan) as well as the re-release of de Beauvoir’s iconic The Second Sex (1948) a new wave of feminist activists began (or continued) fighting towards an end to discrimination based off perceived biological differences (Macionis & Plummer, 2012, pg. 406). It was during this period that the anti-humanist sentiment began its discourse; Braidotti argues that this occurred as a response to “the many failed political experiments of the twentieth century. Fascism and the Holocaust on the one hand, Communism and the Gulag on the other” (Braidotti, 2013, pg. 17). Both these political ideologies were a stark departure from the humanism of Europe; Fascism represented a ruthless rejection of human reason while Communism was seen as the winners of the Second World War and the ideology came to be emblematic of the defeat of fascism across Europe. Criticisms against both patriarchy and capitalism were strong during this time as the public pushed against religious, legal, medical, familial and political restrictions of the past. Hekma & Giami posits that it was at this time that “the holy triangle of marriage, reproduction and heterosexuality as foundations for sex was broke, and love and pleasure became its essential reference points” (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 10). New technologies, new forms of media and rising globalisation all contributed to the sexual revolution which allowed women greater autonomy over their own bodies. During this sexual revolution the notion of equality was a driving factor with women pushing for the same sexual subjectivity afforded to men. While many changes occur, my main argument here is that the sexual liberation women believed they achieved was actually a new realm for patriarchy to conquer. We can see the impact of that through the recent #metoo movement. The #metoo movement became a global talking point in 2017; however the initial origins of the movement date back to 2006. The popularity of the movement in 2017 was sparked by a tweet shared by actress Alyssa Milano that stated: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”. The response was overwhelming and within 24 hours there were over 11,000 retweets and 30,000 responses, continuing to grow in the weeks and months that followed (Haynes, 2017). For many modern women sexual harassment is commonplace and normal, so much so that this movement was unprecedented in its global reach emphasising the universal nature of patriarchal sexism. An article in The Times suggested that the liberation movement of the 60s was understood as an open sexual availability of all women; “The only sexual rule today is ‘consent’, and men have been taught that women are potentially always sexually available because that is what ‘liberation’ means” (Quinn cited in Badham, 2018). The images produced by the media during this time underwent a dramatic change and rode the wave of sexual liberation all the way into the 21st century. The increase of sexualised media had a gendered aspect and there were more images and cultural objects being produced that had direct impacts on the public perception of women in society (Hekma & Giami, 2014, pg. 12). Since the mid 20th century, the media has played a significant role in the socialisation process. The #metoo movement was attempting to highlight the prevalence of rape culture within our society, the silent biopower controlling the way bodies operate in the social world. Social commentator Clementine Ford suggests “Rape culture doesn’t refer to a system in which sexual violence is being overtly encouraged or taught. Rather, it characterises a society in which the impact of sexual violence is not only minimised but the definition of what constitutes ‘real’ sexual assault is considered up for public debate and scrutiny” (Ford, 2018, pg. 293). There are countless examples stemming from a number of different contexts around the world that exemplify this rape culture, and the rise of social media has allowed for a conversation to occur. Resistance is coming from both sides; those who have been marginalised are standing up and speaking out, while those who continue to hold the power are not willing to give it up without a fight.


Acker, J, 2004, ‘Gender, Capitalism and Globalization’, Critical Sociology, Vol 30, No. 1, pp. 17-41)
Badham, V, 2018, ‘That’s patriarchy: how female sexual liberation led to male sexual entitlement’, The Guardian, 2 February 2018, < https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/02/thats-patriarchy-how-female-sexual-liberation-led-to-male-sexual-entitlement&gt;
Baumeister, R & Twenge, J, 2002, ‘Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality’, Review of General Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 166-203
Bennett, T, 2013, ‘Making Culture, Organising Freedom, Changing Society’, Making Culture, Changing Society, Routeledge, London, pp. 23-48
Braidotti, R, 2013, ‘Post-Humanism: Life beyond the Self’, in Posthuman, Polity Press, Oxford, pp. 13-54
Bullogh, V, 1980, ‘Technology and Female Sexuality and Physiology: Some Implications’, The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 59-71
Christ, C, 2016, ‘A New Definition of Patriarchy: Control of Women’s Sexuality, Private Property, and War’, Feminist Theology, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 214-225
De Beauvoir, S (Translated by Borde, C & Malovany-Chevallier, S), The Second Sex, Vintage, London
Dempsey, D & Lindsay, J, 2014, ‘Relationships and Families Over Time’ in Families, Relationships and Intimate Life, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne
Ford, C, 2018, Boys Will Be Boys, Allen & Unwin, Sydney
Foucault, M, 1976, The History of Sexuality Volume 1, Harmondsworth England
Foucault, M, 1988, ‘The Object of Pleasure’, in The History of Sexuality Volume 2, Pantheon Books, NY, pp. 215-225
Foucault, M, 2008, ’17 January 1979’ in The Birth of Biopolitics Lectures at the College de France, 1978-79, Basingstoke England; New York Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 27-50
Giddens, A, 1993, ‘Romantic Love and Other Attachements’, in The transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies’, Polity Press, pp. 37-48
Hekma, G & Giami, A, 2014, ‘Sexual Revolutions: An Introduction’, in Hekma, G & Giamia, A (eds), Sexual Revolutions, Palgrave Macmillan, UK, pp. 1-24
Holland, J, Ramazanoglu, C, Sharpe, s & Thomson, R, 1994, ‘Power and Desire: The Embodiment of Female Sexuality’, Feminist Review, No, 46, pp. 21-38
Jasanoff, S & Kim, SH, 2015, ‘Future Imperfect: Science, Technology, and the Imaginations of Modernity’, in Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power, The University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-33
Laite, J, 2017, ‘Between Scylla and Charybdis: Women’s Labour Migration and Sex Trafficking in the Early Twentieth Century’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 37-65
Macionis & Plummer, 2012, Sociology, 5th Edition, Pearson Education Limited, Essex
Prasad, R, 2019, ‘Eight ways the world is not designed for women’, BBC News US & Canada, 5 June 2019, < https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47725946&gt;
Price, M, Pound, N & Scott, I, 2014, ‘Female Economic Dependence and the Morality of Promiscuity’, Archives on Sexual Behaviour, Vol. 43, pp. 1289-1301
Valentish, J, 2017, ‘A Call to Arms: How drug and alcohol research and treatment fail women’ in Woman of Substances, Schwartz Publishing, pp.271-281

Censorship and Subjectivity: Identity Construction in Online Spaces-2019

The way in which we interact, consume and produce media has changed dramatically in the 21st century. The influence of the media in the way in which we construct our identities is dramatically changing, especially in the identity construction of young boys and girls. The rise of social media has created a new economy of the self, where ‘likes have become the new metric for evaluating self-worth’, particularly in adolescents. Within the discourse surrounding social media use, it is often young women who are criticised for the way in which they are choosing to (re)present themselves in online spaces. The way in which we all curate our public selves is part of this new economy of the self, however there is clearly a difference in the representation and policing of content between the genders. Within a patriarchal capitalist society, the female body has been objectified and commodified in order to sell anything from make-up and clothes, to burgers, booze and even vegetarianism.

The prevalence of social media and the permeation into everyday life is challenging the status quo of image production, which has historically been dominated by the male gaze stemming from the patriarchal perspective. Social media is reinterpreting the user as both subject and object simultaneously, and female ‘artistis’/users are attempting to take back agency and autonomy of their bodies through digitised virtual spaces. From the perspective of Braidotti, this is an example of “a new form of materialism that emphasized the embodied and therefore sexually differentiated structure of the speaking subject” (Braidotti cited in Echavarria Alvarez, 2008, pg. 23). Rather than woman as ‘Other’, social media is a way for women to explore their own subjectivity presenting themselves in an individualised way that takes into account different cultural intersections. Not just women, but other minorities are able to have a voice in the way that they are constructed online. Braidotti discusses her anti-humanist understanding of human subjectivity as a rejection of the Eurocentric, male ‘default’ understanding of humanity. Modern image construction takes a literal form in the online world and may be seen as a departure away from phallogocentric definitions of ‘Woman as Other’. Braidotti reflecting on the work of Irigaray, discusses the unrepresentability of women stemming from the colonisation of the feminine by the male imaginary. This male-centred understanding of ‘woman’ has shaped the modern social world and many social and cultural norms are reflected in the community guidelines of social media platforms. The following part of the essay will look specifically at the platform Instagram, and the sexist contradictions present within their terms of use.

Gendered double standards that exist within our society are especially obvious when looking at acceptable sexual behaviour among the genders in adolescents. The concepts of both boyhood and girlhood are modern concepts that carry different meaning in today’s understanding of ‘the self’. In the wake of ‘post-feminism’ neoliberal ideas push for a more individual responsibility of the self, in which girls are held more accountable for their actions and ‘being’ than that of boys. The use of social media is a new way for young people to explore different identities, while also being exposed to different forms of self-expression from a range of different contexts. Instagram is the most popular photo-sharing app in the world with over 1 billion users currently registered around the world (Carman, 2018). Their Community Guidelines in respect to nudity and sexuality states:
We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples but photos of post mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of painting and sculptures are ok
(Instagram, 2019)

The censorship of female bodies is much more prevalent than that of male bodies, and the nipple exemplifies this perfect. The way in which the female body is commodified for public marketing and consumption is telling of the control that men seek over women in order to assert their masculinity. When looking at the images and messaged from society in regards to the female body the nipple is always censored, not the whole breast, but the nipple. The female nipple is no different than the male nipple, so we can see that it is not the nipple itself that is offensive. Unlike the male nipple, the female nipple actually serves a function and helps facilitate life, yet it is still removed from online spaces. Biased censorship of women’s body’s teaches girls that they are sexual beings; that regardless of the artist/users own perspective; female nipples are sexual and may never be seen outside of a sexual context. This gendered censorship is sending different messages to young boys and young girls; girls will learn that their bodies are shameful and sexual while boy’s bodies are invisible in the conversation. Women are experiencing censorship in the online world which is impacting how they are in the real world. Social media is like a double edged sword when it comes to the critical response to patriarchal world views; on one hand social media is opening up to different interpretations of femininity, embodiment, gender and self-identity to anyone who has access to a smart device and the internet, and on the other it is a space in which power is exercised through censorship ensuring women conform to the gender role assigned to their physical body; a sexual being.


Braidotti, R, 2013, ‘Post-Humanism: Life beyond the Self’, in The Posthuman, pp13-54, Cambridge; Polity Press

Braidotti, R, 2003, ‘Becoming Woman: Or Sexual Difference Revisited’, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 43-64

Carman, A, 2018, ‘Instagram now has 1 billion users worldwide’, The Verge, 20 June 2018, viewed online 17 June 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/20/17484420/instagram-users-one-billion-count

Echavarria Alvarez, J, 2008, ‘Telling Different Stories: Subjectivity and Feminist Identity Politics’, The Virtual Peace Library of the UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies, viewed online 18 June 2019, https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjooYyuuPziAhUCU30KHbLPAscQFjAAegQIAhAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.uibk.ac.at%2Fpeacestudies%2Fdownloads%2Fpeacelibrary%2Ftellingstories.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1tOz5Piub7ZQnVvNfkDS2N

Instagram, 2019, Instagram Help Centre, Instagram, viewed 14 June 2019, < https://help.instagram.com/&gt;

Film Analysis: The Piano-2018

“You know I am thinking of the piano. She does not play the Piano as we do Nessie… No, she’s a strange creature and her playing is strange, like a mood that passes into you… To have a sound creep inside you is not at all pleasant” -Aunt Morag

Within the Gothic trope power structures and sexuality are so intertwined that is almost impossible to separate the two (Hendershot, 1998, pg. 97). For this reason the relationships in The Piano are interesting for analysis as Campion has attempted to challenge this within the movie. There is no explanation offered as to why Ada stopped speaking at the age of 6. But her muteness perhaps represents all women during that time; lacking discursive power within broader society. It was inconceivable during that era for women to be autonomous agentic beings; instead they were expected to be docile, domestic mothers producing and rearing children for their husbands. In the opening scene we see the world through Ada’s eyes, she is looking through her fingers, held up to her face like bars in a prison. This mute personal prison is Ada’s private way of protesting against oppressive patriarchy. Ada appears to be a passive spectator rather than a participant in the real world, highlighting her isolation in Scotland and later New Zealand. Ada’s power in her muteness is paradoxical in regards to the Gothic trope as Moers suggests that the “Female Gothic as the mode par excellence that female writers have employed to give voice to women’s deep-rooted fears about their own powerlessness and imprisonment within patriarchy” (Moers cited in Brabon and Genz, 2009, pg. 5, my own emphasis added). The rejection of the paternal language and the use of other means, including the piano as a substitute suggest that Ada’s will is much stronger than was to be expected of a woman of that time. Flora confirms her mother’s understanding of her power in silence when she tells the other women “Mother says that most people speak rubbish and it’s not worth it to listen”, shocking the other women in the room who are (consciously or unconsciously) participating subordinately within the oppressive system. This essay will be exploring a number of different ways in which Ada expresses what escapes the bounds of conventional language through the body; including the impacts of colonialism and patriarchy on men within the system; the relationship between mother and daughter; and finishing with a brief discussion about the affair between Ada and Baines.

The body as a form of language is extremely prevalent throughout the film, not just through Ada but an analysis of all the main characters show interesting undercurrents of meaning. There are several clues to suggest that Stewart is very much like Ada’s father in terms of epitomising privilege by both being heterosexual, white, colonial men. Stewart doesn’t appear to be inherently evil, rather he is the perfect product of his time. We know her father upholds similar values in regards to women as property as is made evident by the sale of his own daughter (and grand-daughter) to a man neither had met on the other side of the world. It is due to Stewart’s conviction to uphold the social order that makes him obsessed with property and incapable of seeing his wife as anything other than another object to be owned. Hendershot suggests that due to his capitalist, patriarchal view of the world “Stewart can have relations only with an aestheticised Ada whom he can control through representation” (Hendershot, 1998, pg. 98). Ada is quick to pick up on the controlling nature of her ignorant husband as seen in their first interaction with one another. During this first encounter Ada uses her body, her daughter and her note-writing, to communicate to Stewart the importance of the piano to her. When Stewart, Baines and the Maoris first discover Ada and her daughter on the beach Stewart looks visibly disappointed in his mail-order bride, as we watch him survey Ada and Flora’s belongings strewn across the beach. This scene sets the tone for the future relationship between Ada and Stewart. It is clear Stewart views everything on the beach as his new acquired property including Ada herself; there is no distinction made between the way Stewart observes her or her (now his) possessions. Prior to arriving at the beach Stewart makes a pitstop in the jungle to adjust his hair using an image of Ada as a mirror, this is an indication of what Stewart is expecting when he meets his new wife: ultimately when he looks at her he is expecting to see himself (re: representation discussed by Hendershot). Through the use of her body we see that Ada is clearly made uncomfortable by her new husband, she is rigid, stiff and timid. Stewart’s blatant ignorance towards both her and her piano results in an irreversible impact on their relationship. Stewart uncompromisingly declares the piano too heavy to be transported and decides it’s best to leave it on the beach. Ada attempts to communicate in a language which her husband understands, in the form of a note delivered via her daughter Flora, who acts as a barrier between Ada and Stewart. Bainbridge suggests that this is a tactical move as “Ada is situated outside the symbolic realm of language and discourse, her daughter Flora clearly is not” (Bainbridge, 2008, pg. 170). Stewart reasserts his patriarchal power by ignoring his wife’s insistent request and it’s this exact power, and lack of understanding of his privilege which ultimately results in the Ada’s rejection of her husband Stewart.

The connection between mother and daughter is vital to the diegetic image and without Flora as moderator between her mother and the outside world Ada’s language would have been conveyed to the audience with meaning and/or emotion. When we hear the childlike ‘inner voice’ of Ada at both the beginning and end of the film we are really hearing Flora’s voice. Indicating that Flora acts as her mother’s mouthpiece: she is her mother’s physical voice. Flora is both an extension of her mother yet also engages in her own subjectivity, which transforms over the space of the film. The transformation occurs when Ada’s desire for her piano, for herself to be completely whole, threatens the bond between mother and daughter; when Flora feels herself losing her mother’s monopolised love. There is a visual and embodied mimesis between mother and daughter, seen through costuming, mannerisms, actions and ‘motherliness’ (scenes where it appears the mother/daughter roles have been reversed). We see the mimesis in action during the scene in which Ada and Flora approach Baines to ask him to assist in retrieving the piano from the beach. Their costumes and mannerisms are completely in sync and it is clear the bond between mother and daughter goes beyond an act of ventriloquism. This mimesis is extended to the next scene after which Baines has changed his mind about taking the pair back to the piano on the beach. The joy that Ada experiences once reunited with the piano is visibly shared with her daughter and it is the first time in the film we see both of them truly happy. Baines was the only person to witness this joyful moment for the mother and daughter and is crucial to understanding the affair between Baines and Ada.

As Baines bore witness to the joyous display on the beach when the girls were reunited with their piano, he saw the intensity to which Ada and Flora expressed their delight. He understood through their expressions the importance of the piano, and the desire Ada possessed for it. Baines eventually trades his property for pleasure, when he traded the land for the piano, he understood the desire Ada has for her piano. Through Lacanian subjectivity, Baines discovered he desired the piano as much as she: “my desire is the desire of the other” (Bihlmeyer, 2003, pg. 23). While their affair began from an abuse of power on behalf of Baines, there are a number of ways in which the actions of Ada could be interpreted. Bainbridge suggests that the way Ada uses her body in her exchanges, not just with Baines but also with her husband, is in relation to her “creating an economy of her own which centres on the piano” (Bainbridge, 2008, pg. 158). The bargain struck up between Baines and Ada is the first interaction in which Ada is given a chance to participate in capitalism, within her own economy. Baines acknowledges the autonomy of her body (to a point) and allows a deal to be made between the two in which she will play for him in exchange for the eventual return of her piano. The couple eventually appear to have a ‘mutual love’ for one another however it is unclear whether the love that Ada feels for Baines is genuine or whether Ada is just making the most of a bad situation, making a choice between the lesser of two evils (Baines & Stewart). Stoltenberg argues “In a patriarchal system like the western one, dominance, subordination, force and violence must be made to feel like love and sex in order to produce gendered inequality” (cited in DuPuis, 1996, pg. 71). Although it was a different time, it is hard to comprehend that an intelligent woman would eventually fall in love with her manipulative rapist without some level of coercion being exercised.
There were a number of ways our Gothic Heroine used her body to express herself, as well as the other characters and the relationships between them. It appears by the end of the film that Ada has broken free from her personal prison, thanks to the ‘love’ between her and Baines, this (and the rest of the movie), however, are always open to new interpretations and readings.

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DuPuis, R, 1996, ‘Romanticising Colonialism: Power and Pleasure in Jane Campions The Piano’, viewed online 22 October 2018, < https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/5102311.pdf&gt;
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The Piano [1993], Jan Chapman Productions

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Jay, B, ‘”All Imperfect Things”: Motherhood and the Aesthetics of Ambivalence in The Piano, viewed online 27 October 2018, < https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/scope/documents/2006/february-2006/jay.pdf&gt;
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Jenkins, M, 1995, ‘The Piano, and the Tragedy of Possession: An Ecofeminist Perspective’, The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, Vol 12, No. 4, viewed online 24 October 2018, < http://trumpeter.athabascau.ca/index.php/trumpet/article/view/295/436?fbclid=IwAR1iZdgsCCWgi47cdHOSQXTx6VlEIaOISC2jE-_ROVlbhmg4qYQ0VdxtHlI&gt;
Perez Riu, C, 2000, ‘Two Gothic Feminist Texts: Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and the film, The Piano, by Jane Campion’, Atlantic, revista de la asociacion Espanola de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, Vol 22. No. 1, pp. 163+
Ritchie, S, ‘One Groups Experience of ‘Translation’ of the Unarticulated Symptom through the Narrative of the Film The Piano’, Group Analysis, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp, 84-97
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