Session 6b: Ambiguities Revealed
Chair: Adam Kaasa
The Symbolic Violence of ‘Protecting’ Women From Sexual Abuse
Department of Sociology, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
In the UK, there is a plethora of literature disseminated by state voluntary agencies, aimed at advising women on how to avoid sexual violence. This literature, compounded by print media coverage of the sexual abuse of women, overwhelmingly implies that it is the responsibility of the woman to avoid potentially violent situations. This paper therefore draws on women’s safety advice literature and on newspaper reports of sexual violence in order to illustrate the way in which women are subjected to symbolic violence. The discourses reiterated in both the safety advice and media reports play on and exacerbate fear of crime, not only subjecting women to a form of social control but also under the guise of ‘commonsense’, creating an implicit division between women who follow the advice and those who do not. Furthermore, as a result of these public discourses, women are often persuaded that they should behave in a particular way – for example, by avoiding public spaces. In relation to Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence, such behaviour may be seen as a form of consent to domination. This is not a conscious consent but due to a ‘tacit and practical belief made possible by the habituation which arises from the training of the body’ (Bourdieu 2000: 172).
The onus is therefore placed on women to protect themselves from sexual violence, rather than on men to avoid committing it. Failure to comply with this well-meant ‘advice’ results in the woman victim of sexual abuse being seen as to blame in some way, while much of the blame is removed from the male perpetrator. The status quo is thereby maintained by reiteration of the dominant position – that it is incumbent on women to take precautions rather than on men to take control (of themselves). The censure heaped upon women who appear not to behave ‘sensibly’ and who become victims of sexual abuse, indicates that even before the obvious violence takes place, women are subjected to a legitimate form of power through which symbolic violence can be exercised.
Polite Eroticism and Sexual Ambiguity: The Curious Case of Dora Gordine
Research Fellow in History of Art, DorichHouseMuseum, KingstonUniversity, London, United Kingdom
This proposal grows from my research on Dora Gordine, a major 20th century British sculptor, as Research Fellow based at Dorich House, the home she had built for her in 1936 and where she lived until her death in 1991. The House is now a museum devoted to her sculpture owned by Kingston University. Born into a prosperous middle-class Anglophone German-Jewish family in Latvia, Gordine grew up in Estonia still a part of the Russian Empire. From an early age she identified with British culture, institutions and the English language. Though the Russian Revolution led to the death of her beloved father, she was able to remain in Estonia after WWI and with an Estonian passport moved to Paris in the mid 1920’s. There she moved into a studio in Montparnasse and former close friendships with British women artists such as the sculptor Hazel Armour and the painter Alison Debenham. In Paris she first came to public attention with the exhibition of so-called ‘exotic’ portrait heads such as The Chinese Philosopher (1925) and Guadeloupe Negress (1926-27) and ‘erotic’ nude figures of non-western European females such as Javanese Dancer (1927). However, from the outset, commentators on such works found it extremely difficult to assess how they fitted into the existing paradigm of the racially ‘exotic’ as eroticised and therefore compliantly available. Indeed, one British critic concluded that much of the ‘unnerving oddness’ of her work lay in their singularly elusive and ‘polite eroticism.’
In the light of such conflicted readings between the wars of Gordine’s work, this paper will explore the deliberately cultivated ambiguity of her sexual persona in both her life – her marriage in 1936 to latently homosexual British aristocrat the Honourable Richard Hare as well as close friendships with, pioneering travel writer Freya Stark; Decadent poet Arthur Symons and notorious roué Sultan Ibrahim ibn Abu Bakr of Johor and in her art i.e. in works depicting indigenous peoples of South-East Asia during the five years (1930-35) she lived in Singapore and in bronze figures of British servicemen depicted nude in the manner of classical Greek statuary such as Above Cloud (1945) modelled by the pilot of a Spitfire fighter aircraft. This paper will argue that Gordine’s imagining of male and female sexualities for the time was unusual for the degree to which it is distinguished by its ambiguity and even incoherence – a blurring of gender roles enhanced and accelerated by the lived experience of the Second World War
Erotic Servitude: Slave Unchained
Independent Scholar, United Kingdom
This paper uses erotic fiction to explore the themes of erotic servitude, power and pleasure. It is the story of a woman entering into a Master-slave relationship (as a slave) for the first time and discovering a side of her sexuality that is daunting, exciting and frighteningly powerful to her. The story traces the journey of the slave’s self-discovery and challenges Western cultural taboos, and norms around pleasure, fidelity, trust, identity and control. The tension of the writing is maintained in the questions of where the power lies in the relationship between Master and slave. It is deliberately ambiguous and mocking throughout the story, juxtaposing the slave’s submission with her ultimate sense of invincibility which emerges at the end. The session will involve a reading by the author, followed by space for a discussion of the themes between the author and audience / participants