In search of the female flâneur – (navel gazing part 1 or me looking at me looking at me)
Trying to find my direction between the purely descriptive and inserting myself into the city (which technically all of us do already). Came back to thinking, why do I do this? I remember when I first started making comics there was a desire in me to tell what I felt were untold stories, of being a young women out in the world contemplating through the philosophical and absurd. Certainly at the time of the dawn of the internet when media sources were local television and whatever magazines you could get hold of, that was valid. Now with websites, MySpace, Facebook, blogging, You Tube is there any personal narrative left untold? In a barrage of endless ‘photo-face’ photos there is ample opportunity to represent your own narrative in the public domain. Then what I began noticing is how many of us foreground ourselves physically in the narrative we tell. Why?
The tradition of self referential figuration of the protagonist, in usually filmic narratives, positions the reader/viewer as the invisible observer. It is a much rarer film narrative positioning where the reader views through the ‘eyes’ of the protagonist. Is it just this filmic tradition of narrative that was influencing this positioning of self? Since when writing in the first person should there be this constant awareness of our external appearance? If you think through your day in reality you are hardly confronted with your own image as opposed to those who we interact with. Could this be another form of embodying the male gaze – is this gaze so deeply embedded and embraced in our (patriarchal)(1) culture that I am, in creating my own narratives, objectifying myself? Or is it some kind of existentialist narcissism, in an attempt to prove my own existence?
So was re-re-reading John Berger’s seminal Ways of Seeing book (from the BBC series), he describes how historically women have lived “within an allotted and confined space, in the keeping of men” (2), and that this tendency to split the self in two has been grounded in surviving and being successful within the patriarchal society.
“One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”
This was written thirty seven years ago, and while in that time there has been even greater freedoms allowed to women (particularly in the developed world), I think it is still pertinent to reflect upon the historical effects of the patriarchal society upon the female psyche, to acknowledge this cultural conditioning maybe weaker than in 1972 but is still present. Certainly for me still a present construct that I can feel myself and see in the behaviour of other women in varying degrees. As with any oppressed group in history, the removal of legal and cultural limitations, is one step but real change in the construct of that oppression is much harder, as it has often been embodied by the oppressed.
(In a similar way the idea of meritocracy, gives us false belief that everyone is equally rewarded for their efforts, when in reality the pre condition of people is incredibly unequal, but the pretence of equality allows for personal economic failure to be blamed on the poor).
Think I’m getting off track here in trying to work my way through a pretty big bundle of ideas in my search of the (historically absent) female flâneur, female scopophilia (the pleasure derived from looking), its histories and politics.
(1)So now that I have used the ‘p’ word (patriarchal) officially for the first time in my blog, I think a bit of explaining myself: So, I am not going to talk about sexual difference to imply specialness, handicap or some crap about penis envy; this is more about understanding that (in a Western context) women have a different history to men. I am talking about access to society, education, opportunity and adventure (un-chaperoned outings)etc., think back one generation of women let alone three.
(2) Berger, John, Ways of Seeing, BBC and Penguin Books: London, 1972. p.45.
(3) Ibid, p.47
To clarify the term flâneur: “from the French masculine noun flâneur—which has the basic meanings of “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, “loafer”—which itself comes from the French verb flâner, which means “to stroll”. Charles Baudelaire developed a derived meaning of flâneur—that of “a person who walks the city in order to experience it”. Because of the term’s usage and theorization by Baudelaire and numerous thinkers in economic, cultural, literary and historical fields, the idea of the flâneur has accumulated significant meaning as a referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity.”
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Trained as a Fine Artist at the VCA in Melbourne, Australia, as well as studies in Accounting and Multimedia (Media Studies), my background is working with non-profit Arts organisations and in my own art publishing business. Since arriving in Berlin in 2010 I have worked in technology start-ups; managing online communities, communication and marketing.