Lust am Prekären? Gefallen(d)e Frauen

  • Sigrid Ruby


Joyful Precariousness? Pleasing Fallen Women

In the summer of 2011, two events concerning the rights of women to uninhibitedly expose their bodies and put their sex appeal on show received wide coverage in German public media. Thousands of “slutwalkers” walked the streets of metropolises all over the world to protest against sexual harassment and to assert the right of women to dress or undress as they please. Also in 2011, members of the German national women soccer team posed for sexually explicit photographs to be published in the July issue of Playboy magazine. In both instances, different as they were, the women tried to empower themselves through images of their bodies in order to frustrate or destabilize misogynist stereotypes as well as potential denunciations and infringements resulting from these. However, for a woman to offer her more or less naked body for sexually enticing images is a precarious strategy that runs the risk of corroborating what it seeks to challenge. Apparently, the female body itself is still a spectacle of precariousness, of semantic ambiguity as to whose body is being depicted for whom to see, decipher, and deal with, and to what end. Clear-cut interpretations appear to be preferred, though, by the majority now and then, particularly in the wake of the historical prevalence of the bourgeoisie. Looking at selected art works from the Early Modern period, which were blithely assumed to be portraits of mistresses or courtesans, reveals that ambiguous female nakedness tends to be hard to accept. The traditional connection of Biblical sin with enticing female nakedness makes for prejudiced images of mistresses and prostitutes that do not have much to do with the historical reality of the women who actually engaged in these precarious social roles and who often did not have the means to take care of their own imagery and personal memory. Sexually explicit images of female bodies thus have a long-standing tradition of being linked to deviancy, social discrimination, and moral denunciation directed at particular role models but also at women in general. Contemporary inventions of mass media visual culture – be it a slut or a playmate – will hardly lead out of this dead end.