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Working Women Essay

2683 words - 11 pages

“Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism,” wrote American journalist and women’s rights advocate Margaret Fuller in 1843, “there is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman... Nature provides exceptions to every rule.” (((Margaret Fuller, Jeffrey Steele, The Essential Margaret Fuller, Page 310, American Women Writers, 1992))). Her statement during the mid-nineteenth-century was symptomatic of the changing dynamics of the traditional household and workplace in Western Europe and North America as a result of rapid industrialisation, and improvements in education and medical standards. This essay will discuss how women who took part in this transformation ...view middle of the document...

Around the same time, the Realism art movement expanded from France, based on the depiction subject matter truthfully, following the overthrow of Louis Philippe and the bloody workers rebellion known as the June Days Uprising in 1848 [REFERENCE: Change in Rural France in the Period of Industrialization, 1830-1914].
Courbet, Millet and Degas thought of themselves as realist artists, although the latter is often considered one of the founders of impressionism [Gordon, Robert; Forge, Andrew (1988). Degas. New York: Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-1142-6], and I believe they each depicted working women as sexually available and promiscuous. Degas’ The Ironers is loaded with sexual iconography. There is a strategically positioned yellow scarf filled in a bold yellow adorning the woman on the left draws the attention of the reader, in a V-shaped direction, to the woman’s breasts. The same female has plump red lips and her mouth is gapping open suggesting the simulation of oral sex. Even the woman next to her is positioned with her upper body leaning forward, her hind pointing outwards and, I assume, her ankles raised – suggesting a sexual mating position. Art critic and Impressionist supporter Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans [1848-1907] picked up on the sexual nature of Degas depiction of working class women by saying: “how charming some among them are… with a special beauty, made of lower class vulgarity and a grace! These tramps who iron or carry linen… are ravishing, even divine [REFERENCE: Eunice Lipton, Looking at Degas, pp.116-150, PAGE 140 ].” Art historian Eunice Lipton, also, pointed to the ironers “languid eyes, and faintly swollen lids” as indicative of the Degas’ attempts to make the working women “indirectly” seductive [REFERENCE: Eunice Lipton, Looking at Degas, pp.116-150]. In The Grain Sifters, Courbet’s sexual object has her back facing the viewer and she is wearing in a figure-hugging, bell-shaped red dress, exaggerating her young and slender body, as she kneels on the grounds in a sexually suggestive pose. I believe woman’s clothing is a deliberate attempt by Courbet to stimulate sexual connotations because the nineteenth-century was a particularly period for fashion in Europe. Based partly on Immanuel Kant’s philosophical revelations regarding the aesthetic beauty of objects [REFERENCE: Beiser, Frederick C. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Harvard University Press, 1987], independent of moral or political motives, middle-class women in the 19th century became more conscious about the way they dressed, opting to dispel the large, ankle length dull, grey and black dresses for brighter garments with lower necklines and a more curvaceous fit, showing more of the sexual parts of their body as evidenced by the lengthening in the design of the corset to stabilise the abdomen and depict a new “princess” style [REFERENCE].
Feminist art historian Linda Nochlin suggests Courbet may have used the sieve-bearer as a...

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