– “Doctor…My ex-boyfriend is blackmailing me to get laid—those damn pictures.”
Thelma X. is a nice, good looking medical assistant that after a few failed romantic relationships has finally met what she considers “the man of her life.” They are living together now but they are carefully planning their wedding, so their respective traditional families give them their blessing. She is a proud Millennial who has smartly used the social media to enhance her personal life. Sadly, she had the bad idea of allowing her former boyfriend to take some suggestive poses of her during and after sexual intercourse, which at the time seemed like innocent confidential jokes.
The smartphones have democratized and cheapened the access to some forms of expression that had been the preserve of the moneyed classes for centuries: the sharing of racy, explicit portraits. We must remember that “L’origine du monde” –a tableau of the external aspect of an exuberant vulva made by the French painter Gustave Courbet in 1866—was commissioned by Khalil Bey, an Egyptian diplomat of the Ottoman Empire for his collection of erotic depictions of anatomy. Even some of the hung masterpieces in European museums have shown some hidden images of nude women and what not, a comic diversion of the artists, when they were examined with x-rays.
Unfortunately, many men have shown their pitiful willingness to take and send pictures of their penis to all kind of female recipients, some of them underage girls who were not expecting them; in the USA a few celebrities have faced social disgrace and criminal charges for this behavior. But this sorry habitude has spread worldwide. Last year I was appalled to learn that a friend of mine, a physician practicing Radiology in Buenos Aires who is divorced, had the occurrence of sending such a picture to his young girl-friend; he erred with the keyboard and sent it to his own daughter.
As another sign of the feminine empowerment in all aspects of life, the vulva became fair game. Laren Stover said in a recent article in “The New York Times” that: “the V-selfie, though very much here, is perhaps less insistent (than the male counterpart). Shared on dating apps or in texts, it has been sent to create longing and a sense of intimacy; a missive of lust and promise to lovers, or would-be lovers, who are separated.” The women that practice it see it as a bold and unequivocal statement that they are fully in charge of their sexuality and how they share it. Those images are also used in the virtual practice of “cyber-infidelity”, which may or may not end in an actual affair. Some exalted feminists are calling for the final baring of all the mysteries surrounding a woman.
When we were medical students in the University of La Plata, we had the opportunity to study anatomy with the excellent Testut-Latarjet textbook and the Necker illustrations, which did not elicit any kind of erotic arousal. Without the context of a smiling, enticing woman those illustrations were just what they were supposed to be: a learning tool.
Mary Cassatt was a gifted and brave American painter that joined the Impressionist movement right at the start as she chose to reside and work in Paris in the late nineteenth century; her often maligned work is now finally the subject of a great exposition in the Musee Jacquemart-Andre. Being a close friend of Eduard Degas, she was the inspiration for “The Box”, whose image honors this article. In the 1870s, women were not allowed to sit in the orchestra section of the Paris Opera and could only be accompanied by a man in the rear stalls in the matinee function, not the soiree.
In an article in “The London Review of Books” Julian Barnes said that: “at evening performances, women were allowed to attend in pairs or in groups, when they might sit together in the upper loges, or boxes. And needless to say, no respectable woman was allowed backstage, where only the entitled male—a self-declared ‘connoisseur’ of women, whether as lecher, or in rare cases, as painter—might tread.” The camouflaged yet explicit rules of the socially accepted manners of that time explain this painting.
“Degas had the freedom to place his focus anywhere in the theater…whereas Mary Cassatt, in paint as in person, was restricted to the view from the lodge. This: a woman in black is what her painting in ‘The Loge’ shows: a woman in black sitting in a theater box, holding a fan, leaning on a balcony rail and training her opera glasses on the (out-of-shot) stage. However, in the background, a curve of boxes away, a man is blatantly training her binoculars on her. ” The message is clear: men, and their eyes, rule here.
What do you want me to say? Whatever expression of freedom the feminist movement, which is really a succession of there major social upheavals during the past fifty years, has rightfully gained, it can, and will, be twisted by the malicious maneuvering of a still resilient patriarchal society. Young women should not delude themselves into assuming that they will always get an equitable treatment from society; they should be extremely careful of what they allow “to get out there” because there is a clear, always present danger that a mischievous male can, and will, blackmail them to his advantage. Unfair?
In a famous line of the great cable show “The Sopranos” in HBO, Tony rebukes AJ, his son, when the teenager dares to question an order from his father: “unfair? Life is not fair…Ask the victims from Katrina!” My children watched it diligently with me.
What do you think? Please tell us.
Dom’t leave me alone.