Last week I attended the opening event for the exhibition See Jane Run which has definitely been one of the hot tickets in this years Headon Photo Festival. Four exceptionally talented and gracious women photographers (Emma Phillips, Julie Sundberg, Anna Warr and Fiona Wolf) have collaborated in presenting an exhibition which examines the effects of violence towards women and the media which often perpetrates the negative stereotypical imagery that engenders it. The work by each of the female artists is strong and poignant and unabashed at getting its message across...It is not hard to see visually but in the case of my dear friend Julie Sundberg's imagery I found it hard to deal with emotionally.
Her work literally made me cry as I looked at the struggle of the young woman depicted in the photographs...the young woman is Sheena Sundberg, Julie's daughter, who at the time was suffering from an eating disorder.
Sheena, who now is an extremely talented writer and an absolutely beautiful 23 year old woman appears in the photographs as a fourteen year old girl struggling to lift weights that are simply too heavy for her emaciated frame. Clothed as she is in Victorian era garb one wonders what messages had been able to penetrate her psyche to cause her such pain that had not been first rigorously rejected by her loving and intelligent parents.
But that is the point of Sundberg's work really...the pervasiveness of media stereotyping can simply over ride every barrier a thinking adult can create to protect their child.
Beside the photographs of Sheena, Sundberg has a television monitor showing a constant barrage of advertising images depicting women's legs as disembodied body parts randomly spread across the page in stilettos and fishnets, of women bent over with objects being thrust into their derrieres and as women with perfect skin and bodies acting simply as the ciphers of men's desires.
Its seems we have travelled little distance in the brokering of equality between the sexes. At another exhibition I attended several months ago I was astonished to become embroiled in a debate with a 34 year old black Canadian woman whose remarkable intelligence and ability had bought her to Australia to work with Aboriginal women.
Whilst chatting to her after an exhibition of the Canadian Aboriginal artist Scott Benesiinaabandan, she, without attempting irony or provocation, stated simply that she had no future after the age of forty. On further discussion we conceded that the media depiction of women clearly sent this strong negative message to young women across the globe.
So it appears we as women can never win.
Not even the Prime Minister of Australia can escape the scathing criticism of her appearance. She is in the top job in the country because she has the ability to lead the government...Not because of what she looks like...Though I wonder if she happened to look like Elle MacPherson whether anyone would take her seriously anyway...
From when we first approach womanhood as an adolescent, to our approaching of middle age we are somehow judged against impossible criteria and standards. We as women are some how always judged as lacking and the perception is that if you play to a male fantasy and of course buy the right products, clothes, perfumes, cosmetics and even body parts like breasts or botox, then you can also achieve the impossible standards. Standards set by advertising executives who are (surprise surprise) overwhelmingly wealthy white men.
So how do we address this incredible imbalance then? Perhaps a feminist backlash is again necessary to remind the world that the imequality between men and women is still palpable...
I for one would love to hear your suggestions...