Why is it that the female art historical figures are always seen as passive if they aren’t staring at the viewer. Male subjects can be looking wherever and no one analyzed them as “passive”. They even have that special word for them: contrapposto. I think it is due to the fact that the femme figure is already considered passive at inception. She never had a chance. Unless a woman is displayed doing something specifically assertive, they are subjected to the viewers desire- she has no autonomy.
As a woman creating work and specifically feminist work, I often get approached with the same critique. People believe me to be objectifying myself. This is mostly a statement I receive from white men- typically older, and some white women. While my male counterpart is not asked this question, I am stumped finding the words to answer. Why does me making art with my body incorporated mean I’m inherently sexualising or objectifying myself? Why can’t this mean I’m placing a higher value of myself by putting her on a gallery wall? Is it strictly when I’m nude or is any self portrait I make through the male gaze? This concept is outdated. Gender is arbitrary and the roles placed on those ideals constricts the way we view art history and theory. If our historians searched for other reasons women in history are displayed as they are, it could be seen as the opposite. Perhaps the woman looking away is doing so to avoid objectification. As when I am in public and someone is creepy, I avert my eyes. It gives me power over said person by controlling my perspective of the situation. It does not mean I’m passively letting a man stare, but that I am doing whatever is in my power to make the situation better for myself. Our Eurocentric, misogynistic approach to history and theory-in this case, pertaining to the arts- has left out important voices and perspectives. The way we tell these things provokes inherent racism and sexism in generations to come. While is isn’t a definitive, many male artists I have encountered look for strictly beauty in a partner- not personality and specifically they tend to date what could be seen by other men as "passive characters". So often these make artists only learn about art through the eyes of a system that benefits them. It’s a perfect display of the issues we face today.