The male gaze on women

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Jan 27 2013, 08:39am hrs
Did a nude male model pose for students in your art class Piyul Mukherjee, my friend and reader, enquired. I had to admit in the negative. My minds eye went back to model Satish whod stand on a pedestal wearing a pair of thin, loose shorts. Our Kolkata art college professor used to admonish him to adjust them properly so we could see nothing more. But women models were unclothed. I was explaining to Piyul that as an artist drawing a nude woman with all her curves and beauty was more interesting; mens straight lines were no challenge. Thats a male outlook. If women get a chance to draw a nude male, they may find different lines from a womans perspective. Her observation was surely profound. This, too, is a man-driven decision that art schools draw female bodies. Its never occurred to us to question why the male sex organ is a no-no. Male chauvinistic attitude in the art world tormented the incredibly great sculptress Camille Claudel I wrote about ( She ended up in a mental asylum till her death in 1943.

Curiously though, Michaelangelos fantastic 5.17 metre (17 ft) David, the archetype of all sculpture, has been openly baring male genitalia since the 15th century in Florence, Italy. But ironically just next door, the Vatican is prudish. Various Catholic Church Popes across 450 years have battled against the Phallic symbol. Slowly, but surely, theyve removed the genitals from valuable ancient Vatican statues in the name of preserving male modesty. Marble, plaster and metal fig leaves started appearing to cover up hacked body parts. In the 19th century, male statues not yet severed were destroyed because they constituted grave threat to the faithful. Today, every male statue youll see in this 2,000-year-old Papacy is castrated.

Its interesting to reflect on mens mania over female erotica, very rarely have they painted nude men. Edouard Manets famed 1863 painting Luncheon on the Grass has two well-dressed men sitting in front of a nude woman. In 19th century French artist Gustave Courbets painting, The Painters Studio (1855), youll find a nude woman posing as a model among many fully clothed people. He later painted Origin of the World (1866), an on-the-face close-up of female genitals. Hungariancollector BaronFerenc Hatvany bought the painting in 1910, Soviet troops in World War II stole it, he ransomed it back and when emigrating to Paris, he was allowed only one artwork, he took this. It sold for 1.5 million francs in 1955. When the new owner died in 1981, this painting was transferred to Muse dOrsay gallery in lieu of his unpaid family taxes. Its quite telling that we dont see such captivated interest in paintings of male genitals.

Hidden in the male painters obsession to draw nude women could be to expose womens mystic sensitivity juxtaposed against mens harsh character. Paintings from master artists have discovered the beauty of women on canvas. But mens bigoted character didnt allow them to pose nude for women artists to paint their feelings about nude men. Perhaps society missed mens hidden beauty painted by women. Piyuls remark was so interesting its inspired me to eulogise the female form in art.

Its true that from different societal angles, women have always been at the mercy of men. Lets come to India where Ive often heard loose talk about rape being somehow the womans fault. If a woman is seen at night, legitimately being dropped by a colleague, then walking to join her husband in another car, her character is immediately construed to be hanky-panky. Casting aspersions like this spreads like wildfire, prejudices people, and easily commoditises womens dignity. The 24% increase in Delhi rape cases in 2012 is alarming. Whats worse, in 96% rape cases, relatives and acquaintances were involved. Psychologists have commented that some men find it easy to satisfy their basic needs of food, thirst and sex within the home; if women get better opportunities, it makes them insecure, and hurt male egos lead to violence against women.

She should know how to conduct herself; she should know how to dress are standard biased remarks even if the victim is a child or sari-wearing housewife. Puritan women support this unjust mentality too that women should follow certain social rules for her own safety because shes ultimately responsible for anything wrong happening to her. Take these words Id expressed in my last weeks column, Disrespect to women got ingrained in the Indian male psyche when Draupadis eldest husband gambled her away like an object in a dice game he lost. A male reader wrote saying he highly disagreed with me, and that society remembers Lord Krishna saving her and deploring the act by celebrating Rakhi, the brother-sister relationship between Krishna and Draupadi. However, in spite of the exploitation and disregard for womanhood by the Pandava brothers who gambled away their common wife, why do we continue to revere them in the mythological Mahabharata

Even in a small sociological study I recently did, the primary expectation of 30- to 40-year-old men from the wife is: Be respectful of my parents culture and values even if theyre sometimes wrong or you dont agree. Manage good relationships with relatives. Yes, pursue a career, but family comes first. His personal requirement is her being beautiful, sensible, not self-centered, caring about his feelings, being loyal, transparent, truthful and childish to enjoy lifes every facet. From childhood, compared to her brother, a girl is generally conditioned to accept her secondary temporary guest position in her fathers home, so falling in line to her husbands demands may not be considered so difficult.

Indias National Crime Record Bureau reported 2,28,650 crime incidents against women in 2011. Due to social stigma of being taunted, ostracised or looked down upon by family and friends, many more are not reported. Comments that make women vulnerable endanger their safety. Men should encourage the idea of Respect and Save Women, not degrade a woman, even if shes a sex worker.

Shombit Sengupta is an international Creative Business Strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at