Artists are normally asked to draw naked models to learn anatomy. Normally the models are women. When we ask, normally women, why we don’t get a man, one of the excuses is that he could have an erection and that would not be appropriate. Erect penises have been symbols of fertility since antiquity, and they are very prevalent in the art of certain cultures and periods. Also vulvas. I don’t know if it is known if anyone posed.
The fascination for naked bodies and sexual organs seems normal and healthy to me. It is after all the manifestation of one of our most powerful instincts. And in reality we are that, bodies, even if we then cover up with clothes.
So I understand that naked women are painted in art. I understand less why there aren’t as many naked men. I understand even less one of the greatest aesthetic dictatorships for women: the bra.
Thinking about all that, it occurs to me that giving birth lying down is only the norm since midwives started being substituted by men assisting birth during a very puritan period. I gave birth standing up, with the help of three wonderful midwives who didn’t seem to feel the need to stand underneath me to observe. And not because of any lack of rigour, because they checked the state of my bebushka systematically after each contraction. So much measuring bothered me, I wondered if it was really necessary.
What if the reasons for women to give birth lying down are not at all medical? What if it has more to do with the hidden pleasures of a bunch of repressed Victorians, which, with time and thoughtlessness has turned into the norm? A woman giving birth standing is a powerful image, a woman lying down on a hospital bed not so much. The first one owns her body, the second is at the mercy of others. Like the postures of models. They are rarely powerful, usually they are quite submissive.
John Berger said it already when he talked about the art of the Renaissance. Men that felt impotent amongst state concerns and intrigues found comfort in surrounding themselves with paintings of naked women. At least that way they could feel superior to someone. Looking around, it doesn’t seem like there has been much progress.
Illustration: “Seductress” from the Feminist Gooseneck Barnacles series.