by Rachel Epp Buller
Well apparently, Barbie’s house is not such a dream after all. I’m working in Berlin for two months this summer, and there’s been quite a kerfuffle about the life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse that opened near Alexanderplatz in May. Organizers bill the Dreamhouse as a temporary theme park, but I think that may be overstating it slightly. The 2,500-square meter house is more like an expensive fun-house shopping experience – pay the money, walk through and see life-sized Barbie ensconced in her expansive pink world, bake virtual cupcakes on a touch screen, do some dress-up if you paid for the high-end VIP package, and then end your visit at the toy store.
By Rachel Epp Buller
One of the recurring themes in my “Women and Gender in Art History” class this semester has been the historical association of women with the domestic sphere. In the nineteenth century, we looked at examples of European art that addressed this clear cultural separation of spheres, where public = masculine and private = feminine. Of course, this cultural association of women with domesticity persisted throughout much of the twentieth century (think June Cleaver) and was cleverly marketed to women through seemingly endless inventions of domestic appliances and ever-better cleaning products.
By the 1970s, American feminist artists and writers began taking on the gendering of domesticity. Building on Betty Friedan’s arguments in The Feminine Mystique (1963), writers like Pat Mainardi critiqued the cultural assumptions that made cleaning a gendered imperative. In “The Politics of Housework” (1970), Mainardi examined the excuses used by her husband to avoid sharing the burden of household chores:
By Rachel Epp Buller
I witnessed a breakthrough this week, one of those “a-ha” moments that, as a teacher, is so terribly exciting. I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar this spring on Women and Gender in Art History. Since we’re a small school, though, we don’t have an art history major and many of my students come from non-art backgrounds. This means that most of the ideas and artists we’re talking about are brand-new for most of the students.
What was this “a-ha” moment? It was the realization, voiced by one of my students, that the display of women’s bodies that we see happening throughout the history of art is not really so different from the display of women’s bodies in contemporary popular culture. This may seem apparent to many of you readers, and the student in question was surprised herself that she had never made this connection. She is well-read in ideas of the male gaze, and considers herself savvy when it comes to critiquing mass media representations of women.
Breasts are everywhere in popular culture. This is nothing new. And yet I’ve been struck in recent years by the resurgence of the breastfeeding body in visual culture and contemporary art. It’s apparently a big deal (i.e., magazine-cover newsworthy) that Salma Hayek, Alanis Morrisette, Tori Spelling, Kourtney Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, Christina Aguilera, and many other celebrities breastfeed their babies.
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