Bodies on Display, Then and Now

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.