Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

The reduction of woman to her body

Lilijana Burcar, University of Ljubljana

A footnote to "Mapping the Woman's Body in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient"

The reduction of woman to her body undergoes its ultimate enactment in the advertising industry where an archetypal female model implies a decontextualised woman that is cast outside any specific setting and deprived of individuality features, but locked into/petrified in the coy position of her body. The eradication of her individuality features is most frequently secured through an absence of facial expression considered to be a key-encoder of one's personality. Removal of personal history from the woman's face leads to an imposition of a wax-like mask, which allows for meanings of all kinds to flow through the figures of women so that they can attest to the identity and values associated with somebody or something else. In this vein, ads for women's perfumes would typically zoom in on the facial close-up, but then partially obscure its features by means of tight framing, the graininess or soft-focus image. The viewer is thus invited to impose on woman as an empty sign the fantasy stirred by a brand name behind or above which hovers the woman's face or figure. In addition to being divested of her personality, which is never the case with men for they radiate self-contained individuality and display active and vibrant poses, a woman is also extrapolated from reality by the absence of location or its exotic mysteriousness. A model is always cast in sculpted and languorous poses and is never engaged in an activity other than narcissistic or vacant self-contemplation. By contrast, men are always defined in relation to leisure activities, whether sporting or musical, and accompanying objects such as a saxophone or basketball, which are guaranteed to point to and retain their individualism. Unlike the female subject that is reincarnated as a pure fantasy on the account of signifying with its decontextualised body and which can therefore be easily hustled from one location to another, men's style advertisements set in overseas locations must feature indigenous, native models to avoid jeopardising a man's sense of his authentic individuality (Macdonald 1995: 105-111).

Postcolonial Web Canada Michael Ondaatje PoCo Theory Gender Matters Bibliography