Pablo Picasso’s “Women of Algiers (Version O)” made headlines recently after it sold for a record-breaking $179.4 million at a Christie’s auction. The painting made headlines again after a local New York Fox news station censored the breasts of three women depicted in the piece.
New York’s Fox 5, the news station in question, seemingly regarded the breasts as too graphic to air on cable television, despite the abstract-Cubist proportions of the women. A pair of buttocks, however, remained conspicuously uncensored.
Art critics and historians severely criticized Fox 5 in its decision to censor the three sets of bosoms, for the station’s negligence to consider the importance and purpose of artistic expression. The censorship does not come as a great shock, though. Fox 5’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, is an affiliate of News Corp. part of Rupert Murdoch’s colossal rain cloud of conservative media. In truth, the issue presents a much bigger problem than the defocused aberrations of an abstract breast. This type of censorship not only lessens the impact of the painting itself, but also perpetuates the sexualization of the female body.
On one hand, it’s rather amusing that Picasso’s work is perceived just as provocatively more than 50 years after it was completed as it originally was. But for all intents and purposes, the breasts depicted in this painting are no more than a curved line and a dot. Picasso interpreted his lust for the female body through the scandalous superlatives of his now signature style. Though he is labeled as a misogynist for the rather vivid portrayals in his showcased work (among other reasons), this representation is not so much objectification as it is a manifestation of sexual freedom.
Sexualization of the female body is a man-made concept, a notion that dates far prior to the tantalizing brushstrokes of Picasso’s daring hand. Society’s ingrains the impression that the female body is somehow erotic and must be suppressed in order to prevent adultery and fornication. Instead of placing responsibility on the patrilineal figures, the blame is continually set on women.
Sexual freedom and sexual objectification should be mutually exclusive; a woman should have the right to sexual expression without the suspicion of amorality. Because society views female sexuality as licentious, while male sexuality is seen as a preferment for masculinity and dominance, the female sex is subjected to ridicule from a perception that stems from this patriarchal ideal. Though male bodies are also subjected to similar objectification to some degree, the media rarely blur out men’s washboard abs or titanic biceps.
At the other end of the spectrum, this mutual exclusion takes form in, for example, the many Carl’s Jr. commercials involving a scantily dressed woman washing a car. In this case, the female is not in control of her own sexuality. She is merely exhibited on a pedestal to stir desire in the audience. This bothersome sales tactic, transparently referred to as “sex sells,” is created by the same male-dominated society that condemns female sexual expression. When you put all the pieces together, society produces a culture that ironically oppresses women’s sexualization while promoting such sexualization for men’s pleasure. Instead of criticizing the culture in question, society chooses to attack the female specifically. When a woman is subjected to sexual harassment or assault, it is often questioned if the female victim did anything to “ask for” these sexual advances (i.e. the way she was dressed, how she chose to present herself, etc.).
The sexualization of women is unavoidable in today’s age because, unfortunately, it’s created and represented everywhere by the media and other institutions. One could step out onto the street right now and detect dozens of billboard advertisements supporting this claim. To ensure that people in society realize the oppression they receive from the media, instances such as the censorship on Picasso’s painting must not be ignored. Instead, they should hopefully inspire individuals to fight for their rights and fair treatment. Because we, as a society, created this stigma, we also have the ability to demolish it.