Nasty Women: The Visual Culture of Feminine Aggression | Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem

Nasty Women: The Visual Culture of Feminine Aggression

Total Hours
Semester A
Course Day
Time 12:30 - 14:00

From the murderous jealousy of Medea, to the provocative dissidence of ‘Pussy Riot’ and ‘Femen’, expressions of feminine aggression have evoked, and continue to stir, cultural discontent. Emasculating Medusas, dark and lethal femmes fatales, militant Suffragettes, ‘bra-burners’ in the sixties, female terrorists in the seventies, ‘bitchy’ bosses, “feminazis”, iron ladies in politics and Guerrilla Girls in art - the patriarchal order is distraught by the charged fusion of women and power. While sublimated or internalised aggression - passive-aggressive behaviour, malicious gossip, eating disorders, suicidality - are considered normative, even ‘natural’ for women; manifestations of rage, combativeness, hostility and violence (whether ideological or personal in charachter) are still perceived as radical and unfeminine, if not downright pathological.


However, in spite of these entrenched conventions, the last few decades have brought about a growing tendency in theoretical, artistic and activist spheres to articulate new representations of feminine aggression – both constructive and destructive - that diverge from the traditional image of the monstrous/’phallic’ woman and allow a more nuanced envisioning of women’s subjectivity and assertiveness. These cultural shifts, in turn, raise further questions, such as: is it possible, and/or productive, to formulate ‘feminine’ aggression independently of dominant models of (masculine) aggression? If, and in what ways, has the feminist struggle indirectly contributed - through, for example, the demand for equal opportunities for women in the armed forces - to the development of new modes of institutional violence, like the use of sexual humiliation as an interrogation tactic in the ‘war against terror’? And are strategies of ‘naming and shaming’, as has often been argued, the ‘weapon of the weak’ or are they, in fact, a form of misandrist bullying, which negatively affect women themselves?


In the context of recent global phenomena, among them the #metoo campaign, the Kurdish Women Protection Units in Syria, and the Gulabi Gang in India, and with reference to the contributions of scholars, artists, and revolutionaries, the course will examine the aesthetic, ethical, political and psychoanalytic aspects of feminine aggression and its historic and contemporary portrayals in art and popular culture. Our discussion will be informed by developments and debates within feminist thought and will critically consider issues including gender definitions and hierarchies, maternal ambivalence, resistance and revenge, aggressive drives and creative processes.