© Chiara Trettene

NEITHER VIRGIN NOR WHORE

The classification of women according to men’s needs or experiences is something so deeply rooted in our culture that some women themselves, even realizing how oppressing this is upon our gender, tend to do it more often than they would want to. A woman is either a ‘bad girl’ or a ‘good girl’, each definition implying to be differently worthy of love and respect. For centuries, indeed, men have been categorizing women in two groups: those who are prudish and essentially good at obedience and domestic things on one side, and therefore good at being a wife, and those tainted, degraded and unworthy of love but sexually desired on the other. According to this entirely male and patriarchal pattern, a woman is then either a virgin or a whore, with no middle way admitted.

FFU image
© Chiara Trettene

Freud described the psychological complex of men who either see women as chaste (who they love but are unable to desire) or prostitutes (who they desire but are unable to love and respect) as the Madonna- Whore complex. The attitude can however be extended to a huge part of our society and, from a social and historical point of view, many factors have contributed to its solidification.

FFU image
© Chiara Trettene

The impact religion had on the way the female body is perceived of must be obvious if the phenomenon is referred to either as the ‘Madonna/whore’ or ‘virgin/whore’ complex in psychology, and has been given a conceptual basis by the Mary-Eve dichotomy. How many times is the word ‘virgin’ repeated in Roman Catholic texts and prayers? It describes the ideal type of woman, especially among the youngest. Opposed to Eve, who carried the vessel for original sin (this is where the common belief that women were the source of evil comes from), was indeed Mary, the worshipped young ‘virgin’ and mother of Jesus. In simple words, the idea behind such discourse is that the value and respectability of women is inversely proportional to her own sexual freedom.

FFU image
© Chiara Trettene

The conditions that define the ‘good’ polar opposite have long been used to control the female body and exploit it. Let’s think of the narrative surrounding virginity, which it is either lost or taken. It resembles the rhetoric of conquest and reinforces not only the objectification of the body it refers to, but the fact that women can be classed and used in the service of men.

Equally disturbing is that the burden of purity falls uniquely upon female-identifying bodies. Distinct proof of established male ownership, the traditional gendered approach to sexuality and virginity dictates absolute and celebrated freedom of men against slut-shaming and hindrance to reproductive rights for women.

FFU image
© Chiara Trettene

With the ‘technological era’ of feminism, which has allowed the sharing and spread through social media of work and images concerning the female body, the issue was brought in front of everybody’s eyes. Indeed, the fact that censorship is still so largely used upon the free, natural and non-stereotyped body is emblematic in describing how highly sexualized it is and how, therefore, it is extremely embedded into the polarized view. Many photographic styles and techniques have been used to address the discussion and exorcise prejudice against the female body and sexuality, among which the imitation and comparative observation of religious iconography, a particularly powerful way to place the image of the virgin and the one of the whore side by side. The contrast between the sacred and the profane, the pure and the impure, the loved and the desired forces to carefully think about one more detail: how would the representation of the binomial change if the foundations of inquiry were real and free women’s needs and experiences?

Photos by Chiara Trettene (@chiaratrettenephotography)

Chiara Fazzone
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