Sample Essay on Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity, Griselda Pollock

In her book, Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity, Pollock writes from an artist’s point of view and mainly addresses fellow artists. The article demonstrates the various angles in which artists approached femininity in the 19th century in the area of art.[1] The articles points out during this period, the women artists existed but were but were hindered by the gendered rules in the history of art making the women artists to be ignored by other artists and historians of art. Pollock therefore goes ahead to point out these women artists were ignored mainly to the use of similar standards that were used for the male artists on the female artists. Pollock argues that these women should not have been judged by the same standards used for men because they operated on different spaces from the ones men operated on.

She introduces her argument by analyzing how the public and art in the 19th century favored male artists and the standards that were used  to grade the works of art were made by men for men and this left the women of the picture giving them a very unfavorable competition. The works produced by the men and women were so different as women were confined to some sectors on life and this restricted their views and subject matter for example, the women, she says, could not compete with men in drawing of sculpturing  a naked fellow woman. Images and other art works of naked women represented sexuality which was a major idea in the works of art in the late 19th century.[2] Pollock has used the works of impressionist arts like Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. These two artists, although of the same category, produced works that were so different mainly due to the different spaces and positions from which they operated on.

The term space of femininity has been discussed in detail by Pollock and she has examples and other supporting facts. This has been effective mainly through the way. The first aspect that she discusses are various locations from where the works of both Morisot and Cassatt are done, the locations were mainly balconies, gardens, bedrooms, dining rooms and drawing room (Pollock, 248). The main reason for these differences was due to the fact that some spaces were domesticated and others were viewed as private and were out of limit for the ladies. The private spaces she describes spaces of bourgeois recreation.

The women were denied the open places such as the cafes and the bars where the works featured were mainly for the male artists, especially during the 19th century. Pollock also describes the other aspect of space where she talks of the spatial order of both Cassatt and Morisot’s worked. Their impressionist paintings showed that their differences in the social realms for both the women and men was another factor why women artists were never featured so much during late 19th century as compared to the modern days. Morisot tried to show the differences observed among the male and female artist by drawing a figure to the extreme right his Harbor at Lorient picture. This could signify the difference and the limitations created between femininity and masculinity.

The public spaces mainly served the masculine sexuality and modernity was therefore depicted as combination of modernism and sexuality.[3] To understand space of femininity in modernity, Pollock had to study the works of Morisot and Cassatt differently in their own experiences and positions far much different from the men’s. She points out that the public spaces are taken over by men who love to gaze at women on very uncompromising angles and are policed by the same men who look at the works done by women.

The women impressionist artist who made paintings and drawings of fellow women are use images that are not as exposing as the men do, their position in the society did not allow them to do things the same way as the men did. In away, Pollock sees these women as having been locked out of using their fellow women by their male counter-parts.the social limits are seen by their paintings of women who look far away from the viewers. These images could signify that women are subjected to the scrutiny of the male viewer and are therefore made to look away so that men could have a good look at them.[4]

The women were not allowed to observe keenly or to stare and it really affected their work as most of art works demand keen observation forms the artists. The existences of female sexuality were therefore only to be expressed by male artists who could record them in painting or in drawing openly. Modernity is seen as described as woman’s story told in a man’s world.

The bourgeois women could not risk destroying the reputation by venturing g into some spaces such as the café-concert and this threat was also partly on their femininity and as a result, their works could never be found in such areas. A woman’s respect would simply be washed away by a mere visual image of her work or herself in a restricted space.

The few places where women are allowed to showcase their work, lines are still drawn on masculine and feminine artists, but below these lines there are evidence of sexually being used by men to invade and take over the spaces designated for the women.[5] This meant that even in those areas where femininity was expected to appear more, female sexuality was not really registered among the women artists.

Many of the works done by female artist such Morisot and Cassatt such as Susan on a balcony and two women reading are perfect examples of works done by women on familiar and acceptable space. They have  keenly giving details of their clothes and even the surroundings like the gardens and the things planted .They are conversant with the daily activities done in those areas and but although they give more details, their works still remained hidden


Femininity always existed in every aspect of modernity and modernism. The masculine sexuality which forms a major part of modernity involves both the female artists and their images in various forms of art work. The invasions of the femininity space by men artist and the biased rules are what contributed to the few works done by women. The women artists who made it and produced their won work were limited on the ideas and contents but still produced detailed works on the spaces they occupied even those many of the works were not in public places.


Balducci, Temma, Heather Belnap Jensen, and Heather Belnap Jensen. 2014. Women, femininity and public space in European visual culture, 1789-1914

Dennis, Richard. 2008. Cities in modernity: Representations and productions of metropolitan space, 1840-1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Felski, Rita. 2009. The gender of modernity. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Massey, Doreen. Space, place and gender. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Pollock, Griselda. Vision and Difference: Feminism, femininity and the histories of art. Psychology Press, 2003.

[1]  Griselda, Pollock. Vision and Difference: feminism, femininity and the histories of art. Psychology Press, 2003

[2]  Richard, Dennis. 2008. Cities in modernity: representations and productions of metropolitan space, 1840-1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[3]  Richard, Dennis. 2008. Cities in modernity: representations and productions of metropolitan space, 1840-1930. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

[4]  Doreen, Massey. Space, place and gender. John Wiley & Sons, 2013

[5] Temma, Balducci, Heather Belnap Jensen, and Heather Belnap Jensen. 2014. Women, femininity and public space in European visual culture, 1789-1914