These powerful and terrifying photographs are part of a contemporary art series by photographer Jeff Fiore that are meant to dramatize the daily torture that women experience in the way modern society places chains of expectations upon them. Please don’t read on if you’re not up for some incredibly challenging images. ~ ed.
Although women have come far in so many ways, many of us still find ourselves chained to the expectations and rules of society.
Whether we all care to admit it or not, women are still being taught that we are supposed to have our place in society and in this world.
We are supposed to conform to certain ideals, so that we will be considered respectable and well liked.
It’s okay to be intelligent, so long as we don’t stand up to others too strongly, and as long as we don’t raise our voice—or our opinions—louder than a man.
We are considered valuable because of the color of our eyes and the length of our hair. We are told that our beauty rests in the span of our hips and the rise of our breasts—and if we actually have a brain between our ears, it is often overlooked because of the curves of our body.
Woman are encouraged to be sweet and pleasant, we are supposed to be the caretakers and the women behind the men—and we are supposed to be satisfied by pretty, white diamonds, a two story colonial and children around our ankles.
But, what if we saw right through those expectations?
What becomes of the women who have no desire to live like everyone else—not only that, but they don’t know how to be like everyone else.
I have felt these chains of society cut into my skin deeply, and I have bled rivers because of them.
I will never be one of those women who does what I am supposed to. I was not born to fit in, but to stand out, because how else can I change the world unless I speak the truth in my heart?
I have no desire to gain the love of a man who sees only my sweet nature and smile. It’s easy to fall in love with my light, because my heart is open, and it radiates with optimism and hope.
I want to be loved also for my darkness.
I want a man to take a dip into the inside workings of my soul, and not mind the murky deep waters he finds there. I don’t need a man to tame the wild out of me, and break me so that I run only in the corral he has created.
I want to be loved for my wild.
I want to be valued for my strong mind, and the way that I see the world. I want my intelligence to be the first thing that turns him on—someone who hears my words on his lips as he falls asleep at night, and wants to live in the world of words that I spin over midnight whiskey ramblings.
I want a man to delight that he has a woman who not only loves the game, but comes to play as well.
Someone who will appreciate me when I have a glass of 10-year-old scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other, someone who will know that the appetite I have for food is the same that I will have for making love with him. Someone who has no desire to over cultivate feminine, flowery characteristics in me that women are supposed to have, and instead will love that not only can I play like a man, even better—I still love like a woman.
I have struggled my entire life to be seen for who I really am. I faltered under the stress, and at one time tried to be like everyone else. I failed miserably—thank goodness.
I have two amazing little girls who have spirits of fire, and sparks of creativity dancing behind their eyes. My wish for them is to be raised in a society where they don’t have to defend their choices to be who they are—that they will feel free in finding their own way in this life.
I want them to know that although they are physically beautiful, and that it is more than okay to delight in that—that their ultimate worth lies in their intelligence and their strong hearts. I want them, and all the young girls for future generations to know that they don’t have to smile if they are crying inside, that it doesn’t matter if they are a size four, or a size 14, because that’s not who they are.
I want a little girl to grow up in this world knowing that she can make a difference, and that she matters, not because of the happiness or joy she can bring to others, but because she can impact the world in the only way she knows how—simply by being herself.
I have had the recent privilege to talk with and get to know several women who are breaking the chains of society, not just because of their roles in contemporary art, but in the choices they are making to not let their appearance define who they are, and how they are seen. These women were photographed nude because that is how society wants to view women—because it is easier to be viewed as sexual objects than beings of power.
Yet, these women are re-claiming the power because of their nakedness, they have stripped themselves bare to show that any sort of chain of expectation inflicts pain upon the soul of a woman—whether we see the scars or not. These women are those who own their intelligence, their beauty and their sexuality. These are women like myself, whose passion for change ripples beneath our skin—and for whom fitting in was never an option.
It is those of us who feed the fires of change that often get burned by our choices to not play by the rules, but it is only the brave that continue on fighting for the freedom to live as a woman without the chains society tries to put upon us.
I hope this series inspires others to ask themselves, “What chains of society would I cast off?” and I hope we all take the risk to become the change that we want to see in the world.
Change isn’t easy—but it is necessary.
Mandy Cat Kitana:
The chains that I wish women could be free from is the struggle for power…women have more power than they themselves think and most definitely more then society thinks. I also feel women should free themselves of social and society norms that make no sense. For instance, why is violence allowed and tolerated yet a female nipple is evil?!? If we are only allowed to take our shirts off at a strip club, it’s no wonder society thinks I’m a porn star when I take my top off so I don’t get tan lines, or because I am hot…free women from the stupid assumption that nudity is sexually related.”
“True beauty comes from the ability to be yourself, no matter what sort of person you are. There isn’t just one ideal of beauty as far as looks go. While some things may be seen as degrading and bad for women, they also might make some women feel beautiful and empowered. Just be yourself always, and don’t let anyone take that away from you.”
Scarlette (Elissa) Rose:
“The chains I want women to be free of is the thought that our bodies are not our own. We can make whatever choices we want about what we do with our bodies and it doesn’t mean that we lose value or worth as a person. Nudity and lust brand us as whores and makes us less desirable beings, but it isn’t viewed that same way when it comes to men. Our sexuality does not define our worth and we shouldn’t be labeled negatively because of it.”
Rae Marie (Renee):
“The chains that women should be freed from are that our bodies are nothing but sex toys. We are viewed as sex symbols and get shamed anytime we show our naked bodies for the sole purpose of art. Nudity is not always pornography and people in general need to understand that. There is a lack of open mindedness and it shows nothing but ignorance. Free the woman’s naked body!”
“I wish women didn’t have to wear the chains of fear from judgement. As a stripper, nude model, and single mom I am a HUGE target for being judged, but luckily I’m brave enough to keep my head high. Some women are not that lucky.”
Cat (Ross) Ropo:
“There are so many chains placed upon women but now, at least in American culture, these chains are both fortunately and unfortunately less visible and more insidious.”
For example, people may show outward outrage at violence against women, sexual or otherwise, but if we look at the statistical and anecdotal circumstances surrounding how these crimes against women are prosecuted or, say, anonymously ridiculed in comment sections, it becomes evident that, unlike many other crimes, we truly are always looking for reasons as to why the woman might have “made” someone do this to her.
On the surface we are “all for equality” but when the word “feminism” is pulled out people say, “hey man, that’s sexist. Why not ‘humanism’ instead of ‘feminism’?”
Because it’s dishonest.
Because you’re uncomfortable with the focus being solely on women for even two seconds. Because not all humans face the issues that women do. Because so many things associated with femininity are considered “issues” or “other.” While there is still plenty of overt intolerance and mistreatment of women, It’s the subtext that’s doing a lot of damage in our culture now.
So much anger over women pointing out the discomfort and horror they feel at being followed and yelled at on the way home. So much anger over women wanting more control over their bodies than some external force. So much anger at women wanting what men have, not because men have it, but because men are considered the norm and we’re excluded from all the benefits of being the norm and it’s discussed as though it’s a privilege.
“Oh but you’re a goddess, a sacred vessel, you’re Mary, you’re pure, you’re the care-giver, you’re a flower.” You’re paid all these wonderful “compliments” until you step even an inch outside of the cage labeled “female” and then the story flips 180—“you’re Eve, Jezebel, Pandora, the other Mary, a whore, a ‘feminazi'”—a term which is as insulting to victims of antisemitism as it is inaccurate and laughable to anyone who’s actually decided to educate themselves on what it is to be female.
But the insult that sticks out to me most, when women “misbehave” (only full grown females can still be approached with language generally reserved for infantile minors and unruly pets) is that sometimes men will say, “ew, you’re acting like/look like a man.”
Because even though the bounty of discernible chains are still welded for women, gender issues don’t apply only to us. Some heteromasculine men seem to let leak this very subtle resentment towards their own behaviors in the way they speak so disgustedly at women behaving like men.
For almost every issue having to do with how women are treated and taught to act there is an uncanny parallel that, at some point fails to be a “parallel” and actually intersects with how men treat women and are taught to act. Women are taught to “wait their turn to speak” and correspondingly, men are taught to speak their minds. How can we expect anything but tension if a woman “dares” talk over a man or, god forbid, has actual, legitimate authority over a man in the workplace or academic setting, for example? Women are taught to protect themselves against violent male behavior; men are encouraged, from an early age, to engage in a certain level of violence.
How can we be surprised when women are told they should have “done more” to resist their attackers? That we have to live in the “real world” where male violence is excused at the expense if female life?
Women are taught to be sensitive and “caring”—it’s okay to cry; men are taught to be stoic in the worst sense–it is never okay to cry. How can we act surprised when a seemingly quiet man expresses his emotions in a sudden fit trigger-happy violence when that is the only outlet we’ve given him? This in no way excuses his violence, but my god, doesn’t it help to explain it a bit?
Women are taught to “know their place” and men are taught to put or keep women in said place. How can we act frustrated and void of empathy with a woman for not leaving her abuser when that’s the exact scenario for which we’ve prepared her?
Our culture has a special knack for indoctrinating men, women, and anyone who identifies otherwise, with ideas that are so opposing, so rivalrous, it is comical in the bleakest, darkest sense that we are ever “shocked and outraged” by the hatred and inequality women have almost “naturally and quietly come to endure.”
Author: Kate Rose
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photos: Used with permission from Jeff Fiore