My dissertation investigates the ways of displaying feminine pleasure within contemporary sex shops in London. I want to illustrate how the notion of sexuality was established and shaped by social discourse in order to gain better understanding of the status of feminine sexuality and its interpretation within a patriarchal society.
Over the last two hundred years, several transformations of attitude to sexuality have taken place in Britain. Moreover, various debates have emerged on the relation between sex and gender. After visiting many sex shops in London, I was inspired to explore the origin of their character as I found them to be stereotyped; somewhat biased towards masculinity, and objectifying of women.
Further research introduced me to the theories of Foucault and Judith Butler about the constructing power of socio-cultural factors and their influence on the perception of such phenomena as sex and gender. I have attempted to demonstrate through the analyses of the notion of woman and its socio-cultural associations how the displaying of feminine sexuality in space has changed and is illustrated in a contemporary context. The dissertation argues that despite the weakening of the social patriarchy, the generally shaped notion of feminine sexuality has been difficult to displace.
Our society seems to become obsessive about sexuality and everything that relates to it, and while sex used to be an object of suspicion (Foucault, 1990) today it delicately enmeshes our culture and is rather a matter of self-expression. As Foucault defines it is a ‘historical construct: a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another…’(Foucault, 1990:106). Manifestations of this linkage can be well observed in contemporary sex shops. They offer solutions for various needs seemingly regardless of the sex and gender of the consumer; however despite this fact, there is still a strong sense of social convention: the stores introduce a visual language which suggests hierarchy, as if they were a metaphor for the society. Women are mainly objectified and displayed through the eyes of men. It must be admitted, however, that it is not just about men’s pleasure anymore, yet the communication is still male-focused. The visual language of the majority of public erotic spaces is created for the male gaze. The aim of this dissertation is to analyse the notion of feminine sexuality, how its status has changed and how it is represented in a contemporary context. Furthermore to emphasise the importance of the legitimacy and autonomy of feminine pleasure.
There are two exclusive sex shops located in London that will be investigated through their verbal and visual concepts. The first chapter will analyse Sh! The Erotic Emporium of Woman, which has a unique concept and spatial solution that differs from the character of mainstream sex shops. Also it will investigate what happens when there is just women’s pleasure represented in the space. The second chapter will focus on Coco de Mer and its visual references to previous social and religious issues. It offers a different attitude to displaying feminine sexuality; however still supporting the importance of it.
TO BE CONTINUED…