Why the Hijab/Burqa/Niqab/Chador Debate in France is not about racism as much as a fundamental clash of cultures and foundational traditions with regard to self-defined women and their societal effects | Pamela Anderson’s PETA campaign and the significance of John Singer Sargent’s 1884 ‘Portrait of Madame X’


tribal interloper

‘histori-cultural parallel’

thought experiment:


I suffer not those who fail to contemplate that though it may be argued that females may not be ‘running’ the ‘socially conventional’ world, they are indeed steering evolution and have been pretty much since life only existed at a unicellular level .

Two main points I attempt to explicate below:

Point One:

I contend that it may not be the subject of scandal, especially with regards to the portrayal of women, that is a societal problem, but the way in which the subject is perceived by that society. This really more reflects the stigmas and lack of refined contemplative thinking of that audience or those attempting to censor, the work, than the woman in question being objectified, exploited or behaving quite frankly, ‘as a slut’.  The objective of Sargent in his work Madame X was to capture and convey how the beauty of women is a strength, and the ability to exploit this beauty–both inner and outer–to their advantage, an admirable skill of the ideal woman.  It is the celebration of the woman in control, through the nuanced manipulation of her charms, to direct life in the way of her choosing.  Sargent’s work was ahead of it’s time, and thus his necessitated adjustments, and his lifelong disappointment at the short-sighted scandal it caused.  However, I feel it indeed captures a moment in French, and more generally Western social sensibilities where it began to be understood that the quality of womanhood, femininity and the powers these grant while on refined social display–may just be in the control of the subject being appreciated and not some unseen puppeteer–the dreaded patriarchy.  I am not denying in saying this, that women are exploited regularly, with depravity, especially in today’s world of hyper-marketing and internet porn-a-thon.  It is though, just as misogynistic in my mind, if not merely small-minded, to assume in a knee-jerk manner that there do not exist celebrations of femininity which indeed are allowing a glimpse into the apparently difficult-to-perceive mechanism of evolution which women have been in sole control of since early biologic history on planet Earth, and today obviously may still display with absolute dignity, gravitas and sophistication.

Nicole Kidman poses for VOGUE in the tradition of John Singer Sargent’s famous Madam X

Point Two:

A more obvious point, though a parallel I wish to draw from the time of Sargent to Sarkozy. France decided the above ‘point one’ almost 130 years ago.  This more profound understanding of feminine beauty may have allowed the West to advance in terms of civilization. The key is an ability to perceive life with nuanced contemplation.  Something neither Puritanical Christians nor Wahabis nor the Taliban can claim to have facility in.  I submit that in covering females in the absolute or in the marginal, more reflects an audience unable to judge exploited from the exploiter, the puppeteer from the marionette–an audience and society indeed unable to enjoy and benefit from the display of feminine beauty in all its complexity.  When the Islamic world stops allowing all women to be perceived and treated as a bed sheet bedecked coatrack, nature itself will partake in a wondrous evolution (absolutely imperceptible in real-time) of not only memetic but genetic wizardry.  For this to occur the magic of femininity must be displayed to the world–no, not just of gawking, horny, adolescent (of mental or actual maturity) penis-possessors, but of all who may understand and perceive beauty and strength–women and men, young children as well as the elderly.  Beauty is not just a physical aspect in the terminology above–it is a philosophical aesthetic that is applicable both from the personality, character, ambition which Madame X displays to the tenacity of Pamela Anderson in her consistent campaign to USE her ability to make the most uninformed, ignorant, immature male in contemporary society pause and stare at or speak of a current news item which involved her.  Her campaign is not only courageous but effective, as when you see a big slab of cow dangling in a meat locker, yes, you actually WILL think of Pamela Anderson’s desirous aspects.  But won’t that make you wonder on exactly the concept she wished you to?  So one ought contemplate, is she being ‘exploited’ or conniving?  Does she really not understand what she is up to?  Could she not just have set up shop in Vegas by now?  I respect Pamela Anderson as I do Madame X, in that though Society condemns, they both get the last laugh.

Females in nature do the same.


the perversion of the subtle powers of nature must again be disencumbered

As originally displayed Sargent had her right strap fall casually from her shoulder (as seen above)–an element which contributed greatly to the scandal which led both to his career being cut short, and her character being mocked, scorned and ridiculed. The painter later repainted this detail, and it can only be found in his practice oils and sketchings. -t.i.

Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.

Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing ostentatiously in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting’s controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France.


There is an assertion and showiness in the expanse of white skin — from her high forehead down her graceful neck, shoulders, and arms. Although the black of her dress is bold, it is also deep, recessive, and mysterious. She is surrounded by a rich brown which is at once luminous and dark enough to provide contrast to the skin tones. Most disconcerting is the whiteness of the skin, an overt contrivance of “aristocratic pallor”; by contrast her red ear is a jarring reminder of the color of flesh unadorned.[15]

Sargent chose the pose for Gautreau carefully: her body boldly faces forward while her head is turned in profile. A profile is both assertion and retreat; half of the face is hidden while, at the same time, the part that shows can seem more defined than full face.

The table provides support for Gautreau, and echoes her curves and stance. At the time, her pose was considered sexually suggestive. As originally exhibited, one strap of her gown had fallen down Gautreau’s right shoulder, suggesting the possibility of further revealment; “One more struggle”, wrote a critic in Le Figaro, “and the lady will be free”. (Perhaps unknown to the critic, the bodice was constructed over a metal and whalebone foundation and could not have possibly fallen; the shoulder straps were ornamental).

The image’s erotic suggestion is of a distinctly upper-class sort: unnaturally pale skin, cinched waist, severity of profile and an emphasis on aristocratic bone structure all imply a distant sexuality “under the professional control of the sitter”, rather than offered for the viewer’s delectation.

Classical sources, such as the figures in a fresco by Francesco de’ Rossi (Il Salviati), have been suggested as inspiration for the pose. The painting features several subtle classical references: sirens of Greek mythology adorn the table’s legs, and the crescent tiara worn by Gautreau symbolizes the goddess Diana. The latter was not contrived by the artist, but was part of Gautreau’s self-display.



An Aesthetic Realism Discussion
below written by Lynette Abel

I have loved this portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau by the American painter, John Singer Sargent, titled Madame X, since the first time I saw it. Aesthetic Realism taught me that what makes a work of art beautiful is what we are hoping for in our lives. “All beauty,” Eli Siegel stated, “is a making one of opposites; and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” I have come to see that Sargent’s dramatic portrait makes a one of opposites I was longing to make sense of in myself.

In his essay “A Woman Is the Oneness of Aesthetic Opposites,”  Mr. Siegel writes about 15 pairs of opposites in women.  And this is what he writes about “Advancing: Recessive”:

Towards something is in the feminine mind importantly: the future as outward and to be visited and had.  But how much retreat is in woman, too, the unseen sinking, the leaving for a previously chosen background. I think Sargent’s Madame X is an opportunity to study these opposites, which all women have.  Sargent shows a haughty woman, ostentatious in her black satin dress with its jeweled straps–it reveals and hides at once.  This portrait, when it first appeared at the Paris Salon in l884, shocked people and caused such a scandal that Sargent had to withdraw it.  Yet, if all this painting showed was ostentation, I believe Sargent wouldn’t have said, when he sold it to the Metropolitan Museum in l9l6, “I suppose it is the best thing I have done.”  It was at this time that Sargent asked that the title of the painting be changed to Madame X. The name Madame X is both more assertive in its dramatic quality and also more mysterious, and, accenting the impersonal, it makes this portrait seem to stand for the idea of woman as such.

In an Aesthetic Realism class, Eli Siegel asked me:  “Do you believe you have a fight between showing off and retreating?”  “Yes,” I said.  Mr. Siegel continued:  “You don’t know whether to show off or to go into yourself…. [Are there] two different motions [in you] at the same time–ostentation and retreat?”  There definitely were.

For instance, I wanted a man to think I was the most charming woman he had ever known–that as I walked into a room I would be the center of interest.  And at the same time I also wanted to retreat, be aloof–if I did have to talk to a man my mind would go blank–I had nothing to say.  Having this purpose, which I learned was contempt–wanting to have a big effect while at the same time retreating and hiding from the world around me–made for great discomfort and pain in my life.  I think in this portrait Sargent shows powerfully that the opposites of assertion and retreat can be beautifully one.  The artist’s purpose is to respect the world through wanting to see it as it truly is, and this is the only purpose which will enable a woman to put these opposites together beautifully in herself.

As I was writing this paper, I learned that Mr. Siegel had spoken of John Singer Sargent in an Aesthetic Realism lesson given to a young woman.  He asked her, “Do you believe that a self is a oneness of the greatest outwardness and the greatest inwardness?”  And he explained:  “There are two qualities.  Take the ladies of John Singer Sargent–they’re very demure, the ladies of 1905, and then also they express themselves.

There are Mrs. I.N. Phelps Stokes;

The Misses Vickers;

Lady Agnew;

and there is Madame X.”

One of the first things that struck me about Madame X was the stark contrast between black and white.  There is assertion and showiness in the expanse of very white skin, from her high forehead down her graceful neck, shoulders, and arms.  At the same time, though the black of her dress is bold, it is also receding, deep, mysterious.   She is surrounded too by brown, which while accenting the muted, is not just recessive–its rich color has both glow and shadow.

Madame Gautreau was one of Paris’s notorious beauties.  She wore lavender powder and prided herself exceedingly on her appearance.  In The Metropolitan Museum of Art Favorite Paintings, I was affected to read this commentary on her by A. Hyatt Mayer:

Her studied, indifferent, statuesque presence stopped parties, stopped traffic in the street….But one day on the beach at Cannes, Madame Gautreau overheard a woman say that she was beginning to look worn.  She drove in a closed carriage to her hotel, took a darkened compartment on the train to Paris, and shut herself up for the rest of her life in dim rooms without mirrors. I think Madame Gautreau would have felt comprehended, as I did, by questions Eli Siegel asked me, including: “Do you think [there can be] an accuracy in going forward and retreating–of being ourselves from within and also showing ourselves?  There has been great discomfort because people have wanted to retreat….Do you think everything can be done with a oneness of advance and retreat?”

“Yes,” I said.

And Mr. Siegel asked me: “Can you show off discreetly?  Try to show off gracefully?”

I have been asking as I looked at this painting, “What does it mean to show off gracefully?”  And I have seen what Aesthetic Realism teaches–that if a woman’s conscious purpose is to know and like the world and have other persons like it, she will assert herself in a way that is graceful.

An important element central to the beauty of this painting is the way Sargent posed his subject–which I learned was not come to easily.  In his biography John Singer Sargent: His Portrait, Stanley Olson writes:

He sketched her seated in a contorted pose.

He sketched her with her head raised, then lowered looking at a book,

then playing the piano.  He did…her seated in a different posture,

and a brisk oil study of her holding out a champagne glass at a table.

In desperation he drew her back as she kneeled on a sofa looking out of the window.

Finally he asked her to stand beside an Empire table, twisted into a conscious profile.

Sargent chose this pose for Madame Gautreau carefully: her body boldly facing forward while her head is turned in profile. A profile by its very nature is both assertion and retreat–half of one’s face is hidden while at the same time, the part that shows can seem more defined than full face.  In placing her head in profile, Sargent has technically put together the very opposites that have troubled many women–including the subject for this painting, and myself.  Eli Siegel pointed out in a class once, “The profile of a person is the more intellectual part because the angle seems to stand more for thought.”  So, in this painting flesh and thought are together.

One of the reasons I am so affected by Madame X is that Sargent was trying to present this woman with entirety –there is a mingling of admiration, criticism and comprehension. One notices a very pink ear, as if she is listening–and listening is yielding.  Was there something she was burning to hear?  I was affected to see that the means by which reality enables us to take in the world, Sargent has highlighted in this lady with the warm colors of pink and red: her eye, nose, mouth and hands.

And my colleague, artist, and Aesthetic Realism consultant Dorothy Koppelman, pointed out to me–that even the most abstract thing in this painting–space–puts together assertion and retreat.  The space between the arm that leans on the table and her dress has the same form as the most prominent thing in this painting–her nose: it goes out and in.

Assertion and retreat are in the way Sargent has contrasted and yet related the two sides of Madame Gautreau.  Her left side is a sharply delineated outline from the top of her head down her nose and chin and all the way down her arm.  We feel the assertion in this woman.  Her other arm recedes as she leans back, with the modelling of soft shadowy contours down her arm.  I’m particularly affected by the way this arm is at once forward and back, showy and retreating in its gentle turning motion.  She is depending on the table but she is also assertively grasping it.

Sargent shows that Madame Gautreau, in her haughtiness, needs that table.  I learned from Aesthetic Realism a woman needs the world to express and show herself truly.

The table too, advances and retreats.  It is the same and different from Mme Gautreau.  The curves and angles of her body are like the curves and angles of the delicate though rather sturdy table she is leaning on.  The curve of the table top is like the curves in the bodice of her dress.  The curve at the base of the table is continued in reverse by the hem of her dress.

Assertion and retreat are made one also in the way the receding curve of the table is highlighted while the advancing curve of her dress is dark.  The twist of the table leg, called knuring, in the foreground is like the gentle twisting of her arm.

This arm is continued by the vertical line of the table leg in the background, appearing almost as an extension of that arm; something sinuous and bright is supported by something straight in the shadows.

And Sargent uses color to continue this relation of woman and table.  Her reddish, brown hair is like the table; the bright gold highlight on its edge is like the bright gold ornament on the top of her hair.

How different this portrait would be were that table absent.  We see her with more power, more depth of meaning because of it.  One of the things I see from this is that in order to show oneself gracefully, you have to be proud of your need for something else–the world.

above written by Lynette Abel


Song: Hell is Around the Corner – Tricky

Film: Transport 3


An indication of how, Albertans/Conservatives/Christians/Reactionaries [those unable to contemplate more than black and white] are overwhelmingly invading Canadian forums of decision making: -t.i.

Pamela Anderson’s new PETA ad banned for treating actress like a piece of meat

PAMELA Anderson’s racy new vegetarian advertisement for pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was banned today in Canada for being “too sexist”.

Austrialian News

PAMELA Anderson’s racy new vegetarian advertisement for pressure group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was banned today in Canada for being “too sexist”.

The New York Daily News said the animal rights ad features the 43-year-old Baywatch star posing in a blue string bikini with her body parts marked with labels including “rump”, “breast” and “ribs” – accompanied by the slogan “All Animals Have the Same Parts”.

Canadian officials rejected the campaign in Montreal at the 11th hour today claiming the ad went against the equal rights of men and women.

“It is not so much controversial, as it goes against all principles public organisations are fighting for in the everlasting battle of equality between men and women,” an official wrote in an email to PETA.

Anderson defended the campaign and said the decision to ban it was hypocritical.

“In a city that is known for its exotic dancing and for being progressive and edgy, how sad that a woman would be banned from using her own body in a political protest over the suffering of cows and chickens,” Anderson said.

“In some parts of the world, women are forced to cover their whole bodies with burqas – is that next? I didn’t think that Canada would be so puritanical.”

PETA Senior Vice President Dan Mathews also supported the campaign saying: “I think that city officials are confusing ‘sexy’ with ‘sexist’.”

The campaign launch will now be held in a restaurant instead of a public venue as initially planned.

It’s not the first time the Dancing With The Stars contestant has stripped down for PETA.

The strict vegan posed nude in a 2003 PETA ad called “I’d Rather Go Naked than Wear Fur” and in June 2006 she went topless in the window display of the Stella McCartney fashion boutique in London.

A video of her stripping to raise awareness for PETA was banned from being aired on CNN Airport Network in September 2009.

PETA often uses sex to sell its ads for animal rights. Celebrities Christy Turlington and Eva Mendes have also bared all for PETA ads.



4 thoughts on “Why the Hijab/Burqa/Niqab/Chador Debate in France is not about racism as much as a fundamental clash of cultures and foundational traditions with regard to self-defined women and their societal effects | Pamela Anderson’s PETA campaign and the significance of John Singer Sargent’s 1884 ‘Portrait of Madame X’

  1. Could it be that women are the creative force in humanity and men are the destructive? And no, I speak not to the obvious in terms of babies/murder, but something more subtle and imperceptible.

  2. There is an inherent irony in Canada banning the PETA campaign. The campaign indeed could just as well be a strong statement FOR Feminist, Culture-Jamming strength, with an Ad-busteresque legacy. Nuanced, contemplative discussion a la the Trudeau era is, unfortunately absent in the Canada of 2010——knee-jerk provincialism is ruling the day.

  3. Scarlett Johansson’s character in Woody Allen’s Match Point appears so modelled on the life of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, I find this intriguing.

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