‘We live in an age where paedophilia is explicitly condemned, yet the sexualisation of children and women as childlike is so apparent’
How important is retaining youth to women? Noting the body hair removal products, the influx of anti-ageing creams, and the sexualisation of young girls in popular culture, the answer would be ‘very important’.
Artist Katy Dye aims to explore and reflect on this through Baby Face, a performance piece analysing the stereotypical images of female infantilisation in our society. “I began to notice this treatment of women in the media and in culture and it occurred to me that we live in an age where paedophilia is explicitly condemned, yet the sexualisation of children and women as childlike is so apparent,” says Dye.
Baby Face essentially looks at this paradoxical nature that ‘babies’ women and sexualises them all at once. Through it, Dye hopes to redefine womanhood and reduce the importance of youth that society has placed on women – specifically by reducing the use of the word ‘girl’ which has taken on a world of its own. “Words are a reflection of the society we are living in, and they are a great place to start in terms of choosing how we change inequality in our society.”
Ahead of her performance of Baby Face at Calm Down, Dear 2015 at Camden People’s Theatre on 7 October, 2015, we spoke with the performance artist to discuss girlhood, race, and what it would really be like if women took on the behaviour of babies.
“Some people may think that there are bigger things affecting women right now than words, but if words are a reflection of the society we are living in they are a great place to start in terms of choosing how we change inequality in our society” – Katy Dye
What inspired you to create Baby Face?
Katy Dye: I decided to make Baby Face because I have experienced a lot of people treating me younger than I am, based on how I look. I became interested in the wider context surrounding my personal experiences, and I knew I wanted to create a performance looking further into the many subtle ways adult women may experience infantilisation – physically, emotionally and sexually, and how this affects how women are viewed and how we view ourselves. I began to notice this treatment of women in the media and in culture, and it occurred to me that we live in an age where paedophilia is explicitly condemned, yet the sexualisation of children and women as childlike is so apparent. This paradox interested me, and I wanted to see where I could go with these ideas in terms of live performance.
What was the creative process behind creating this project?
Katy Dye: I began by finding as many images of women in the media and in popular culture dressed similarly to little girls or babies as I could. I then tried to embody them myself in various ways, from playing with materials and costumes inspired by these adverts, to exploring how there meaning could be changed. I was also really interested in what it would mean if I, as an adult, were to embody the actual behaviour of babies/little girls. I wanted to understand why the image of an adult embodying these behaviours is so disturbing and provocative.
The process of creating Baby Face led me to visiting various cosmetic shops, looking at the products that are being marketed for women, and copying the language that these products use, as well as Glasgow Women’s Library, which provided great insight into the wider context of infantilisation.
You’ve mentioned that the normalisation of the word ‘girl’ contributes to the infantilisation of women. How do you feel we can reduce its usage and make a change to a word which has gone beyond its original meaning?
Katy Dye: I believe personal choice about language is a big step to changing how we think of women. People have to make a choice about how they want women to be seen in society, and make up their own minds about the language they use to describe women. Some people may think that there are bigger things affecting women right now than words, but if words are a reflection of the society we are living in they are a great place to start in terms of choosing how we change inequality in our society. If we can reclaim the word ‘woman’, then this is another way we can celebrate real adult women for who they are.
i’ve noticed that female infantilisation is very much divided by race. Women of colour tend to be overly sexualised beyond their ages, while white women tend to be infantilised in the media and society. Do you see this racial divide in this perception of women, and the overall mistreatment of how women are both infantilized and sexualised in our society?
Katy Dye: There is definitely a divide in how white women and women of colour are represented, and I recognised this while collating images of infantilized women, and I noticed that there was only one picture of a black woman. The damaging stereotypes associated with women of colour are more likely to be homogenised into ‘the strong black woman’ than ‘the little girl’ – hence this divide.
This was something I noticed and was thinking about while creating the show, however Baby Face is based upon my experiences. So therefore, as a white woman, does this mean that the show has a distinct flavour of white feminism about it that may be inaccessible to other experiences? Perhaps. Baby Face may speak particularly about how some women experience misogyny, but there are many complex ways in which misogyny is experienced that is specific to race, class, how someone behaves and looks, and I admit that this performance cannot speak for all of these experiences. However, in developing the performance, I would like to engage with a diversity of voices and see how this could be reflected in the performance to make it not only specific to the white experience.
“I strongly believe that people should be encouraged to develop a critical eye for what they see around them, and this is what we need to teach our youth in order to create change in our perception of women” – Katy Dye
Advertising plays a huge role in this perception of women as little girls. Do you feel we can change this perception of ourselves when the media continuously feeds us images which have become normal to women?
Katy Dye: It can be extremely difficult to change our thoughts on this issue, because we have been fed so many preconceived ideas about women and how they should be, which have been ingrained in our minds. ‘Teen’ is one of the most popular porn searches on the internet, and women are bombarded with adverts of hundreds of different products to encourage them that youth is what we should value the most. However, I strongly believe that people should be encouraged to develop a critical eye for what they see around them, and this is what we need to teach our youth in order to create change in our perception of women. It does takes a lot of strength to resist the media’s influence, but through encouraging people to think critically and to look beyond the obvious, we can provoke thought and change how women are viewed.
Through using performance art, how does Baby Face aim to change the stereotypes and misogyny women experience today?
Katy Dye: Performance art allows me to express myself, using my experiences and personal connection to the issue. This means that when I am performing it’s not a fictionalised character, but instead I am performing various aspects of myself. I hope that this will challenge people directly and touch them more emotionally about issues of misogyny, than if I had used someone else’s words and story.
Throughout the performance I try to embody more subtle ways that infantilisation might appear in our lives, and turn them from cute to grotesque. For instance, how often do people refer to each other as ‘baby’? At first it’s endearing but think of the reality of someone actually acting like a baby, and being completely dependent on someone else for all their needs. By using performance art to explore some of these ideas, I think there is an opportunity for there to be a more playful exchange between the audience and performer, and a way in which the audience is asked to look at their own reality and experiences of misogyny.