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  • 1. Tramp stamps, Pin-up and Tattoo Modelling: Negotiating Femininity through Contemporary Australian Tattoo Mair Underwood School of Social Science The University of Queensland
  • 2. Introduction • Tattoo and other body decorations part of ethnographic literature since before the birth of anthropology. • Inscribed skin highlights issues central to anthropology: • the boundary between individual and society, between societies, and between representations and experiences (Schildkrout 2004:322). • little attention has been paid to Western practices. • Tattoo prevalence in Australia today: • women beginning to outnumber men • now highest among women aged 20-29 years (29.4%)(Heywood et al 2012).
  • 3. This study • Are tattoos ‘simply the latest forms of modification that have constrained, minimized and contorted women’s bodies in the interests of men’s approval in previous periods” (Jeffreys 2000:425)? • Do tattoos only punctuate meanings already attached to women’s bodies (Braunberger 2000:1-2), or do tattoos change the meaning of that body? • multi-sited ethnography of women’s tattoo practices in SE Queensland: • participant observation at two tattoo events and online • 6 in-depth interviews with tattooed women (5 tattoo models, and a female tattooist). • non-academic publications e.g. 27 issues of Australian tattoo magazines. • approximately 20 years of experience in the Brisbane tattoo scene.
  • 4. Western women and tattooing • Beginning in 1882, “tattooed ladies” as part of circuses and carnival sideshows (Braunberger 2000:9). • Level of nudity required to display tattoos was an added attraction • Thus upstaged tattooed men • at the point of entry into the world of tattoo Western women were sexualised • 1960s: ‘the last tattooed lady trod the boards in Australia’ (Cohen 1994:49). • women continually dissuaded from involvement in tattooing • not until 1970s that Western women became tattooed in significant numbers (Atkinson 2003:44). Bev Robinson: last “tattooed lady” in Australia (Cohen 1994:171).
  • 5. A gender divide in placement • 1970s, 80s and early 90s: • Western women’s tattoos were generally private, men’s more public • Women: breasts, hips, shoulder blades and abdomen (Sanders 1988:413). • Men: arms by far the most common site (Sanders 1988:413). • Prior to mid 1990s most tattoos on women could be easily hidden and were only selectively revealed.
  • 6. Lower back tattoos: An increase in visibility • From mid 1990s increased in popularity • Often consisted of butterflies, flowers, tribal patterns or a combination of these. • Low pants, short tops = visible when the woman bent over, and sometimes even visible when standing. • about 2005 the term “tramp stamp” was coined (precise origins unknown). • Through use of the term “tramp” a symbolic connection between lower back tattoos and sexual promiscuity was made Image circulated on the internet
  • 7. The increasing visibility of women’s tattoos • Since the “tramp stamp” the size and visibility of women’s tattoos has drastically increased. • 21st C: • arms, upper chest, neck, hands and legs increasingly popular • popularity of hidden, private tattoos on the decrease amongst some women • primarily hidden and emphasising secondary sex characteristics (e.g. breast, hips, abdomen) → occasionally visible (e.g. lower back) → readily apparent (arms and upper chests) and visible despite clothing (e.g. hands and necks). • Appropriation of masculine placements
  • 8. Tattooed women increasingly visible as the “face” of tattoo • Images of women: • used to advertise tattoo conventions • frequently featured on the covers of tattoo magazines. • only 2 out of the 28 (7%) issues of Custom Tattooz (since 2007) have featured men on the cover (and one of these was pictured with a woman). • 71% of covers of Tattoos Down Under featured “covergirls” • no men appearing on covers of these magazines for the last 2 years.
  • 9. Changes in the gendered subject matter of tattoos • Previously a fairly distinct gender boundary: • Women: flowers, butterflies, fairies, cute cartoon characters, celestial motifs and the like. • Men: stronger and more violent images such as skulls, dragons, monsters, scant ily clad or nude women, and predatory animals.
  • 10. Contemporary subject matter: diminishing gender differences • Due to rise in popularity of: • oriental designs • “old school”, traditional • Facilitator: When I first started getting tattooed, it seemed that men’s and women’s tattoo were quite distinct. Has that changed? • Interviewee: Yeah, it's totally different now. With the full sleeve, it could generally be on a boy or a girl. It wouldn't really make too much of a difference, I don't think (Interview 4).
  • 11. The persistent sexualisation of tattooed women • tattooed women are viewed as promiscuous (Swami and Furnham 2007). • Gueguen 2013: • more men approached the tattooed women and the mean latency of their approach was quicker. • Men also thought they would have more chance of obtaining a date, and having sex on the first date, with tattooed women. • I get a lot of guys come up and start a conversation with me now [that I am tattooed]. Even when I go out and I don't have any visible tattoos there's a massive difference between guys that approach you when they can see tattoos, to guys that approach you when they can't see tattoos (interview 5). • I think a lot of men look at me like “Oh, she'll be easy to pick up or let's go talk to her”, because a lot of people hit on me in that sort of sleazy way (Interview 4).
  • 12. Can’t meet mum • senior member of the clergy: • They’re loose *laughs+ not the sort of people that my mum would have invited home for afternoon tea dear [laughs]. • I've dated a guy who said I could never take you home to my mum. You know, this is never going to go anywhere because you have a lot of tattoos (Interview 6). • at the symbolic link is made between tattoos and sexual availability regardless of their conscious personal motivations.
  • 13. Tattoo modelling • Last 5 years in Australia • change in how tattooed women were being perceived. As a heavily tattooed woman in her 30s said, tattooed women went from “tough, one of the lads, to sexy feminine” (name).
  • 14. Observation at modelling events • “Tattooed Beauties” • Quite a standardised look: • very revealing clothes, often more than is necessary to reveal the tattoos (e.g. with fly open). • Slender (and some very thin), large breasted (many obviously fake breasts). • Many of them have hair extensions, fake tans and false eyelashes. • Focus not on tattoos: • There is no time to see their tattoos in any detail, they keep moving. • a separate prize for “best ink on a beauty”. • “Miss Tattoo” • Less revealing clothes (e.g. larger swimsuits). • range of bodies on display: some are thin, some are very curvy and some even have cellulite. • Pose in front of judges so tattoos can be examined.
  • 15. Pin-up • “Pin-up” originally referred to a photo or picture of a person intended for display on a wall • is said to have originated with the trend of military • increasing number of women are also getting tattoos of pinups. • now used to refer to a certain style of dress and body work.
  • 16. Why so popular with tattooed women? • classy (Interview 2). • gorgeous without being trashy (female competitor in “best pin-up category). • not like sexy is the least amount of clothes you can possibly wear, or the skinniest that you can be. (Interview ?) • balances out the masculinity of the tattoos.
  • 17. Balancing masculinity and femininity • It's [pin-up is] very elegant and I think having tattoos, having something about you that's elegant and feminine was one of the big drawcards for me … it just makes me feel like a lady (Interview 2). • When I don't have my hair done and makeup done and nails done, I reckon they [the tattoos] make me feel kind of manly, like a bit butch (Interview 1).
  • 18. Empowerment • As a woman I feel, I suppose, empowered that I've got them (Interview 5). • Interviewee: I think it's the empowerment as well, of being able to say I'm a girl, I can get a tattoo if I want … it's my choice and my body (Interview 2). • But increased power is not just an individual perception. Tattooed women have been found to be viewed as more powerful and less passive than non-tattooed women (Hawkes, Senn and Thorn 2004:602).
  • 19. A shifting power balance? 1995 2013
  • 20. Conclusion • practice of tattoo has become in some ways de-gendered • However one important difference between tattooed men’s bodies and tattooed women’s bodies has remained: the extent to which they are sexualised • Braunberger (2000:1-2) states, “When a woman’s body is a sex object, a tattooed woman’s body is a lascivious sex object”. • sex as a source of strength and independence • subvert the ever-present “male gaze” by forcing men (and women) to look at their bodies in a manner that exerts their control (DeMello 2000:173). • The gaze denotes at the same time power (it enables us to exert control over the situation, to occupy the position of master) and impotence (as bearers of a gaze, we are reduced to the role of passive witnesses to the adversary’s action). (Žižek 1991:72) • complex interaction of power relationships in which dominant norms, values and meanings both limit and provide sites for resistance. • women actively negotiate gender boundaries and the power relations attached to them. • Tattoos invest women’s bodies with qualities such as power and activity,