At the risk of annoying those who resisted the idea, yesterday, that an embassy building projects the values of the nation that built it, I find it interesting to compare the image of a Muji catalogue woman that appears in my Muji piece with the image that runs alongside it in the Bloomingdale's ad. In one way the women are quite similar -- pretty much the same body and face shape, same hairstyle. But in other ways -- how they're dressed, their body language -- they project very different conceptions of femininity, conceptions coming out of two very different cities, New York and Tokyo.
One is woman as slightly arrogant rock star, the other woman as domestic angel, nurse or mother. One is dressed mostly in black, the other mostly in white. One evokes the idea of conflict and sin, rebellion and guilty pleasures, the other the idea of harmony and empathy, serenity and nature. They're both sexual (or, if you prefer -- and I don't -- "sexualized") images, but the way they project their eroticism is very different. One gives me the feeling I'd have to fight before I could possess her sexually (there's a Bond / Avengers vibe of the female of the species being more deadly than the male), the other packs a floral, beseeching sexuality into lily-like virtue, the limp passivity of her arms, bare feet and a slightly raised ankle position.
A psychoanalytical reading of the images might point out that one is essentially saying "suck my cock" (located, obviously, in the form of her stiletto heel), the other "use my womb". I won't say that either image shows a more "advanced" conception of women's role. Rather, I think they both reflect male-dominated societies. One of these societies projects women -- because it's male-dominated -- as ultra-feminine. The other projects women -- because it's male-dominated -- as ultra-masculine. But it's interesting that the society which chooses to concentrate on the specifically feminine attributes is a society rumoured to have been, at one point in its history, a matriarchy. That may not be unrelated to the fact that power is connoted there in a way that allows female power to be about specifically female things.
To put that another way, instead of a missing phallus, the Tokyo image is organised around a non-missing womb.