In each case that a man or a “masculine” principle is undermined by a danger from “the feminine”, the response is the same: to preserve masculine power by imposing negativizing gender stereotypes on the Other and putting them at a safe distance, in a lesser category. This gambit has worked for a long time, and the self-claimed masculine control of culture has been so successful that many women - including high-profile artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Georgia O’Keefe - have not wished to be perceived as a part of a female interest group, reluctant to be associated with a subgroup countenanced by the patriarchy as lesser.
From the introduction to Reclaiming Female Agency: feminist art history after postmodernism
In this piece, Abramovic once again explores the dynamics of pain, violence and self-destruction. In the first performance of this piece in 1973, she recorded the “rhythmic melody” of the sounds made as she plunged a knife rapidly between the fingers of her outstretched hand, changing knives each time she stabbed her hand- rather than the surface on which her hand rested- until she had used many knives.
Playing the tape back, she repeated the performance using the recording as a “score” to duplicate the same actions and injuries as the same moments. At once a feat of extraordinary concentration and a scene of repetitous self-mutilation, Rhythm 10 amplifies the way in which women sometimes engage in self-sabotage.
From foot-binding to obsessive dieting, diverse cultural energy has been dedicated to deforming women’s bodies, often with women’s own masochistic consent.