What about the third figure in Balthus’ painting Thérèse Dreaming? I’m not really one for looking around in paintings for things that might be or mean other things, but, in this case, perhaps the towel isn’t just a towel. Is it a towel thrown in? It seems to be the shape of a weeping, forlorn ghost of a man, perhaps the painter, in the scene, but basically being ignored by the girl. A man who knew youth and its vitality were behind him as he approached death, a man who wouldn’t have been of any interest to Thérèse, whose body language seems defiant to whatever rules she may have been indoctrinated towards womanhood with. Eyes closed; she’s tuned him out, holding her own space and thoughts while maintaining a very powerful pose. Sexuality here might be of the fuck you variety. Fuck you whomever says I cannot sit this way. Fuck you whomever thinks I am vulnerable because my hands are above my head and my eyes are closed. Fuck you painter man who thinks you’ve captured me or ever stood a chance with me. Maybe it’s more of an Oh Bondage Up Yours! moment as the withered old man lies crumpled and crying. Anywho, that’s my take.
It also reminds me of the Mecca Normal song Narrow in which a common activity is used to re-prioritize functions away from the male perspective. “A man might think she’s singing while she braids her hair. She is not. She braids her hair while she sings.” Similarly, I doubt very much that Thérèse is dreaming. She looks like she’s thinking to me.
Perhaps the painter captured more of her attitude than he intended.