There. Said it. What are you thinking of? Susan B. Anthony? Lesbians in leather? Central Core Imagery? You’re thinking of something. There are few words I’ve found to be more polarizing, especially among artists. Say that you’re a “feminist” making art about What It Means to Be a Woman, and you’re met with uncomfortable shifting, eye-rolls, even assumptions about your sexual orientation or how often you shave your legs.
My local library reminded me a few days ago that March is Women’s History month (thanks library!) with a shelf full of theme-appropriate books. It also reminded me of Ball State’s Nina B. Marshal memorial Women’s Art Show. Every March, the female faculty put on a show with selected female art students. The pieces of work frequently address “womenness” but sometimes don’t. The only garunteed common thread among all the pieces is that each is done by a woman associated with the Ball State Art Department. And, every March comes the chorus of “It’s not fair” and “why don’t we have a men’s show?” to which the answer is always “every show is a man’s show.” Not that there isn’t truth to this. There is. But it just feels like the same argument over and over and over-
Then, one day, I had a conversation with a friend about why she objected to the women’s show-
“I don’t know, I mean, it’s nice on a resume, but aren’t we past that? I’d like to think my work can stand on its own whether I’m a woman or not.”
Are we past it? The art world is still very much an old boys club, and violence, discrimination, condescension and just general crappiness are still a part of women’s lives everywhere, but really, how many middle-class American white girls have ever been truly oppressed? I’ve been condescended to, talked down to and thought of with low expectations, but not necessarily because of any particular part of anatomy I did or didn’t have. So while I want to get angry and make art about Being a Woman and a Feminist, because of the INJUSTICE of the past, it just sounds hollow. And Silly. Even to me. And also I don’t really feel all that angry. Just vaguely perturbed and mostly confused.
Thanks to the suggestion of the aformentioned themed library shelf, I recently started reading Simon de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex.** I’ve only finished the introduction so far, but I’ve already decided de Beauvoir knows her shit. After fifteen pages briefly outlining the ways in which women have been thought to be and treated as inferiors, she then stops to caution that
We must not, however, be any less mistrustful of feminists; arguments: very often their attempt to polemicize robs them of all value. If the ‘question of women’ is so trivial, it is because masculine arrogance turned it into a ‘quarrel’;when people quarrel, they no longer reason well. What people have endlessly sought to prove is that woman i s superior, inferior or equal to man…Every argument has its opposite, and both are often misleading. To see clearly, one needs to get out of these ruts; these vague notions of superiority, inferiority and equality that have distorted all discussions must be discarded in order to start anew.”
The generations of feminists before us ensured we’d be able to vote, wear pants, make decisions about out own bodies and even be taken seriously as artists. Yes, maybe, we are ‘past it.’ So can we retire feminism? Can we tuck it away into history only to be taken out everyonce in a while to be lovingly patted on the head like a crazy old aunt?
Or, maybe, it’s just time to shift feminism’s focus. We’re past it and onto bigger things. While you (reader) and I might be so privileged, we’re a minority. The site Global Issues.org has an entire section on Women’s Rights (or lackthereof) around the world, with depressing facts and quotes like this one, from Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization in 2010,
“Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), many girls and women still do not have equal opportunities to realize rights recognized by law. In many countries, women are not entitled to own property or inherit land. Social exclusion, “honor” killings, female genital mutilation, trafficking, restricted mobility and early marriage among others, deny the right to health to women and girls and increase illness and death throughout the life-course
And even better, is this video of author Isabel Allende’s TEDTalk.
So, Ladies (and gentlemen!), this month (or any month, really), let’s be silly. Let’s be loud, let’s put on make up or shave our heads or both- Let’s cook and clean and write manifestos, let’s be loud, let’s scream Ani Difranco, argue about the meaning of the word ‘feminism’ and burn any undergarments that might be at odds with our political ideals. But most importantly, let’s be grateful these are all options. Let’s educate ourselves about the women who aren’t as lucky and pay it forward.
- Global Issues – wiki-esque site littered with links to related topics.
- Madre– NY based organization with projects in countries all over the world. Also a great educational site.
- AWAKEN, Inc. – Afghan Women and Kids Education and Necessities. Not for profit that works to provide schools, medical facilities and ocupational training to women and kids in Afghanistan. They’re also the charity I’m running for this year, which you can read about over at my other blog, See Sheep Run. Want to feel lazy? Read about Awaken’s fantastic founder, Bibi Barami.
While I’m grateful to pioneer artists like Judy Chicago, who were loud and furious because they were first and had to be, I agree more with my ever-hero Eva Hesse who declared
“The best way to beat discrimination in art is by art. Excellence has no sex”
* Swan Dive.
**Not only is it one of those “you must read this if you have ovaries and a pulse” books I’ve heard about for forever, but I have a weakness for anything French or elegant. And the cover is both)