I’m really good at quitting smoking. I’ve done it so many times, it’s easy! I’ve quit a lot of things. I quit worrying about the space my body takes up, over-thinking if I’m too old to do that thing with my hair, I’m not smart enough to have that conversation with those people, I’m not strong enough to take on that project right now, I’m not talented enough to invest in. I quit all that in favour of things like this.
Following the fun we had during Day of the Girl Dr Helen Warner and I led a Gendered Bodies Cafe Conversation, part of Being Human Festival. Academics from the University of East Anglia are currently hosting interactive sessions reflecting on the ways in which assumptions are made about bodies and women’s (and girls) agency. We made a space for discussion about not only problems and virtues of gender, but it’s very meaning.
Helen is a lecturer in Cultural Politics, Communications and Media Studies. Her focus, theory & talking – INTEREST IN REGULATION – both formal politics – and the rollback on reproductive rights in the US & Europe & the way we internalise and regulate our own bodies (girls’ sexuality & the purity movement/diet & fashion) We both provide a counter to popular & political discourses that tell people (minority groups = women, POC, LGBTQ+) that their bodies are wrong. Both of us draw attention to the ways in which bodies are socially constructed. I had examples of THE MERMASAUR,to illustrate what it looks like to say, this bits wobbly, this bits hairy and that’s OK, this work celebrates difference and real bodies by playfully swimming through inequality and snapping at oppression.
One topic that brought diverse conversation and reflection was body hair. What it means by the choices you make to keep and remove it, various outside forces that govern those choices and how this looks in a bigger picture. Swimwear came up, the choice to keep your body hair but cover it up with a particular style of suit can prove difficult to locate, unavailable in your size or out of your price range. All of which impact how individuals lose agency of their bodies to the pressures of how one should take up space and decorate your environment. I found it interesting to hear dislodge how individuals feel in queer spaces, one might find this the only place they feel their body as being viewed, cutting out the male gaze in other environments, simply refusing to acknowledge it, a numbness. We here as a non binary person felt the queer environment most comfortable, most accepting to the space their body inhabits. It provoked within me memories of hyper-awareness of my body and how it is viewed, how I had the ability to emotionally cut off and numb but didn’t flip the same switch for how a gaze hit me.
What are the main factors that contribute to the objectification of women? What can we do to dismantle them? HOW? DAG NAM IT! How to dismantle contributing factors that oppress everyone not in a position of privilege? is where we went. I’m cross we simply can’t out live THEM. Some educate, research, protest, make, write, talk, model, some do this and get angry, some do this and don’t get angry, all of this is good.
Am I a feminist Artist? I’m one and the other so why wouldn’t I be both? I’m not ashamed of one or the other, so if that’s the outward label I have earned then that’s OK. I prefer this to insecure space invader that made installations 2011; instead of being confident in the etchings, drawings and ideas I was instinctively making but lacked the intellectual confidence and emotional coherence to follow. It is better to have and embrace the label together, than to fight the validation for one without the other. I’m a story teller, a question maker, emotion poker, Feminist Artist rounds this off nicely. Looking at the history of art as a whole, you have to have a strong feminist vein to make and keep making, the art world/market is a patriarchal system to push against and break down. I cut my teeth on YBA, Chapman Brothers, Heirst being gross, angry kids, Sara Lucus and Tracy Emin being equally playful and provocative. Who earned the most then and now; who is still making? This year, Laura Smith and Linsey Young Curators of Turner Prize 2016, bringing 3 women and a man to the Tate. A big Butt for the wealthy and all but one penny of the poverty line. Strong feminist concepts of living today, even if the word makes you bowk.
During small group discussion I was asked a series of questions that reaffirming where my ideals and ideas are coming from. I grew up in a culture where feminism was a dirty word but men couldn’t be trusted or relied on. Having a very unhealthy relationship with my body, my Self, people and the world in general. Surrounded by what seemed to be strong women in a matriarchal family and trying to function with these faux feminist ideas was troublesome, I couldn’t see. Age 30 there came, events that opened my eyes. I saw what I lacked, I saw me, injustice, cruelty, mis-education, what true confidence looks and feels like. Finding my voice helped me hear others; the sound of Feminism was loud and had a clarity that reached out over so much. It made the world make sense. Unapologetic, not sugar coated, brutal, like an etching by Emin, I like it.