Posts Tagged 'Gender'

The Game of Giving Gifts

A watercolor I painted as a present

Gift-giving has always had a political element to it. Tribal groups typically exchanged gifts in order to keep good relations, build new alliances, or repair tensions; from the Middle Ages through the Reformation and the Victorian Age, elements of charity and philanthropy evolved into various forms– but they were always based on the foundation of the Gift.

Today I might argue that gift giving has become less political, but no less strategic. In a globalized free market, our primary form of exchange is monetary, and certainly that economic element infuses our gift-giving: last year we spent $446.8 billion dollars on retail gifts alone during the holiday season.

But real strategy of the gift game plays out on an individual level:

  • How well do I know this person? (How personal should this gift be?)
  • What kind of a relationship do we have? (How much time or money should I spend preparing or buying this gift?)
  • What is this person’s personality? (What the hell should I actually give?)

The political element hasn’t disappeared from gift-giving, though– especially when women complain how hard it is to buy presents for men. Or when men feel frustrated because they don’t know how to shop for women (or how to shop at all). Marketing and sales industries are primarily aimed at women; women are taught how and when to spend money from a very young age. Men, on the other hand, are given a small range of typical gifts for women they care about: flowers, jewelry, candy. It kindof limits their creativity, don’t it.

I’m feeling the strategy of gift-giving these days. All of the birthdays in my family but one fall within the October to December range (not to mention that whole Holiday Season thing…).

I recently made the painting at the top as a gift for one of my co-workers (a cheaper alternative than pitching in for a gift certificate). But now I’m questioning my strategy: is it appropriate; will she like it; is it her style…

I’ve also never done a still life before– I tried a lot of new techniques with this piece. A word of advice to artists: it’s REALLY FRIGGIN’ RISKY to experiment with a new technique when you’re planning to give away the painting as a gift.

Advertisements

Yet another exam season

…making me neglect my blog again. My apologies! It’s funny how being so mentally stimulated elsewhere in classes makes it so difficult to collect my thoughts without some sort of prompt or essay question. I haven’t asked myself in a long time, “what do I want to write about?”

Maybe I want to write about gender, which is the central topic in my senior seminar for Women’s and Gender Studies majors. I seem to be on a different wavelength than the other women in the class–and although we have a fantastic class dynamic, I do feel some underlying discomfort and isolation. I think a lot of this has to do with our differing economic and social backgrounds– most of my peers have come from high-income prep or boarding schools, and a lot of the reasons why they take WGS classes is because they’ve experienced objectification from men, and struggled with body image and eating disorders. Women’s and Gender studies has helped them to assert a sense of self, and self-worth.

The reason that I take WGS classes, on the other hand, is for humility. Looking at the larger histories, society, and cultures, reminds me that I am not a totally independent and autonomous being– that I am very much shaped by these larger forces. And it has forced me to take responsibility for my participation in those larger forces: my privilege as a white person, for example, is connected to the oppression of a non-white person, and I have been complacent with that most of my life.

Although this sort of education has at times led me to feel guilty, shameful, and even sometimes utterly heartbroken and full of sorrow, it has also pushed me past that point– to a place of connection, communication, and healing. I’ve had to learn how to confront my pride and listen— just listen, openly and humbly, without defensiveness or anger –to other women’s experiences, and to feel empathy for them… and sometimes, to feel a little righteous anger on account of the sheer injustice that surrounds the lives of women.

I say this because much of the tension in my seminar tends to be about issues of appearance, and self-presentation. A lot of the women in my class have a paranoia about stereotypes of feminists– that they’re masculine, butchy, etc., etc. And they are also conscious that simply dressing in a different way doesn’t in itself lead to liberation, which is absolutely true. In fact, many of those “alternative communities” can have equally strict rules about how to dress in order to fit a certain identity. So as a result, the other women in my class tend to still dress femininely almost all of the time… and I definitely do not.

This relates back to my experience in gender studies being a process of humility. Because my education has been a process of de-emphasizing the self, I no longer view my appearance as an extension of my “Self”– that is, my identity. And actually, this has been an excellent way to think about (or not think about) how I present myself to the world. It has allowed me to develop a sense of playfulness, particularly in terms of appearance (what we call “gender performance” in gender studies classes). Now, I make playful (or playfully political) decisions about how I want to dress, or wear my hair or makeup, in different contexts– because I don’t feel any angst about that appearance being connected to some sort of “boxed in” identity.

So, for example, I wear my hair short at Kenyon. I do this because a) I enjoy the low-maintenance style, b) because it makes me feel empowered, and c) I feel uncomfortable with the attention I get from men when I wear my hair long. BUT, I also wear my hair short because d) no women at this college have short hair! And yes, I do believe that it’s really important to have a diversity of appearances in any given context, because otherwise you’ll never know that there are other possibilities! And this diversity of appearances applies to more than “femininity” –it also has to do with racial diversity, and diversity of backgrounds. So yes, my short hair is a political decision– and a personal decision, and a playful decision. I’m sure I’ll have long hair after I graduate, in some different context later in life.

A moment of deviousness my Junior year (last year)

I do think that the fact that most of my peers still dress femininely almost 100% of the time does say something about their methods for liberation. I think it represents an (unconscious) unwillingness to give up the privileges that go along with dressing femininely. The result of this is that these women are unable to connect with the experiences of women who don’t dress femininely– and I don’t think that that is a productive feminist method for liberation.

I have to make similar requirements for myself. Even though I’m more comfortable dressing androgynously, or gender-neutrally, I think it’s important for me to wear a dress every once in a while. It helps me to remember what it’s like to be a woman walking around the world in a dress– the different ways that people look at you, talk to you, make eye contact with you, etc.

My point of all of this is: It’s important to transgress. But it’s also important to feel comfortable.

(It’s important to do both.)

I’m Having an English Major Weekend

My thesis is due Monday (eep!) and I’ve basically set aside my social life for the past two weeks to really hone this piece. It’s particularly hard doing a creative thesis– it takes a lot of discipline to keep working on something even when I’m not feeling particularly inspired.

But on the subject of books and literature… I wanted to link to this excellent article from The Non-Consumer Advocate about the Amazon Kindle versus old-fashioned books. I’ve tried to be pragmatic about technology (getting an iphone was an angst-inducing decision for me) but I think I must side with the article on this one. Books aren’t environmentally perfect, but they’re a much better alternative than the Kindle, which has a massive carbon footprint and a short life span.

I was particularly impressed by the article’s observation about how the kindle will be “upgraded” in the future:

What’s going to happen to all these Kindles in two years when Amazon comes out with a newer, shinier, improved version? (Titanium for him, pink for her.)

This has certainly been the case with the ipod– or, well, with almost any product, really. This is a great example of the way that corporations exploit gender in order to maximize their profit. And, of course, causing massive environmental waste in the process.

As for me, I’ll stick with my old-fashioned, “recyclable and virtually indestructible” book. In fact, there’s a stack of them right here waiting for me to get back to my thesis…

Historical Hotties and Heroes

I recently rediscovered my love for Amelia Earhart. Geez, who could resist that bomber jacket and killer eye contact? Then, after an inspirational section from my reading for this week’s Gender Studies seminar, I started assembling some other historical hotties.

Marlene Dietrich, for example. Glamorous enough to make both men and women lust after her in man-tailored suits.

Louise Brooks wasn’t the first to popularize short hair in the U.S.– that honor belongs to ballroom dancer Irene Castle. But Louise did star in the scandalously sexual Pandora’s Box, one of the first films to portray a lesbian subplot (via Alice Roberts as Countess Anna Geschwitz). But the hair? It would still be bold today.

Colette, French novelist, married an older bisexual man, left him for his affairs, & then had her own affair with American writer Natalie Barney. Also, performed at the Moulin Rouge with her lover Mathilde de Morny, where their onstage kiss nearly caused a riot and required police intervention. Beautiful example of a woman taking control over the full creativity of her own self-presentation and gender performativity.

I’ll have to follow this post up as I continue to assemble more historical hotties/heroes. Please feel free to suggest a figure!

Automatic Bodies

Do you find that when you doodle, you draw the same thing over and over?

My mother says that she vividly remembers my grandmother drawing dancing ladies absentmindedly when she would talk on the phone. Different versions of the same figure: dancing ladies.

Automatism: the short version is, there’s a great untapped resource within our own subconscious, and we can work to express it through automatic drawing or automatic writing by attempting to free ourselves from the conscious. The constraints of the “conscious” are the constraints of grammar, syntax, the rules of composition, or the censorship through moral or social judgment, etc.

One of the aforelinked websites informs me that “Automatic Drawing is a kind of yoga for artists.” (ah, intriguing).

So, sure, I don’t fully buy it. When it comes to an ideology of creativity, I’d rather look out into the world than into my own subconscious. Don’t get me wrong; I value self-understanding, but I don’t think I’m the source of all creation.

Which brings me to the subject of doodling! I posted yesterday with some snapshots of my class notes, on days when I feel like jazzing up the typeface of my title. But the vast majority of my doodles (images below) tend to be based on the female figure.

Wait. Let’s unpack that last statement.

I draw women’s bodies (?!)

I feel more than a little conflicted about this. When I put a pen to paper, what “feels natural” is to draw the female figure. But if Sociology, Women’s Studies, Gender Theory, Queer Studies, (and so on and so forth) have taught us anything, it’s that just because something “feels natural,” does not mean that it is natural. For example, how about the fact that male artists have been glorifying and objectifying women’s bodies for thousands of years? Or that the majority of nudes in an art museum will inevitably be of women, but you’ll be hard pressed to find equivalents for the male figure? or that when I open my textbook on “the nude,” most of the pages are of women? Needless to say, it seems likely that, as an artist, naked women have been pressed into my subconscious for years.

But I won’t deny that I find women beautiful, as humans and as bodies. And I produce better art when I focus on a subject that draws me in more easily. So how about the fact that most of the female figures that I draw tend to adhere to a normative standard of beauty? Sure, I go through phases of drawing “fat women,” or non-normative looking women– but in general, I draw slender figures, graceful figures, attractive poses. Some of this can be attributed to a self-image; I know my own [fairly slender] body best, so it’s easier to draw body types like my own. But a lot of it can be attributed to the images that penetrate my consciousness every day. Every sign, photograph, commercial, painting, TV show, (and so on and so forth) produces an aestheticized feminine body that is inevitably reflected on the page.

So, here’s what I’ve been drawing so far. And my challenge for the rest of the semester is to branch the fuck out.

Doodles 2Doodles 4-1

Doodles 5Doodles 6

Doodles 7Doodles 8

Doodles 11

Doodles 11-1Doodles 11-2

Doodles 10

Doodles 10-1

Gender Through Design

I’ve been swamped with work lately! Luckily, a lot of the work is art- and design-related, so I have things to post.

I haven’t explicitly mentioned this before, but please note that all of the work I post here is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative License. Which means that you can take and post these images elsewhere as long as my name/blog are credited and linked; you may not use them for commercial purposes; and you may not alter or edit the image in any way.

Over the past few years I’ve designed a few posters and t-shirts for the women’s center at my college. The media is one of the primary ways that we receive messages about gender– and this goes for both men and women. Sociological Images is a great blog that often has good examples of gender messages in the media. Dealing with gender and race when designing for the media is always a challenge: one has to be always conscious, always alert. And yet somehow, the creative process itself is always empowering.

56percent poster sm

I made this poster this weekend for 56%, a publication through the women’s center. The original tagline, when the mag was first founded, was “writing for, by, and about women.” It has since changed to “a gender-conscious publication,” and this year, “a magazine with a focus on gender and sexuality.” This piece was done in watercolor and india ink (except for the text at the bottom, which was added digitally). Below are some poster headers that I used the last two years.

56percent header sm

Header

And this (below) I made this a few years ago for a night of music by women:

Crozier_music sm

I also have two t-shirt designs for Love Your Body Day, but that’s actually coming up soon so I’ll have a third design to post… perhaps they’ll get a post of their own.

Women in Agriculture

nicole-793187-300x201

Click to read


Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

Flickr Photos

Recent Tweets