Blog / 2010 / The 1960s Radical Separatist Feminist in My Head
July 14, 2010
I have a friend who hears her mom’s voice in her head. It comments now and again on her behavior and chimes in when she’s making decisions. It’s the same for me, only the voice in my head sounds like a 1960s radical separatist feminist.
I first noticed the voice in 2006, and its sudden appearance probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was in love with a man for the first time. It also probably had a lot to do with inClover, a group show that I was participating in that summer. The concept of exhibition stemmed from the saying “to be in clover,” which means “to be living a carefree life of ease, comfort, or prosperity,” and with my contributions to the show I addressed some of the discoveries I was making in my new relationship.
Since inClover was presented in a Portland park, each of the two pieces I created for it was designed to be wrapped around a tree so that the strip of portraits was seen as an endlessly repeating cycle of the many different faces of one person. The themes for the individual portraits were “over grown,” “grown up,” “upstart,” “start in,” and “in clover” (each written under the individual busts). With the cycle of themes I wanted to convey how finding that place of ease, comfort, and prosperity is usually a dynamic process. We are never in clover for long, but rather searching for how to get back there.
This strip consists of self-portraits with quotes from Betty Crocker’s Hints for the Homemaker interspersed among the faces. The early 1960s hints include advice like the following:
Have a hobby. Garden, paint pictures, look through magazines for home planning ideas, read a good book, or attend club meetings. Be interested—and you’ll always be interesting.
With this piece, I wanted to confront the pressures that I feel to be a proper, domestic, and nurturing woman—expectations which I both resent and embrace. I was asking myself what it meant that I want a career and that I also love to cook for my man. In a sense, I was visually portraying the arguments that go on between my one self and my other self—also known as the 1960s radical separatist feminist in my head.
This second piece consists of portraits of my partner with the same cycle of themes. Instead of trying to find a text like Hints for the Homemaker that might apply to men in general, the words in this painting are more intimately tied to David in particular.
Depicting him suited and beardless along with a run-on of HTML code represents the time my partner spent in Manhattan as a corporate trainer in web-building among other things. He was making scads of money but also losing his voice as an artist. The remainder of the text in the piece is from a story by David which tells about a man who forgoes the so-called respectable life so that he can pursue his dream, breaking away from a kind of societal pressure that’s not too different from the one that bullies some women into being homemakers.
At the one-day event that was inClover, I got into a conversation with two of the other female artists about the practice of a woman taking a man’s name when she marries. Neither of the women I was talking to had changed their names, and I was curious about their choices.
The one who was my age revealed that it wasn’t a decision she had agonized over; it had just sort of happened when she and her husband went to register their marriage. The other woman had a much stronger opinion—both about her own choice and the choice she felt I should make.
She was in her 60s, and she described the trouble that her generation of feminists had gone through to obtain this right, chastising me for even questioning what I would do. And this woman wasn’t alone in her rebuke: the feminist in my head was laying into me too.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I wish that I had pointed out to my colleague that what she had fought for was not my right to refuse to take a man’s name, but my right to choose whether or not I would. Instead I looked down at the artist’s bare legs and said: “You shave your legs; I have never shaved mine. We each have our own ways of chipping away at the patriarchy.”
My colleague blinked at me and turned away. The feminist in my head berated me for bringing another woman down.
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