Blog / 2021 / The Patriarchy Made Me This Way

June 22, 2021

work in process, painting the praying mantis
process of making a painting

“Bugs are not as polite out here.”

I’d asked my old friend what to expect when moving to the east coast of the United States after spending the majority of my life in California and Oregon. She too had been a west coast girl before making her way to the more densely populated part of our country, and she was certainly right: east coast insects are aggressive.

Still, she wasn’t painting a complete picture. When I first moved to the capital of Virginia and then to rural New Jersey, it wasn't the six-legged creatures that really bugged me. It was the two-legged ones of the male persuasion.

painting of African mantis mating
Gwenn Seemel
Femme Fatale (African Mantis)
2012
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches
(For prints and tees with this image, visit my Redbubble shop.)

The men of Richmond and the Pine Barrens avoid making eye contact with a woman when she is accompanied by a man. Even when I’m the one asking a question, if my partner happens to be standing with me, men will almost always direct their responses to him instead of to the person who is actually conversing with them, AKA me.

As far as I can tell, the logic seems to be that if you don’t acknowledge a person’s existence, then they can’t cause trouble for you. Specifically, if you don’t look at a woman at all, you can’t look at her the “wrong way” and upset the man she’s with.

The fact that you may be offending a woman by refusing to recognize her humanity is just the frosting on the poop cake that is the patriarchy. And that’s a poop cake that we are all—women, nonbinary folx, and even men—being forced to eat every single moment of every single day.

work in process, painting two zebras
process of making a painting

For the first time in a year and a half, I’m on the west coast again. In our drive across these not-quite-united COVID states to get to Oregon, my partner and I did our best to avoid people, but we nevertheless encountered a number of men who wouldn’t make eye contact with me. On arriving in the Pacific Northwest, I was thrilled to bask in the sanity of human decency. When we walked into a shop in a small town in Oregon and my partner struck up a conversation with the proprietor, it was the first time in a year and a half that a stranger of the male persuasion included me in a conversation.

Some of this timeline is COVID-created, of course—it’s not like I’ve been talking with many people IRL while sequestered in my home. But that doesn’t change the relief that the proprietor’s eye contact gave me. It validated my anger at all the men who refuse to look at me, at the patriarchy which turns those men into compliant morons, and at the powerful players who keep shoving poop cake in our faces.

It reminded me that, while I may not be the woman that the patriarchy wants me to be, I am the woman that the patriarchy made: fascinated by bugs and unimpressed with men who lack imagination and, as a result, would never even think to wonder what it might feel like to be treated like chattel.

painting of two zebras
Gwenn Seemel
Uniform (Zebra)
2012
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches
(For prints and tees with this image, visit my Redbubble shop.)

I can’t really say whether or not male zebras ever lack imagination, but what I’m sure of is that they can spark ours, because, in this species, all genders look alike. Zebras, along with female African mantises who sometimes eat males post-copulation, help us remember that what’s “natural” varies a lot more than we’ve been led to believe.

In fact, that’s the whole point of Crime Against Nature, the queer science book that I wrote/painted in 2012 and that I’ll be discussing in an online talk through the Princeton Public Library tomorrow at 7p (New York time). I hope you’ll join me as I share the emotional behind-the-scenes of this project for the first time ever.

UPDATE

July 20, 2021

A recording of the talk is now available!


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