Saturday is the opening of the Expressions in Equality exhibit at Visions Art Museum. Sheila Frampton-Cooper is the curator. This is a short version of her curatorial statement…
What drives people to undermine whole populations that they deem different and therefore unacceptable? From racial, gender and sexual inequality to ageism and classism, progress has been made, yet discrimination still abounds. This show begs the questions: What are the issues we’re challenged with, and what would a perfect society look like that’s sustained by pure, unconditional love?
Sheila came to me in Fall of 2013 and asked if I could participate in this exhibit. We talked about how my obvious take would be gender equality, though with teaching a variety of students and life in general, I could certainly do a host of other equality issues. It was gender equality that spoke to me, though. There’s that whole Nature v Nuture thing about male and female that both intrigues and irritates the crap out of me. Don’t assume because I’m female that I can’t do things. Don’t assume that I’m supposed to do things. Obviously, there are things that only a woman can do, like give birth. Imagine being a woman raised knowing that and then not being able to actually have a child.
But what the hell does gender equality mean? There are things that it is physically impossible for a man to do, such as give birth, so that falls squarely in the female arena. Certainly we haven’t figured out how a man can nurse a baby either, although if you’re pro-bottle (my kids never were), there are options to involve both genders in that process. Biologically, men do tend to be larger and stronger, but that is not always the case. We can certainly go back to the caveman stereotype (because stereotypes are so useful) and say Man Hunter, Woman Gatherer, but I have some female friends who would kick ass on the Hunter part and some male friends who would fall woefully short. And all that is OK. Society does throw a wide variety of gender roles and expectations at us that don’t seem at all related to DNA. I know when I was first married, although my husband had gladly cooked for me prior to marriage (sort of a way of attracting the female, right?), after the actual wedding, he made an assumption that the cooking portion of our relationship was my problem. I fought that and won (well, and I’m divorced now, so take that as you will, but he cooks now). I probably continue some of those stereotypes by being a teacher (but I teach science) and a quilter (but my quilts are art). And do I nurture more as a mom because I’m female? Because society expects it of me? Because my DNA tells me to? Or because that’s just the person I am? Hard to say.
When you toss in issues of homosexuality and transgender existences, the whole story turns into a muddle. It’s hard for me to look at how society works now and think that we will ever be capable of gender equality…and it’s not that everything needs to be equal, because it can’t. But certainly in a specific relationship, there should be this idea of people choosing activities and responsibilities based on their inherent passions and abilities, whether they carry a uterus or a penis.
So all those things were in my head all year as the piece grew in my head. Here’s a detail.
I tagged certain parts of the bodies with male and female symbols. I can’t post the whole thing until after the opening Saturday night, but here is my artist’s statement for the piece:
This concept of gender equality, there are some days when it seems like a dream, like something I woke up with in my head, foggy-edged, but possible. Then I go out into the real world and the expectations others have of me because I am female, daughter, mother, sister, wife, girlfriend…it clashes so incredibly with that dream I see in my head, where there are no assumptions of who or what I will be, or what my son or daughter will be…that there isn’t anything I HAVE to do because I was born with two X chromosomes and you were born with one. There is no government entity or group who is limiting me because of the uterus I have inside me and my ability to give birth, which somehow makes me less of a person to some. Even when people say they don’t believe in those divisions, there ARE some things that only one gender can do (give birth), at least for now, and when your child is small and the comfort they get is from the one who provides food, you wonder how many of these gender differences are nature and how many are nurture. Whatever the answer, and I don’t think we have it now, I would hope that a new relationship would start from a place of relative equality and then move from there. I call it a work in progress because I don’t believe we are doing it particularly well now, even myself, and it can only get better. If I keep the dream in the front of my mind and refer to it as I interact, as I do, as I live, as I love, then perhaps I will get closer to what feels like equality…teamwork…standing together to get where we need to go.
So yeah. The piece is called Work in Progress. When Sheila first asked me to participate, I had a hard time coming up with any hope that this was possible, that gender equality would ever be attainable. Society seems to flip flop on women’s rights and equality, and the current mood is certainly not pro-equality. When 20-year-old women tell me they’re not feminists, because they don’t know why they SHOULD be, I wonder how we will ever enact significant change. When 40-year-old men tell me I’m imagining the conspiracy against my uterine rights, I wonder how we can make it more equal when we can’t even acknowledge there’s an issue.
But maybe that’s it. Maybe we don’t do it as a whole society. Maybe we do it one relationship at a time. Hope to see you Saturday night at the opening, 5-7.