I made a discovery at the local museum earlier this year. Touring the galleries with my family, it struck me again how many different ways there are to see the world. A portrait by John Singer Sargent is utterly different from the portraits of Picasso. Even working with the same palette and medium, the variations are infinite and fascinating.
|Dahlov Ipcar “Blue Savanna” Oil on Canvas, 1978|
Curious to see how the experiences of women might be reflected in their work, I started looking for the female artists. I found paintings by Mary Cassatt, Dahlov Ipcar and her mother, Marguerite Zorach, and several other women. But the remaining work, the vast majority of the art I was enjoying, was created by men.
Shortly before this visit I’d finished reading How To Be a Woman, a book by Caitlin Moran that “jump-start(s) a new conversation about feminism.” I suppose I can blame Moran for inspiring this search for feminism at the gallery, but the result of my search is what compels me to recommend her book, with the entreaty to read it—all of it—whether you relate to it personally or not.
How To Be a Woman isn’t a book about one right way to be a woman; as Moran says, “…the purpose of feminism isn’t to make a particular type of woman.” How To Be a Woman is one woman’s point of view about women’s issues, drawn partly from her own experiences as a woman. It is hilarious, irreverent, and sometimes shocking, but always honest. Most of all, it is a brave act in a world where we too often judge and criticize each other for making different choices and having different values from our own. I was left wondering if fear of this judgment and criticism (from men AND women) sometimes silences us, and if so, what do we need in order to change this?
A few months later we visited the same art museum to celebrate my daughter’s inclusion in a student exhibit, and as we sat in an auditorium with other parents and students (of both genders) from all over the state, it seemed obvious what we, as women, need.
We need more paintings
We need more of our art, more stories, and more brave acts, and not just because we are underrepresented in the galleries of the world. Without seeing the views of many women, realizing the variety of experiences, opinions, and stories, it is easy to lump us together—and then expect us all to be alike. When we’re not using our voices, it is easier to believe we don’t have voices at all—and then a simple thing to make decisions for us without even inviting us to participate.
Moran concludes that feminism is “Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy, and smug they might be.” Free to write (paint, dance, design) their own lives and stories, to share their experiences and unique points of view.
For me it is also that I can tell both of my kids, my son AND daughter, that they can be anything they want to be—and mean it.