Bitches Be Cray

An Anecdotal Field Guide to Contemporary Feminism

poems from greece

For some weeks now, you’ve suspected that she was growing ever more bored with being frustrated with you.

You texted her seven times asking if she would come over today, but while you drafted the eighth message, she replied, “Not today, sorry, but I’ll be round tomorrow by 3.”

A disappointing response. No, “I’m busy, cuntface.” Or, “Stop texting me, you psycho.” You long for the fires of old.

Still, she doesn’t seem to have any intention of breaking up with you. You don’t think you would want to break up either, of course. And, shouldn’t you love some who loves you despites being what many (therapists) might characterize as clingy, manic depressive, a “borderline narcissist”. Is she the clingy, depressive narcissist for being with you? You debate with yourself one morning as she lays asleep next to you.

Leaning over her tranquil face, you hock a massive spit glob into her eye to wake her up. She jolts up, but you hold her down. She turns her head to the side to wipe the saliva off her face. You press your forehead and nose into hers and open your eyes as wide as possible.

“Love?” you ask. “Love” she sighs.

 

 

The cat had adopted her as its owner, in the way that cats do. The young woman was an easy target, lonely and bored, the cat had no problems earning her trust. After hanging about in her backyard for only a day or two, the cat had convinced the young woman to put out cans of tuna. Within a week, the cat had finagled its way into the woman’s home. The cat allowed her to stroke its back and even, its belly. The young woman allowed the cat on to her bed and even, her pillow.

Friends might be too strong a word to describe what they had, but this suited the cat’s purposes quite well. For one day, while the young woman was out, the cat lay down on her pillow and calmly passed away, slightly defecating on his way.

When the young woman returned and discovered the cat, she set down her shopping (which contained a brand new litter box) in stoic silence. Borrowing a shovel from her neighbour, she dug a small grave from her short-term companion and lowered the cat’s body into the ground.

After covering it with dirt and patting down the soil, the young woman took shower and decided to use the litter box to store singular sock until she found their match.

 

 

Dear Nathan,

 

On the first day I arrived here I immediately went to the beach for a swim. It was lovely and the water is clear, but I stepped on a sea urchin! When I lifted my foot off its small body, I realized I had broken and bent many of its spines.

I swam awkwardly back to the beach and hopped to my towel. Oh Nathan, I must have looked a state. There were a few spines still stuck in my foot. I had unintentionally stolen them.

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for I had done to the sea urchin. When I got home, I did some research online, though, and as it turns out, they are designed to have their spine broken and ripped out, they can regrow them infinitely.

So, I guess I will keep my souvenirs. They will make lovely earrings.

Warm wishes from Greece,

 

Piles

The house I grew up in had shingles on the outside that woodpeckers to like to bore holes into, then the local squirrels fill those holes with acorns, in an attempt to store them safely for winter, but because theyre shingles and not a tree, water would get in the holes and rot the acorns and in turn the shingles, which was highly frustrating to my father, who finally took to guarding the house from woodpeckers with the pellet gun from the garage. These were mostly scare tactics, but he got one every once in a while.

He would return triumphant and lay the gun on his desk amongst the piles of papers, books, electrical bits and bobs and bike parts. His desk is in fact just a larger sheet of wood held up by two sets of drawers, which are filled with wonderful treasures, if only you could get them open. Despite the utter chaos he knows where things are and how things worked, which was highly frustrating to my stepmother, who was visibly disgusted by the piles. She reorganized once. Once.

The system is not to be messed with. It is intuitive, balanced, and self-referential.

Amenorrhea

If you ever began feeding a stray cat that slowly inserted itself into your life, pissing on your laundry, scratching all your furniture, birthing a small litter in your storage closet, only to come home one day and realize the cat had up an left, leaving only a musty stench and some clawed carpets, then you will know what it feels like to lose your period. I lost mine in 2010, looked all over for it, me and my doctors, but we couldn’t find it.

You don’t really know your own body until its broken and you have to go see someone about it, much like how you never knew about that sticky rubber thing that seals your toilet to the floor if you hadn’t backed the thing up in the first place. I learned that your womb is actually quite small, like a pear plucked before its prime, even though in diagrams I imagine it taking up half my abdomen. I also learned that everything is connected, like if your head hurts it could be because your left leg is too long or because you ate too many raisins. It goes deeper, of course, glands and synopsese, etc.

It’s simultaneously liberating, but also disappointing to learn about these things, I don’t think I really want to know how things work, but I like the way they look.

Open Thigh Gap

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 8.42.23 AM

‘Open Thigh Gap’ ongoing video/performance (12/14-)

 

Funny is Funny

Funny Bitch

Although my foray into feminism is still in its infancy, I have already encountered many of the stereotypes people project on feminists that I stated earlier in this text. Another, to add to the list, is ‘not funny’ and this I find to be most bothersome.[1] This stereotype is not limited to feminists, but women in general, which is massively debilitating in a world in which comedic forms of media are highly valued. As of late, this stereotype has been viciously battled by the likes of Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Caitlin Moran, Lena Dunham and many others in the entertainment industry. They promote feminist ideas using humour as their gilded shield, upon which the blade of misogyny ever dulls.

Humour is a powerful weapon for many women, including myself, in battling issues of gender inequality. It is a way of stating the facts, while at the same time, poking fun at patriarchy. It is a way to highlight misogyny in daily life. It is a way to counter sexist remarks. It is a way to retain dignity in a society that constantly tries to strip it from you.

Though I do not always seek it out, I often employ elements of humour in my work. This raises piece from the drudges of pedantic, academic, and often monotonous conjecture to a place where it can be regarded beyond its physical elements and classical meanings, but by its social pertinence as a visual illustration of frustration. While some might argue that this softens the blow, humour gets the point across to an audience without putting them on the defensive, which allows for an open conversation about the issues at hand.

 

[1] Christopher Hitchens, Why Women Aren’t Funny, Vanity Fair Online, January, 2007. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/01/hitchens200701

Smile Chart

smile_flowchart-2

Tinder: The New Dating Game

Tinder: The New Dating Game

‘You have to just start liking people,’ my friend explained to me as she commandeered my cell phone, swiping back and forth madly, in order to launch my Tinder profile. Greatly concerned that I wasn’t ‘getting any’ since my split with my long-distance boyfriend several months prior (from whom I wasn’t ‘getting any’ from anyway-long distance), my selfless friend took it upon herself to kick me out of the comfortable nest of ‘Single and Alone’ and into the free fall known as Tinder.

While this was not my first experience with electronic dating, Tinder is of a different breed. Matches are based solely on appearances supplemented by a 140 character-limit text in which people write witty things like ‘I live life to the fullest!’ or ‘We can tell people we met in the library ;)’. In Nina Power’s, The One-Dimensional Woman, she references Otto Mühl’s commune that strips sex from the shackles of monogamy by strictly enforcing the exact opposite, ‘life-long fidelity was to be replaced by absolute promiscuity.’[1] This mechanization of the sex act in a society resulted in hierarchies formed by desirability, not to mention issues of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Mühl’s reign ultimately ended in jail time for various child sex related offences, however this inherent commoditization of sex is revived by apps like Tinder that use the hierarchies of desire as social forum.[2]

 

Real-life Tinder Conversations:

The Quick-Change

Tinder Boy: Hey gorgeous

Me: Hi there

TB: Anal?

Me: Nope

 

The Classic Pick-up:

TB: Should I come massage your legs?

Me: What?

TB: Oh just figured they’d be sore. You’ve been running through my mind all day.

Me: Smooth

 

Or my personal favourite (the final text sent at 3:31 am):

TB: Hey

TB: Hey there

TB: Oi u r a proper peng*

TB: Wats up

TB: Ok, one more for the road.

TB: I will start from ur pussy and eat my way to your heart

*I am still shaky with the definition of ‘peng’, but I am pretty sure I want no part of it.

 

 

[1] Nina Power, The One-Dimensional Woman, (Winchester, O Books, 2009) 62.

[2] Power, The One-Dimensional Woman, 2009, 62.

Smile, bitch.

Burying myself beneath my mother’s cowboy print skirt, 5-year-old me peers out at the approaching stranger. ‘Smile sweetheart,’ they coo, as if coaxing a wide-eyed tabby kitten from a tree branch. My mother reads the terror in my eyes. ‘Sorry, she’s still a little shy,’ she finally apologizes to her work colleague for my refusal to meet required social norms of smiling, like a good little girl should.

Twenty years later, I am ‘still a little shy’ in that, even when I am perfectly content, I must consciously will the corners of my mouth upwards when engaging in social interaction. The classification, ‘Resting Bitchface’, has spread like wildfire on social media among women whose natural features do not seem as warm and inviting as a lady’s should be.[1] It was comforting to find other women with this problem, whom also found the constant questioning of our very faces to be not only annoying, but degrading.

‘Why don’t you smile for me?’

‘Are you okay?’

‘Don’t look so serious.’

‘Give us a smile.’

These questions and demands from friends, family, dates, cashiers withholding goods, doormen barring passage, and even strangers on the street have become progressively more grating with each utterance. Depending on the situation my response ranges from an appeasing toothy, lifeless grin, to trying to explain that its just my face, to viciously refusing. All encounters leave me questioning why everyone seeks my smile.

bitchface

Myself (age 7)

 

A smile is most commonly deemed an outward expression of happiness. In the 19th century, French physiologist, G.B.A. Duchenne, discovered that the ‘true smile’ (humbly coined, the ‘Duchenne’) required both the zygomaticus major and the orbicularis oculi (the mouth muscles and the eye muscles).[2] ‘The first obeys the will, but the second (the muscles of kindness, love, and of agreeable impressions) is only put into play by the sweet emotions of the soul.’[3] Duchenne’s flowery verbiage aside, women and men ‘truly smile’ in equal amounts, however women generally smile more often, as laid out by Marianne LaFrance’s studies.[4] There are two leading theories as to why this may be:

  1. Woman are more expressive. Many adult women have more developed zygomaticus major muscles, though this could be from frequent use.[5] However, there is not a scientifically viable way to test expressiveness.
  2. Women smile to show submission. Women often fill service occupations in which smiling is a requirement, however when they move up in the business echelons, their features steel and visa-versa with men that hold service jobs as opposed to authoritative positions. It is also said women feel more compelled to smile in an effort to ease tension, lower stress levels an deflect anger.

Example: Lauren has a special smile reserved for unsavoury men that approach her (this happens quite often); her face appears happy and flattered in the hopes of easing the blow of her imminent refusal.

From an early age, girls learn to perfect this faux-Duchenne and to use it for a variety of circumstances- as a greeting, to say thanks, to show interest, to show/feign understanding, or to show submission (note: these smile-interactions are not exclusive to women). Many a woman has mistakenly offered an innocent smile only for it to be interpreted as an invitation for flirtation or further contact. Karen Cordano, an amateur runner, writes about her experience in ‘Running While Female,’ in which she outlines an instance in which a friendly smile incited a male cyclist to ditch his bike and run quite closely with her for nearly a mile:

‘There were plenty of people around…And I was scared…I wanted to not wonder if my smile and wave were too friendly back while he was on his bike.’[6]

She questioned how the common practice of smiling at others, whom are also exercising, could have been misconstrued as a come on. ‘It just seems to be good exercising manners’ she laments.[7] Women are told to look directed and unwelcoming when walking alone at night as a preventative measure against assault, thus my perpetually petulant facial expression shields me from the perils of smiling while female.

I would like to clarify a few things: I am not anti-smile, just anti-forced smiling. Also, I am aware that this is not an entirely female-centric issue and that men must deal with both these smile-prejudices as well. Often feminist issues are not cut-and-dried female problems; perhaps a greater awareness of the ways in which our bodies, rights and emotions are controlled allows feminism to combat various social disorders to benefit humanity as a whole.

See Smile Chart

 

[1] Erin La Rosa, ‘22 Problems All People With Resting Bitchface Will Understand’, Buzzfeed, April (2014) http://www.buzzfeed.com/erinlarosa/problems-all-people-with-resting-bitchface-will-understand#8r4zss.

[2] G.B.A. Duchenne, The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990), 126.

[3] Duchenne, The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression, 1990, 126.

[4] Marianne LaFrance, Why Smile? The Science Behind Facial Expressions. (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013), 75.

[5] Kate Waldman, ‘The Tyranny of the Smile: Why does everyone expect women to smile all the time?’ Slate: Doublex. June 18 (2013) http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/06/bitchy_resting_face_and_female_niceness_why_do_women_have_to_smile_more.html.

[6] Cordano, ‘Running While Female’, July, 2014.

[7] Cordano, ‘Running While Female’, July, 2014.

 

Take a Walk

Take a Walk

‘Those are some NICE ASS shorts, girl!’

-Eyes down.

‘Where you goin’?’

-Pace quickens.

‘Hey come back here! Hey!’

-Pray to a God I don’t believe in that they don’t follow me.

 

Where I grew up, one generally would not go walking alone at night, but not for reasons I cannot walk alone now. In the Portola Woods there were coyotes and mountain lions and what parent wanted their child dragged off by an oversized cat? It really wasn’t until high school that I became more distinctly aware of the other dangers that surrounded walking alone. My choice to attend public high school meant that the simple task of navigating the halls to fourth period biology would be troublesome. ‘…y como esa ella, gringa punta’ (…and, like this girl, white bitch) a gangly senior spat at me as his friends turned to snigger and sneer as I approached; blatantly unaware that I, like most high school students in California, spoke Spanish.

In college it only grew worse. Tightly packed house parties and rivers of tequila allowed for grabbing, squeezing and pulling of girls’ bodies with little consequence. Within the first year my vag had had enough close encounters with unwanted, prying fingers that I stopped wearing skirts to certain events. Preferring a denim defence to potential penetration. University of California- Santa Barbara’s bright and beachy college community by day transformed into a treacherous nocturnal terrain that warranted the buddy system, constant police surveillance, and an automated alerts system that sent texts directly to my phone in case of dangerous activity (this ranged from bicycle theft and home invasion to rapes and active shooters). Also, it never hurts to carry some pepper spray. The point being that nearly every female in that town was not only discouraged from walking independently, but many were terrified to do so. Even repulsive, albeit toothless, catcalls could strike fear.

And, rightly so. According to statistics put out by the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study in 2000, between 20% and 25% of women in enrolled higher education in the US will experience attempted or completed rape during the four-year period.[1] To put that in perspective: I lived with three other girls in a house my junior year- based on that statistic, one of us would be raped while attending school- three of the four of use were most certainly physically victimized. This strikingly high statistic is facilitated by the ‘rape culture’ that thrives not only in my college community or even America as a nation, but all around the world. Shannon Ridgeway, a writer for Everydayfeminist.com, defines ‘rape culture’ as ‘situations in which sexual assault, rape, and general violence are ignored, trivialized, normalized, or made into jokes.’[2] Or perhaps as a more poignantly, Diane F. Herman states, ‘Women live their lives according to a rape schedule…’ meaning that women govern many of their choices- where to live, when to go out, where to go, what to wear, who to talk to, etc.- based on the threat of potential victimization.[3] For me, this sentiment laid bare the various character traits, actions, opinions and emotions that I knew to be specifically female-oriented, but could not place exactly why they were connected in this way.

As early as the fourth grade (8-years-old) girls were taught that our bodies were being watched and that we must prepare ourselves for potential attack. Whereas, my male classmates were vaguely told to ‘respect women’. While I was fully armed with an arsenal of tactics to avoid rape by age 13, I had no idea about when and how to use them. The elementary self-defence class taught by my high school Phys. Ed. Teacher led me to believe I would be stomping on insteps and karate kicking someone in the groin at least once a week. So, do I break my history teacher’s nose when he jokes about repealing the 19th Amendment (women’s right to vote)? Bitch slap the boys in geometry loudly and vividly discussing their sexual escapades? We are taught ‘no means no’, but what about the rest of the time?

I was raised to be a polite young woman, I seek to please those around me for fear of offending, angering or disappointing others. It is not an entirely uncommon trait among both men and women. However, this more often proves harmful to women, as we allow others to push past the limits of our comfort zones in order to avoid offending anyone. The issue that many women deal with is deciding at what point should they stand up for themselves and say something when they feel uncomfortable. While I have been lucky, many other women have not

A straight man walking home late at night will likely not be fazed by a group of drunk women approaching from the opposite direction. He will not change his route, call a friend, or position his keys in between his knuckles, ‘just in case’. This is because a heterosexual man does not operate on the same ‘rape schedule,’ he gets to do his own thing without the immanent fear of being sexually assaulted (a homosexual male would be more in tune with the fear of physical harm, due to current and historical events). As a result, many men are simply unaware that their presence or actions could be viewed as disrespectful or threatening. The guy that taps his horn while a leggy blonde crosses the street, might actually believe he is giving a compliment. Susan Brownmiller sums up this fear, ‘That some men rape provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation, forever conscious of the knowledge that the biological tool must be held in awe, for it may turn to weapon with sudden swiftness born of harmful intent…’[4]

[1] F.T. Cullen, B.S. Fisher, M.G. Turner, ‘The Sexual Victimization of College Women’ study by National Institute of Justice, (U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 2000), 10-12.

[2] Shannon Ridgeway. ‘25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture’. Everyday Feminism. March 10, (2014), http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/03/examples-of-rape-culture/ .

[3] Diane F. Herman, ‘The Rape Culture’, in Women: A Feminist Perspective. (Mountain View, Ca. 3rd ed. 1984). 45.

[4] Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1975), 123.

Female/Feminist

‘By the excessive power of male tyranny which prevails against divine just and the laws of nature, women’s liberty is denied to them by law, suppressed to them by custom and usage, and eradicated by upbringing.’ – Henrius Cornelius Agrippa[1]

 

Labels can get muddled as they carry greater history and elicit grand assumptions. For, when I say that I am a feminist, this simply means that I support ‘a social-justice movement for gender equality and human liberation,’ unfortunately, this word has become synonymous with ‘man-hating’, ‘bra-burning’, ‘angry’ women.[2] This association makes it challenging for many women and men of this age to admit that they are indeed Feminists, though they entirely support the idea of gender equality.

I myself fell prey to these ghastly inaccurate affiliations with the word. This retarded my artistic approach to feminism for a long while, for though I made work that was rooted in a history of feminist art practices, from performance and public installation to visceral bodily ideologies, it took time before I could admit to and address these connections. I idolized the likes of Kiki Smith, Cindy Sherman, and Nikki S. Lee, but my interest was in their materials and actions rather than in the politics of their art; I negated the anger and power in the work from a feminist standpoint and buried myself safely in the aesthetics. So, I made work about animals and the beautiful vulnerability of our precarious relations, drawing specifically on my relationship with my horse. The work was intensely bodily and tactile as I tried to meld our bodies together in an attempt to alleviate my constant fear of losing him. I now wonder if it were his or my own body I feared to lose.

In a performance piece called, At Your Service (2013), I offered myself up Abramavic-style in the place of a horse.[3] Standing in a stall of wood shavings, I waited patiently for someone to use me, the way a horse is at the mercy of whomever puts a halter on them. At some point I was led out of the gallery by a particularly unsavory-looking man and into a deserted part of campus. With my heart pounding in my throat and gruesome scenarios running through my head, I tried to determine when I should break character. He led me back to the gallery, patted my head and gave me carrot, but at that point the work was no longer about an animal’s vulnerability, but of my own. Subconsciously, it had always been about that, despite the pretense. Without even realizing it my work reflected the discomfort I felt as a woman in a world where our bodies are regularly ripped from our volition. In the coming years the growing frustration, anxiety and exhaustion with the various dilemmas of being female would infiltrate my work in more exacerbated ways. My journey as an artist, a female artist and also, a feminist artist has followed the same path as my growth from girl to woman to feminist. It has been shaped by other artists and writers; by the media and personal experiences; by women and by men.

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‘At Your Service’ Performance (2013)

 

[1] Henrius Cornelius Agrippa, (1529) Quoted in Manifesta. Jennifer Baumgartener. Amy Richards. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000, Revised Edition, 2010), 51.

[2] Jennifer Baumgardener, Amy Richards, Manifesta. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000, Revised Edition:2010), 50.

[3] Marina Abramavic, Rhythm 0, Galleria Studio Morra, Naples, Italy. 1974.