Happy Women

After my slightly ranty art update on Wednesday, I did receive several images depicting happy or laughing women (with faces). They are fantastic, and they were all discovered for me by the wonderful Kristina Miller. Thank you, my dear friend.

Old Woman Studying the Alphabet with a Laughing Girl by Sofonisba Anguissola
Old Woman Studying the Alphabet with a Laughing Girl by Sofonisba Anguissola
Laughing Himba Woman by Diana Lee
Laughing Himba Woman by Diana Lee
Laughing Nude Woman by Martin Miller
Laughing Nude Woman by Martin Miller
Laughing Woman by Susan Weinberg
Laughing Woman by Susan Weinberg

Now that is some art that’s good for the soul. Admit it, you smiled too.

Philippe Farout

This is a really lovely nude sculpture by Philippe Faraut. It is entitled “Serendipity.”


Philippe Farout has a large collection of really intriguing figural sculptures, and you should check them out on his website. I particularly admire Farout because he is actively seeking to teach his methodology to other artists. I believe this proves that he truly believes in his form and medium, and that he has a spirit of abundance and generosity. It is really wonderful to see an artist being generous with their work.

This piece is awesome just by being there and itself, but I particularly like it because it features a female figure who is smiling. The vast majority of female depictions fall into one of three categories.

1) Woman looking away. I would put any art in this category that contains part of a female form but not the face. This is extremely common.

2) Woman with blank look. The staring, glassy-eyed at the viewer with a total absence of expression that is supposed to be sexy or something.

3) Woman crying or otherwise in distress. It’s true that distress or tears can be forms of expression, but I have yet to find one single piece of artwork depicting a man crying.

Lots of these pieces of art are fantastic, and it’s possible you’ll see images like this on this blog (or have already). I’m not commenting on the quality of these artworks or on any single piece or artist in particular. I just think it’s strange as a trend, that women are so rarely depicted as happy. What’s really frightening to me is that almost all happy female images are little girls. As if joy is only lovely on the young, or women are slated for distress and tears.

If you have a work or know of a work that depicts a happy woman (with a face), please post it below or send me the link. I’d love to have the next art update be a collection of happy, smiling women.

Where Beauty is Found

The stretch marks have arrived. As I was examining this new phenomena on my body this other day, it occurred to me that I will look different after my baby is born. I plan to be fit and eat healthy, because I feel better about life when I do that and it’s a good example to set for my kid. That doesn’t say much about my appearance, other than that I probably will not be way overweight. Even with being fit and eating well, I will still have stretch marks. My abdominal muscles might permanently separate. I might have varicose veins. I will not have the body type that we define as beautiful.

What if, after having a child, my body looked like I’d had a child? Is that so awful, really? How much of my time, energy, money, and mental capacity should I spend trying to make my body look like I’ve never been pregnant? I completely understand the motivation for doing just that, trying to re-shape the female form so we look like we’re younger, thinner, and less mom-like than we are. Everything we see and hear tells us that’s the only way to be attractive, to be considered beautiful.

The economy (for lack of something more specific to blame) has a motive for convincing women that we are constantly falling short of an impossible goal for attractiveness. We spend a ridiculous amount of our expendable income buying products to get ourselves closer to that goal. One of the ways this happens is that we see that impossible (for most people) goal all the time and almost no others. There is one very specific body type that we see in movies, television, commercials, and other types of media that is considered attractive. Not only are we very sure which girl is considered the “pretty” one in media, but it is extremely rare to see a girl who looks much different than her at all. It’s not just that the pretty girl is held up as desirable, it’s that her counterparts aren’t seen at all. It is a well-supported fact that the human brain develops an affinity for things that it’s familiar with. That’s why mom’s cooking is always the best, because it’s her cooking we’ve had the most exposure to. Since we have a ton of exposure to this one body type, and nearly no exposure to any other body type, we will naturally prefer the one we see.

A while ago, I was watching Fur: And Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, which is a gorgeous film about a photographer who takes pictures of “freaks.” The movie opens with the main character approaching a nudist colony to take some pictures. This circumstance sets up the movie to give us a view of some non-traditional body types. The photographer meets with the couple who runs the colony. They are a couple in their fifties or sixties, rather normally shaped, sitting in wicker chairs and having a normal conversation. I particularly noticed the woman. Her slightly cottage-cheese thighs, her large breasts, and the soft look of her white skin. Very different from the flat, tanned, perky, pointy, women; the only kind of women I’ve seen naked on the screen. This woman was lovely.

I have searched and searched for a still of that particular woman, but I can’t find one. Instead, I found this image of a nudist couple which is very similar.

I would not mind looking like this woman in thirty years. I hope that I will be able to view my own naked body and appreciate the years that are in it, the experiences buried in the folds of my skin, the softness that is meant to be there for our comfort. I hope to appreciate beauty in more than one form, but particularly in my own.

Women’s Creativity Night

Women’s Creativity Night is my pet project and one of my very favorite things in the world.  This all started with a couple of friends coming over to crochet and scrapbook, but it has grown into much more.  Now I invite artists to come and perform or show visual work, and women come to get inspired and wowed.  I’m very broad in my definition of what’s considered creative.  We’ve had poets, authors, actresses, comedians, opera singers, belly dancers, and a darn good knitter.  It is always an amazing time, and this last one was no exception.  If you missed it, I took pictures and videos to help you enter into the experience, and maybe inspire you to attend the next one or hold one of your own.

First we just hang out, chat, and get to know each other if we don’t already.  I put together a beautiful snack table (really it is, I’m not just bragging), make coffee, and just let all these fantastic women sit near each other.  That’s when the magic happens.

After we’re all comfortable (i.e. when I start thinking “there’s never going to be a nice pause to announce that we’re shifting to performances!”), I announce that we’re going to shift gears into showing off some of our work.  Performance artists (like myself), will perform, and visual artists will present their work and talk about their process some.  It’s always a different crowd and there are always a few surprised, but here’s a taste of what we had this time around.

Paintings by Cara Mills Bennett
Jewelry and dark room photography by Angel Wohler
Tee shirt art by Sara Kelly
Sketch art by Sara Kelly
Crocheted trivets by Rena Rasmussen

I particularly love the part where my whole house is decked out in women’s art and everyone’s enjoying this eclectic gathering of beauty and creativity.  And of course, I will add a spoken word piece that I performed at the event.  I would include one by the fantastic Kiesha Lamb as well, but she was a little sick at the event and requested that I not publicize the video.  You’ll just have to take my word for it, it was awesome.

Women’s Ministry?

One of my pastors (and good friend) has recently put a lot of energy into convincing me to participate in a women’s ministry focus group at my church.  Based on how that conversation went down, I believe this is a result of the Women’s Creativity Nights (next one is on September 18th!) and my women’s 12-step group being mistaken for women’s ministry.  I will return to that in a moment.  The weird thing is, this isn’t the first time this has happened.  At my last church there were several women who were under the impression that I was in fact running women’s ministry because I would have girls nights once in a while (an event where we would eat brownies and watch movies, but in a very spiritual way).

I grew up in a Baptist church, and I have much love for Baptists in a lot of areas, but I have an issue with how they treat women.  I won’t go into the full rant, but sufficed to say that the way women’s ministry went at that church was not something I found compelling.  And in retrospect (and by that, I mean viewed through my now unapologetic feminism), I find a lot of the bible studies and women’s groups that I attended to be veiled attempts to make women content in their subservient positions by couching it in spiritual rhetoric and patching up their shredded self-esteem.  They also were an opportunity for women with leadership potential to actually lead something without the messy issue of “ruling over a man.”

Furthermore, I think way too many church things are divided into gender specific groups because we operate out of a fear-based mentality.  This causes us to make decisions based on the worst case scenario, and by doing that, we miss out on a ton of opportunities to connect with other Christians and yes, become more mature and rational adults.  I do regularly pray for men, even one-on-one.  I think women can lead men, and men can lead women.  I don’t have a problem with a man mentoring a woman or vice versa.  As that same pastor/friend said, if we were in a business environment we would just expect men and women to treat each other professionally.  Surely with the added power of Christ we can accomplish at least that much.

So why do I do all this stuff with just women?  Well, I do have a profound desire to empower and inspire women.  I want to help the women around me to believe they can do stuff that they didn’t think they could do before.  After a Women’s Creativity Night, my very favorite thing is when someone says “I really want to go home and do something creative!”  Because at that moment, I feel like I got to be a part of a woman realizing that she can do something new and beautiful.  I am oh-so-excited about my women’s 12-step-group because I really think that any woman who makes it through all 12 steps will have a massively better life at the end than she does right now.  I get to be a part of that, I get to help.  That excites me.  Also all the women in my group are awesome, that helps too.

To sum up, I have discovered that the stuff I do with women is an extension of my feminism, which is about as far from my Baptist roots as I can get.  It is a very different thing than a Beth Moore bible study at a Perkins in a Saturday morning.  It is different than equating enjoying a man’s company with an extramarital affair (thank you, Every Woman’s Battle).  It is different than making women feel relegated to a tiny pink category that is full of shame and repression.  And I’d like to be at that focus group so I can say something like that.  But you know, nicer.

P90X is Making Me A Better Feminist

Despite my belief in the power of woman, there have been times when I wished some obliging young man would give up his seat for me, open the door, or offer to carry a heavy bag for me.  I don’t think this is because I really want arbitrary rights assigned to me by gender stereotypes, I think it’s because the bags are really heavy.  If I am engaging with sexism in this scenario, it’s that I assume the men around me are stronger/more capable than me, ergo, it would be easier for them to carry the bag.  The idea that assumes it is inherently harder for me to do something than it would be for a man to do it for me, I do consider internalized sexism.

So I’m on day 52 of  90 day fitness program that’s kind of insane, and here is what’s great about it.  I have no problem carrying bags.  I don’t think about it, because it’s not hard.  A few weeks ago I flew to California for a week and packed everything in my carry-on bag.  Not only did I carry that tightly packed bag through the whole airport, but I very easily lifted it into the overhead compartment.  It was so easy to do that I thought about offering to help the people around me with their bags.  Similarly, the other day I was trying to get a stroller with a 14-16 pound child in it down some stairs.  While I was trying to figure how to keep everything level while rolling it down the stairs, I decided it’d be easier to just pick the thing up.  So that’s what I did, scooped up the stroller with the kid inside and carried it down the stairs.  When we went home, I carried it right back up those stairs.

What I’m noticing here is a mental shift.  I now assume that I can do things that are physically challenging, whereas before I assumed that I could not or that they would be very difficult.  And sometimes, they really were very difficult, where now they are not.  Also, now if something is difficult I say to myself, “is this harder than a Dreya roll?  A dive bomber push-up?  Is this going to take me longer than I spend doing those things?”  If the answer to the first two questions is yes, the third one is usually no.  So I assume I can do stuff, and if it’s hard, I assume that I can push through it.  I don’t look around for obliging young men anymore.  Now I can be an obliging young woman, and that is a really good feeling.

So the feminist theory question here is, am I only able to do this because I’m completing insane workouts every day?  And if that’s true, doesn’t that mean that the young men who could lift the bags without doing the insane workouts really are stronger/more capable than me?  I have two responses to this straw man.  First, in my opinion the attitude change is really the important point.  It makes me sad for myself and for other women who assume that they need help to complete basic and necessary tasks.  It is okay for people (male and female) to need help with stuff, but the idea that any male present would be more well suited to a task than I is a sad one indeed.  Second, if I have to exercise to make this shift, so what?  If exercising and building some muscle takes some work on my part, fine.  There are so many less worthwhile things I spend time on.  For my own health, happiness, and empowerment, I am willing to work.

I Am Woman

Today I completed my second week of P90X (only mostly, because tomorrow is a rest day and that will REALLY make the week complete), and as always the last workout of the week is Kenpo.  I’d never heard of Kenpo before, but it is pretty similar to Tae Bo, which I’ve done for years.  All that to say, I love Kenpo because it makes me feel like I can kick some serious ass.  I leave that workout feeling invincible, which is awesome.  Today, I followed it with a nice hot shower and grooved to Matisyahu while I’m got dressed and brushed my teeth.  Since I’ve worked hard this week, I gave myself a little pedicure before heading off to see Sex and the City 2 with my friend Amanda.  And this chain of events brought up an interesting thought.

How happy am I that I can feel powerful and unstoppable in a very physical sense, rock out to a fantastic hip hop artist, and then paint my toenails and watch an extremely silly (although very fun) girly movie?  I feel the like new face of feminism here, which makes me feel pretty darn special today.  It made me think of a quote from one of the wonderful Geek Girls at Clockwork when she addressed the new Computer Programmer Barbie.  She said (my paraphrase) that that doll doesn’t say that you have to like pink to be a girl, it says you can be a computer programmer and still like pink.  In view of this realization, I would like to take this moment to thank everyone who has fought long and hard so those two sides can come together in one person.  Even better, so that one person (me!) can enjoy a sense of pride instead of being stung with a sense of shame.

Oh, and a shout out to my friend Amanda, who isn’t afraid to laugh in movie theaters.

Enough of that

Jacki handed me a toy yesterday that stunned my warrior woman speechless. For anyone who’s come into contact with my warrior woman, you’ll appreciate the severity of the situation. The toy was called “Grow Your Own Princess” and it’s a tiny little girl doll with a crown and a white dress that will grow to ten times its size if you leave it in a glass of water for ten days. So far, pretty interesting, mostly innocuous toy. On the package is an interview with the princess trapped in plastic. And here’s where the trouble begins.

What are your favorite sports?
Anything with a cute skirt.
What are your hobbies?
Shopping, shopping, and shopping!
What are your favorite things?
Boys and gossip.
What are your least favorite things?
Bugs and getting dirty.

It took my warrior woman two days to fully recover, and here is the resulting rant.

Girls play sports because they are fun, because they’re good at them, and maybe even because they’re good exercise and will result in a healthier and more attractive body. The skirt does not enter into the equation, and if you think I’m wrong, ask yourself how many girls were little skirts without needing a sport as an excuse.

This is nothing but a ridiculous, blatant, and disgusting attempt to make good little consumers out of the next generation. The princesses, the special, beautiful little girls shop to have fun, you should too! Not to mention that it discourages developing actual skills, creativity, and interests, in favor of hanging out at the mall and spending all your money on useless crap like this toy.

Of the things you like, boys should not be one of them, because boys are not things. Boys are not all alike such that they can be liked as a common entity. This is a good thing for little girls to learn, because they will be lumped into “girls” in a very similar way. Gossip destroys relationships, creates hatred, and is one of the nastiest habits one can develop. It is all-around, unredeemably bad.

Want to know why we have so few women in the sciences? How about preconditioning girls that they are un-feminine if they like bugs? This has gone beyond telling girls that they are “bad girls” if they get their dresses dirty, this has moved to encouraging girls to internalize a dislike of dirt, which can easily enough turn into a dislike of sports, hard work, several viable career options, and primes them for a lifelong devotion to housework. ‘Cause we haven’t had enough of that in the world.

Enough of this! Enough telling our precious little girls that their ideal archetypes are vapid, decorative, boy-crazy, gossiping, nit-wits. Enough of that.