This was originally posted on Leadership Development at UMBC on myUMBC.
A year ago, I was working at the Howard County Arts Center when Diana Marta, one of the resident artists, bought an antique dress form. While looking at the mannequin in her studio, she “wondered what an ordinary women’s wardrobe would look like through time.” I remember talking to her after she purchased the form and discussing this topic with her. Diana decided that she wanted to curate a show exploring the topic of “ordinary women” and the clothing they would wear. Each artist was asked to create a garment that could be worn by the dress form and to also create a self portrait to be displayed along with the dress. It was 2012 when she asked me and 13 other women to participate in the show and that’s when I started to think about what the phrase “Ordinary Woman” meant to me.
I knew I wanted to do something that challenged our expectations of womanhood and how we’ve constructed being a woman in our society. First, I needed to find a garment. I don’t sew, so I would have to find a dress. I wanted something that was the epitome of femininity, to give me a starting point to disrupt that expectation. I found the perfect dress in a thrift shop in Baltimore; it was pink, satin, long, and once upon a time had been a bridesmaids dress. It said everything I wanted it to say.
Next, I had to figure out what I was going to do with the dress. At first, I thought I would be gluing or sewing different objects or embellishments onto the dress. Like a giant collage of objects that defined womanhood to me. But the longer I thought about the project, I realized how difficult it would be to find these objects, so I started to think about covering the dress with words.
As children we are told that “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you” but in reality, words DO hurt us. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have a rash of kids committing suicide because of bullying or the pain of microaggressions that so many people experience daily. For women, many of the words that define our lived lives are double edged — tell a girl she’s pretty and that’s a good thing, but only as long as she isn’t too pretty. Almost all of the descriptors written on the dress create a world of expectations that keep women in their “place,” or so distracted as we try to meet every expectation that we don’t have a chance to question the treatment we receive in society. The bottom of my dress is stained black, to symbolize how these expectations drag women down.
For my self portrait, I was inspired by the backlash and support of “selfies” that has been unfolding in the online feminist community these last few months. It seems like every time you turn around there is another article disparaging selfies as vain, objectification, a cry for help, or singing their praises as political, radical, empowering, as good for girls, or as a revolution. Veronica I. Arreola at Viva La Feminista called for a #365feministselfie project, stating “Women of Color rarely see themselves reflected in media, people over a size 4 are told to hide themselves, transgender persons want to be seen…hell, a lot of people responded to anti-selfie moments by saying, “I do not see myself represented in the media, so I’m making my own!” This project brings attention and visibility to feminists and helps to garner the political power of the selfie. I’m participating over on Instagram (follow me! @artsykelly) and I am loving the new community of feminists I’m meeting through it. I used the selfies I had taken throughout the last year and created a collage of images representing myself.
This is where that overlap of art and activism is created for me. I knew how I wanted my dress to look and I knew that the visual of a typical bridesmaids dress covered in words that can be positive or negative would be impactful. I wanted people to walk away from my dress disturbed. I wanted to jar them and make them think, while also creating something that was visually interesting. It isn’t art just for art’s sake, it’s art with a message, open to interpretation by the viewer.
This March, as a part of Critical Social Justice and UMBC’s Art Week 2014, the Women’s Center will be presenting a Feminist Art Show on the Mezzanine Gallery in the Commons. We will be featuring pieces of the Monument Quilt, an art project being curated by FORCE, an art activist effort to upset the dominant culture of rape and promote a counter-culture of consent. The Monument Quilt is a crowd-sourced collection of thousands of stories from survivors of rape and abuse. We are also asking for students, staff, and community members to submit feminist art of their own.
To submit art, please email your images to email@example.com
Crossposted from critsocjustice.wordpress.com
To many, the words “Critical Social Justice” may mean little or maybe too much.
Is it a class?
A mode of thinking?
To me, it is all of those things. It’s an introduction to an academic lens, a new way of thinking, a celebration, an ongoing effort, and my brainchild.
CSJ came from my experiences as a student, a feminist, and an artist. I began to see all the gaps in social justice movements: the hierarchy of value associated with different forms of activism, the mainstream issues that take center stage and the issues that are silenced by the majority, and the lack of creative and critical programming on campus. There are so many ways to participate in social justice efforts, but they are not all recognized with the same amount of value and meaning. For example, the president of a reproductive justice lobbying group could be seen as the ultimate activist within mainstream feminist circles, but a part time artist who creates work on disability and her environment may not be seen with the same reverence as the president, though her work is powerful in a whole other way. Rather than replicating the social justice hierarchy in the creation of CSJ, we have consciously striven to create and facilitate a variety of different programs that open up a variety of critical dialogues on the UMBC campus. CSJ invites all different types of activists—whether a person is a student, a teacher, an artist, a musician, a writer, an engineer, a doctor, etc.—to talk about how they are creating change in their own unique ways. We encourage many different voices to come out and speak, because, in my mind, the contributions of a student forever questioning the status quo in class can be just as powerful a form of activism as a state senator pushing for prison reform.
Along with under-recognized activism, come the under-recognized movements within mainstream social justice efforts. While race and feminism seem to take the front seat when we first think about social justice, issues in the backseat, like disability rights and prison reform/abolition, are initiatives that are just as important. CSJ is meant to get people engaged in tough conversations from a variety of perspectives. We have endeavored to create an inclusive program that deals with both popular movements (like anti-street harassment) and movements that have not had as much lip-service (like disability). All of these conversations—whether they’ve already been started on campus, need some energizing, or haven’t been heard—are meant to spur the UMBC community towards civic engagement, as well as promote a campus initiative to continue learning from different people with different points of view.
So you might now be wondering, “Well, it’s great that you’re planning to do all of these things, but how are you going to get people to come and participate?” Well, with CSJ, I also wanted to see a campaign that offers a level of engagement that goes beyond the quintessential pamphlet exchange or flyer campaign. It’s not that either of these things is bad or critically lacking; it’s just that they happen so often that sometimes people feel apathetic towards the information they are gaining. For CSJ, I imagined creative programming that would promote active engagement with a new lens and relationship building among peers and teachers. I wanted to see people creating art together, participating in egalitarian conversations, and solving problems with teamwork, cooperation, and ingenuity. So far, the programs that have been pitched to us for CSJ involve creative engagement through art-making, collaborative learning, and open discussions, and we are incredibly excited to see even more proposals come our way that offer new and innovative ways to learn.
So now that we know what CSJ is going to be, let’s go back to the title: “Critical Social Justice.” It is open-ended and rich with possibility. It is sharp, but inclusive. It is radical, but relatable. It is rife with appreciation for our capacity to learn more and do more for our community and for each other. Critical Social Justice is a move towards civic engagement and critical thinking that will energize our community to seek change in the world.
Today is the 15th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) to memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice.
TDOR was originally held to honor Rita Hester, whose unsolved murder on November 28th, 1998 kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and a San Francisco candlelight vigil in 1999. The purpose of TDOR is to raise public awareness of hate crimes and violence based on bias against trans* and other gender non-normative people and to honor their lives that might otherwise be forgotten.
This year, to recognize TDOR, The Women’s Center and Student Life’s The Mosaic Center have created a video of the names and pictures of people to remember those we’ve lost. You can view the memorial video today at the Women’s Center and at the Korenman Event outside of UC Ballroom.
It was nighttime when I pulled out my favorite dress to wear. There was no special occasion; it just made me feel gorgeous. Nevertheless, I was experiencing an all too familiar nagging feeling as I examined the material. The dress was cut so as to expose the back, and was short in length. Years of training myself to fight against rape culture and slut shaming, and my vivid remembrances of being sexually assaulted no matter what I wore did not stop me from putting the dress back and choosing something else to put on.
Let’s clarify for a moment here: clothes don’t cause rape; rapists do, and they search for vulnerability. I know this. However, the messages I, as well as I believe many other women are taught are the former message instead of the latter truth. At least for me, that conditioning stuck. Also, not only is the societal standard against women putting on certain types of clothes considered as revealing by some associated with rape culture, but it is also connected with other parts of women’s lives. The advice given to women by one law firm was an implication that their cleavage should not be shown due to their attire as this would lead to less significance being placed upon what they say. Even women who work in a place associated with prestige, then, find themselves combating a restriction that places more emphasis on what they wear rather than the job they do.
So, why is it that women choosing to cover their bodies find themselves facing consternation as well? Women who want to wear a burka find themselves unable to do so as this type of clothing has been banned in various regions.
Women are thereby taught that they should reveal their bodies, but only by a specific amount that is, at the same, not clearly defined. There is no way to fulfill such a contradictory and fluid expectation, so women become chastised no matter what they wear.
The double standards don’t end there. Women are told to put on makeup that makes them look more like what society considers as natural, such as a “nude” concealer that assumes that the humans are always white, or skin illuminators, which make people appear lighter. Nevertheless, if women wear green lipstick to actually express themselves, their makeup may be considered as odd. Also, bodily matters aside, women are advised not to speak in certain settings such as church, as seen in an depiction of Google searches. Then, women are critiqued for not raising their voices and letting their needs be heard in the workplace.
Clearly, this contradictory regulation towards women needs to change — the rules certainly aren’t helping women; they’re hindering them.
What double standards have you seen applied to women?
It is that time of the year again! Pumpkins are out in the fields and costumes are back in the stores! It is the time of the year that people can wear anything, be anyone or any object and they won’t be judged!
While searching the internet I came across many points about Halloween that just shocked me! Did you know how much money Americans spend during Halloween? Americans spend between $6.5-6.86 billion dollars on costumes, candy, and decorations!
On the other hand pictures of costumes was another “wow” experience for me, like always. During Halloween you can see many different costumes, many of which are problematic costumes. They can be sexist, culturally appropriative, and have many more problems — but most people think there is nothing is wrong with them!
For the past several weeks I have been looking online and in magazines for Halloween costumes. Many of them have made me stop and think. Try it yourself, think of ANY object or character… search for it on Google and you can probably find the sexy version of it! Be a sexy carrot, a sexy watermelon, and of course, a sexy nurse!
It seems like sexy and offensive costumes are now the norm in our society. Halloween is that one day a year that people can be anyone and anything, with an emphasis on women being a sexual object, and most people will be fine with it!
Have you ever thought of this? Have you ever thought that something might be wrong here? That maybe we need to rethink this issue, talk and think about it a little more?!
This was originally posted on Unruly Bodies a group blog for UMBC’s Gender and Women’s Studies course, Unruly Bodies.
As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been some version of overweight. I was my mom’s biggest baby. There was the “baby fat” phase (which I tried to ride to middle school, much to my embarrassment); the “I’m gaining weight because of puberty but it hasn’t decided where to live yet” phase of middle and early high school; the “I may not actually be overweight but I’m so disgusted with that tiny bit of belly fat that I’m pretty sure I’m obese” phase that seems pretty rampant in American high schools; the “shit, now I really AM overweight because I decided to take birth control and I put on 50 pounds in 3 months” phase of panic, terror and depression; the “I’ve stopped trying to stop gaining weight” phase where I saw numbers over 200; the “I had a baby and despite gaining hardly any weight with pregnancy I’ve managed to get even bigger postpartum” phase that’s pretty popular with new moms; and my personal favorite, the “oh my god, this is the biggest I’ve ever been ever in my life and I’m completely freaking out” phase of morbid obesity that has consumed my adult life.
Sensing a trend? My image, my self-esteem, my worth, my life, has always been wrapped around fat and weight. And don’t think that a comment of “there’s more to life than that” will magically change the way I’ve always thought about myself. Despite my Gender and Women’s studies major that’s been diligently trying to help me see myself as more than “fat”, I regularly struggle with seeing beyond my size. And that’s just how I see myself. We haven’t even begun thinking about how other people see me, how they’ve always seen me. And so, allow me to demonstrate where the idea that my identity is a number came from.
As a toddler, the clothes that didn’t fit were pretty popular topics of conversation; I was the “third-born” that didn’t get hand-me-downs because I wasn’t the same size my sisters had been. By middle school, how I was supposed to look (THIN) and how I looked (immensely curvy by 12) was a constant source of inner turmoil, fueled by the boys that didn’t like me (hello, I looked like a woman, not a kid) and my family who, for whatever reasons, couldn’t help themselves from talking about my weight. There were lots of ways my body showed up in conversations; “you’re fat” from my sisters when they were angry; “do you really need that bowl of ice cream?” from my step-dad who convinced himself that shame was a parenting tool; my personal favorite was the time my dad took me out for ice cream and bought me this monstrous sundae and, half way through, began a lecture about how “concerned” he was that I’d put on MORE weight. I’ve never since consumed ice cream that tasted as badly as that shame-sundae that I finished, teary-eyed, because I’d been taught not to be wasteful.
By high school, there was a lot of self-loathing. Most assuredly my body, that had somehow taken on a life of her own (she showed up in conversations that didn’t mention “Ashley” and she’d somehow gained priority in all of my relationships), was the primary root of my self-hatred. I hated her; not necessarily me- my depression, however intense, never morphed into a desire to have no life, just the desire to have someone else’s. I was sure that she made it to every interaction before me; that my “first” impressions were always snagged by her rolls and chubby cheeks and heavy breasts and voluminous thighs. She was what people knew about me. I was “that fat girl,” “Oh, the one with the big tits,” and “her face is OK.” When I somehow found the logic to see myself beyond “her,” I knew I was smart, I was passionate, I was considerate, I was helpful, I could sing, I could write, and I was funny. But that wasn’t what people saw. Because you really can’t see those things, you see bodies. And I resented being “seen” as nothing more than a body.
We didn’t get along, my body and I. I would cut her when I was consumed by pain or loneliness or hatred. Sometimes (often) I overfed her in sorrow, sometimes I starved her in despair. I hid her in clothes that made me look bigger, and when high school taught me that grown men, at least, saw her as sexy, I subjected her to a lot of physical contact that neither of us liked. And as much as I thought all of those things would make me feel better, they didn’t. We were disconnected.
By now, I’m sure I’ve made you sad. Fat stories are, by nature, really really depressing. And I want to console you (because I’m also kind) by telling you that I sporadically found some amazing body acceptance lying around. But I didn’t, not entirely. What happened was harder: I married the first man thatconvinced me I was beautiful (and to be clear, I love him more than I could ever express, but my self-esteem must be credited for at least part of why I married so soon). I spent a time disconnected from my body, believing that no one could like me if they didn’t like her. And how could I test her likability? By pimping her out to guys that said she was sexy (again, to be clear, my maturation since then has confirmed that that was a really bad idea). I blamed her for my sadness, my pain, and my failures. After all, she was the root of it all. She was all the credit I ever got and I kid you not, year by year she EXPANDED.
As an adult, my family STILL talked about her, but it was different. Adulthood had meant that I could pass the overt criticisms and painful remarks about my size and instead could skip right to passive aggressive “concern for my health” and sarcastic jokes that no one “really meant.” Now my fat-shaming (oh yeah, adulthood taught me that my every interaction could be summed into an experiential phrase) came in forms like moving me to the back of a picture, worry that I’d die by 30, and the time my step-dad’s mom just KNEW I’d have gestational diabetes (hey, I’m obese, how could I not?)
There was never a moment when something, a conversation with a real friend, an article too logical to ignore, my husband’s insistent adoration, convinced me that I wasn’t my body (or maybe, I wasn’t just my body, I’m still not sure). I just got older. I got smarter. I grew up. I began to think like the adult I’d been posing as for years. And after a while, I began to see things differently. It’s been a slow, oh painfully slow, transition. Most days my body is my body and mybody. We are both one thing and separate things. I am her and somehow more than her. And the parts of me that aren’t her, the smart, funny, caring Ashley I mentioned before, they’ve become increasingly more significant to my identity. She’s still important. She is a bigger concern in having another baby than my mental stability, finances or two-bedroom house. She’s sometimes the reason I don’t have the courage to go out. She’s at least 75% of why I don’t like school, when I don’t like school (those tiny desks). She is sometimes the reason I cry.
Our relationship has been slowly progressing; sometimes I love her. Sometimes those rolls (oh my goodness there are so many) and stretch marks are just “character”. Sometimes my now enormous breasts are actually pretty incredible. Sometimes I’m pretty impressed with how well she’s survived the years of abuse, torture and hatred I’ve dumped on her when no one else was there to help me out. Oh yes, part of my maturation has been taking responsibility for what she’s become, the role I’ve played in making her the monster I’ve been afraid of. And my developing love for her has helped me take an interest in self-care that’s healthy. I’m not interested in starving her or leaving her to rot or abusing her anymore. Adulthood has given me the gift of knowing that this body is the only one I get, and if I keep being mean to her, she might quit on me.
It’s like a marriage, the relationship we have with our bodies. Some people see it as “oneness,” as two halves of a whole; sometimes it’s just two pieces, separate but interdependent. I think of my marriage as arranged; I may not have chosen this body, had I a choice, with a genetic predisposition to obesity, as my “partner for life.” But we’re in this thing. I’ve spent too long hating her, pushing her away, rejecting her; we’ve been in couple’s therapy for a while now. Sometimes I still say mean things to her. Arranged or not, we’re married. For better or worse we’re committed. And I like to think of this “turning of a new leaf” as a kind of vow renewal. I vow to be nicer to you, body, if you vow not to quit on me until I’m treating you with the respect you’ve been missing. And hey, since this is a marriage, give us some gifts. We like cake and pedicures.
To read more about bodies and what they do and refuse to do, how they are represented and how they represent, the ways they are disciplined and the ways they resist – in other words – the political, social, and economic lives of bodies, visit Unruly Bodies.