Monday, March 9, 2015

Women

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had some problems with the way that contemporary, Western feminism presents itself.

This doesn't mean that I don't like women, though. I've got no problem with women. Women are awesome. I'm a woman.

Yesterday happened to be International Women's Day, and I unintentionally happened to have a very woman-filled day.

I woke up to a bright and sunny sky to find my roommate on the porch sporting an eclectic spring outfit. A woman indeed.


Later, I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see an exhibition that has been up for about a month called "Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair." The exhibition, which has traveled worldwide since its inception, is a showcase of the key fashion moments that helped to empower black women. Here are some of my favorites from the show:










To be honest, I initially felt a bit uncomfortable wading through the packed exhibit while closely inspecting these stick-thin, black mannequins. If anyone knows the city of Milwaukee, and the blatant racism that plagues it, it felt like less of a celebration of black empowerment and more of an embodiment of the kind of objectification that I hear contemporary feminists discussing on a regular basis. I pointed this out to my friend Jamie who was accompanying me that day (herself a remarkable woman and a soon-to-be mother). She was quick to correct me. Most high fashion is designed for uber-thin models, especially pre-1990. Every model, black or white, was a twig. Until recently, the art form called for stick-thin women, and that's just how it was. To have a mannequin in any other size would have been untrue to the art form. After realizing this, I also noticed the diverse group of people who had come out to see the show. Men, women, children, black people, white people, old people, young people. Once I discovered that photography was allowed in the exhibition I was soon swept up into the profound beauty of the fashion, and found myself snapping shots of the avant-garde ensembles on my iPhone along with black women, white teenagers, and young children. 

I wondered what some of my more feminist friends would have thought of the show. I was mindful of what I have learned in my art history classes about the objectifying "gaze" of men and white audiences. This knowledge didn't seem to apply in this circumstance. This was a show about power, and powerful it was. If anything, the viewer was made to felt intimidated by these strong and poised women perched high on pedestals. Unfortunately, the show was still not as powerful of a statement as the message that the Wisconsin police force is still sending to the public as early as this past week. In a message that says, "Black people are powerless," another black youth was murdered in Madison, and Wisconsin finds itself yet again on the national news looking like a hellacious battleground of racism and backwards political battles. 

We've got a long ways to go.

After I got home from the museum I forced myself to finish a book that I have been reading for a couple of weeks now that has been a difficult read for me for many reasons. The book in question is Naomi Klein's most recent, entitled,  This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. I had brought the book with me on a recent trip to Minneapolis, only to have one of my friends ask me, "Why are you reading that? Don't you know we're screwed?" Indeed. This is why I was afraid to finish. I was terrified to know how this brave author, who recently became a mother in what she calls "the age of extinction" would end the 466-page saga of the battle between our current system of free market capitalism and our damaged Mother Earth. 

Ultimately, the book ends with a note of optimism, although it is faint. I believe that everyone who is alive and able should read this book. As my friend pointed out, there is a hint of masochism in my decision to read it. I could have remained at my current level of ignorance about climate change (despite what everyone already knows- the Inconvenient Truth, the sad stories of dead dolphins, the increasingly deadly hurricanes, etc.). But I owe it to myself, as well as to every other living creature on this planet, to educate myself as much as possible about the climate crisis. Klein's ultimate conclusion: The government is not going to save us from this mess. It is up to us to come together to form a strong grassroots movement to protect ourselves and future generations. We have the power to do it. We just have to do it.

"On one level, the inability of many great social movements to fully realize those parts of their visions that carried the highest price tags can be seen as a cause for inertia or even despair. If they failed in their plans to usher in a more equitable economic system, how can the climate movement hope to succeed? There is, however, another way of looking at this track record: these economic demands - for basic public services that work, for decent housing, for land redistribution - represent nothing less than the unfinished business of the most powerful liberation movements of the past two centuries, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty." -Naomi Klein

Yes. Women.

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