Sunday, May 07, 2006

being invisible

back in the 90s, i took a women’s studies course and as part of that, i was supposed to participate in an event during women’s day week. the report on this still evokes a lot of feeling in me about being a woman artist, being (in)visible, trying to swim against the stream… here is an excerpt:

as part of this series of events, there is something called "women's inspiration - an installation workshop". i catch the tail end of the previous event, a panel discussion of women artists: a theatre actor, a movie actor, and a painter. they imply that if one wants to be recognized as an artist (and, perhaps, as anything or anyone else?), one has to step out and literally exhibit oneself. i listen, nodding my head vigorously. however, i am anxious for the installation to start. i like hands-on situations – let’s not talk about exhibiting ourselves, let’s do it!

this is why i have chosen to participate in a workshop. after the panel wraps up, nothing much happens. on a table, there are two glue-sticks, a few sheets of black and purple construction paper, and no scissors. while i wonder what, when, where and how the installation piece workshop is going to happen, i read a large wall-poster covered with women's writings around focus questions such as "what is feminism?" and "why is it good to be a woman?" i answer that one with a scribble: "menstruation". a woman points out that "menstruation" starts with "men".

nothing seems to be happening yet regarding the installation but over in a corner are two women talking - maybe about the installation? i walk over and ask what is going to happen. they encourage me to start, and, against (or with?) a feeling of uneasiness, do. i write across a big sheet of paper attached to a room divider: "this is womy(e)n's inspiration". then i start to paste words and images out of magazines i had brought. i think i would like to have different images of women. mostly what i find is "attractive" women. after a while she puts on the big white sheet a photograph of roseanne arnold, one of k.d. lang, a childlike drawing of a stick-woman, a small picture of oriental looking women and children, a picture of an older woman, one of a middle-aged "normal" looking woman embracing a child, one of a black woman in an evening gown, a very powerfully sexual looking woman out of an ad where i change the words "taifoon clothes" into "taifoon woman", and a few pictures of paintings of women.

no-one else joins me and everyone else around me disperses, getting ready for a pub event that is supposed to follow. where is the "workshop?" i also have another question: where can i find more real looking women? i think maybe i would like to draw some. and a propos drawing: i try to draw other people into the process but nothing happens. soon after, a young man appears and tells me that the divider upon which i am working has to be moved. so it is moved out of the enclosed room into the open area of the student union's building. i attempt to find out who the organizer of the "workshop" is but nobody seems to be responsible. one person seems to indicate that someone was responsible but they have to do something else. the room divider with a beginning of "women's inspiration" now stands in another corner. i clean up and leave.

why did i leave? because i was so close to tears that all my functioning focused only on keeping my composure, on "getting out alive". here i was, all by myself, trying to express something that was not only important to me but to other women - after all it was "women's" inspiration, not just one woman's. i felt betrayed by those who had lured me into this experience but what was much worse was that by retreating, i felt I was betraying myself as well as other women to whom inspiration is important. and there was my little feeble attempt at expressing "women's inspiration", standing somewhere in a corner, serving as a room divider, inviting nothing but indifference, maybe even ridicule …


so that was quite a few years ago. nowadays i certainly wouldn’t react this strongly anymore – but there are still moments where i feel like an outcast, when i play small, when i retreat into my shell … i guess we all do that … as long as we come out again …

isabella mori
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Caroline said...

Wow - Isabella: I didn't realise you'd become so prolific with your blog! It's funny that I wanted to leave a comment here but I have always felt the exact opposite of what you are saying. And yet I've been similarly distraught. I have always felt "seen". As a child I used to duck my head in cars, shrink down at the table when people looked at me and tried to hide. Paranoid much? Probably, But sometimes kids would even stand outside my house trying to look in!
I have always been self-conscious and so my challenge is to get to the point where I can lose this part of me. Yes, people see me because they see anything that comes across their path. I am a tiny piece of matter that catches someone's eye for a minute and then they look away. It's nothing. And they don't know who I am so what does it matter if they look at my shell?
As for positive female images, I've met a female belly dancer lately who is the epitome of female beauty. She dances gracefully, confidently and is simply so comfortable with herself. Therein lies her beauty. And she's much larger than a size 6 or whatever the "Perfect Dress Size" is supposed to be. She is fully herself. I want to blog about her but I feel embarassed to do so without her permission, and yet too shy to ask if she would allow me to do so.

ang said...

Thing is very OK to be yourself as a woman and it takes many of us so long to figure that out. I'm almost 50 and have finally realized that it's ok to be sexy at this age. In my 40's I had a good body but dressed like an old am finally realizing it's ok to wear reading glasses and well fitting low ride jeans at the same time!

It doesn't matter what people think. It matters what you think. Every day all of us come across people we respect for one thing or another in our work, and we also come across random people who we have dealings with because we are out for a walk or need to buy groceries. In every single one of those instances, we have the opportunity to define ourself as a chooser or a beggar. And for too long, women have been beggars.

I would like for every woman reading this to redefine herself as a chooser. This doesn't mean that you get to choose the outcome...this just means that you choose to no longer be a beggar and take part in the negotiations that you have left yourself out of by sitting back.

It means doing some work. Being a beggar doesn't take work. Being a chooser means you show up and learn what is in negotiation and learn how to make your best shot at it. And you don't always win, but you get better at it as you go. And by being a chooser, you give yourself a chance. And that's all anyone really has.