Making art about women/feminism/gender makes me think about my mother. She's probably the most complex person, in her thought and behavior, that I've ever known... I'm pretty sure that I'll never completely know or understand her. She's a contradiction of many things... She believes in my education very strongly, and yet, she's told me before that I'll never be as smart as a man because I am a woman. She's told me that she has always wanted to be a housewife, but she will not hesitate to work a 60 hour work week. She tells me to focus on my studies, and less on amorous love affairs, but whenever her friends' sons are home from law school, she elbow nudges me to go over and say hello after Sunday mass. She doesn't believe women should do what she thinks are men tasks, but she will whip out her power drill or solder iron like its an episode of "This Old House." She didn't have her first kiss until her wedding day, but she will make the most obscene and inappropriate sexual innuendos. Her favorite dirty joke to tell is the one that compares a woman to a car... like seriously, mom? When I was eighteen, she cried when she caught me kissing a boy good night and did not make eye contact or talk to me for three days... but once, I called her upset at three in the morning after a really hard night and she talked to me like I wasn't a bumbling moron, then the next day, called and didn't mention it at all. When we moved to a new neighborhood, she didn't let me into the house, because she said I was a female and it was bad luck, and told my brother that he should go in first. She has told me many times that men were superior to women, and that it is the woman's role to be inferior to men... but she's attended every honors convocation/award ceremony/art exhibit I've ever been invited to.
|Bitch, please. Mixed media collage. 8.5"X11." 2011. Uban.|
My mother confided in me, that she had wept profusely when I was a child because she thought I had a learning disability, and that she had bullied me in an attempt to motivate me to make up for my lack of mental prowess. I remember when I was helping her with laundry. I think I must've been four years old at the time, and she had said very sternly, "Boys like girls to be smart. You can't just be dumb, even if you're pretty. No one likes dumb people, Charlene." I was very confused, and did not understand why she was saying this when all I wanted to do was fold the laundry because it was clean and warm right out of the dryer. Later, I went to my kindergarten interview, and was found to be without learning disability, but with adequate intelligence. It was through the complexity of my drawings that the education specialists assessed my learning capacity at the time to be on a fourth grade level. My mother felt relieved, but she was still skeptical. She had been my first teacher, and had seen me stumble through her homemade flashcards. I'm still skeptical over the education specialists's assessment, but I was more than glad someone interfered with my mother and I was saved a bit of her harassment and managed to scrounge up enough self-esteem to make it into grade school honor roll. Very early on, my drawings had already saved my life, but I also started having to question, Why is being pretty the opposite of being smart? and Why do I have to be anything for boys to like me? and What is all this hub-bub about what boys and girls are supposed to be doing?
|Lady Godiva/Peeping Tom. Mixed media collage. 2011. Uban.|
It wasn't until years later, when I confronted my mother as a rebellious teenager, and I screamed at her, "Maybe you're not good enough because you are a woman, but I am. I am!" I said it over and over again until I started to cry, and she didn't have anything to say except to turn away from me. I didn't quite believe that for awhile. I was an insecure teenager at the time, with most of my thoughts concerned with going to the mall with my friends and buying more Hello Kitty brand paraphernalia, but when I got older and understood it, it was a great feeling to really know. However, that statement haunts me all the time, and I feel both shame and pride in it. Especially now, when I'm consciously making art about gender/women/sexuality, and I think a lot about my mother and the influence she has had on me. I just... feel bad for her. She is the strongest woman I know, and she will never believe it to be a true statement, or that a woman could ever be strong. She is so fierce in her beliefs, and she has such courage for her family. I feel like she's in a way all of the women I have in mind when I make these things. She's the one who has been convinced of a separate domestic sphere and the inadequacy of her gender, and finally adopted these ideas as complete and whole truth. We're different people, with different beliefs. I feel blessed for the opportunities I've been given, and for having such a wonderful mother. She'll never understand some of the art that I am making, but I'll still be doing it with her in mind.
Also, I have an inkling of suspicion that she was completely wrong telling me that "boys like girls to be smart." In my experience, "the boys" definitely like the very beautiful girls who will just agree with them and put up with all of their shit. But I guess, my mom has screwed around with my brain enough, that I honestly just can't bring myself to change my mind about this one thing at least...