Monday, July 9, 2012

Fabricating Womanhood

 Hello, it's artist Emily here. I wanted to share some of my work and thoughts with you. In 2010, my final MFA exhibit was entitled, Fabricating Womanhood. It was a spoof off of Helen's book. I wanted to explore some of the ideas in her book, as well as the notions of her time period. Click HERE for images. Here is what I wrote about it in my thesis paper:
 I wanted my final exhibit to be a house because it seemed like the appropriate space to display my work. The house functioned as a metaphor for many things in my life: my messy brain full of questions and contradictions, a relationship that was built then destroyed, a prop to help explain the narrative aspects of my work, a vehicle to help me steer the viewer into the questions and contemplations I was sensing. While the outside of the house, isolated in the dark gallery space looked plain and unadorned; the interior space had the trappings of pleasantries, gay colors, comfortable chairs, pillows, welcoming candy dishes, a genealogy of portraits on the wall, but underneath the comedy, laughing, frilly bows, and pink ruched roses there was a questioning- with a sometimes bitter, cynical, and tragic tone to it.
Making the house was a way for me to explore identity and find catharsis. It was an open-ended exploration of ideas, a way to help me sort out the messages of the media, my parents, and my faith. In all its idealism and glory, the home is the stage for many important events.  It’s where women perform their greatest roles as mothers and homemakers--they have impact and power there. The home is both a cage where monotony and conflict exist as well as a realm where women flourish and prosper, and it is where I learned my first lessons.  
Below are some featured works.

 This is an oil painting of a Barbie Doll. Her arms are up in a surrender pose. I'm not sure if she's happy about that.

  The mothers are instructing their daughters in love and concern, possibly talking about what is going to happen to the daughter’s body- how she is going to mature, and  how she must take responsibility for how she is perceived by men. The etchings depict a process of going from innocence to knowledge and accountability. The young girls are learning how to behave towards others. Here are some suggestions for them:
Men are impressed by softness, curves and bounce. They like a wind-blown look.
-John Robert Powers, The American Magazine, 1946.

If a parent can make a child realize how sweet are the fruits [of abstinence], later in life, of good, clean living in youth, half of the battle will be won. With some natures it is necessary to resort to the psychology of fear in order to bring home this truth, with others simply appealing to their sense of honor and pride is sufficient.
- The Digest of Hygiene for Mother and Daughter, 1947

Keep your mouth clean and your breath sweet. Brush the teeth at least twice a day- nothing is more repellant than a bad odor from the mouth. If you have it persistently you should consult a physician.
- The Digest of Hygiene for Mother and Daughter, 1947

Poise and self confidence are available to any woman. Discover who you really are and where you are going. Develop your own convictions. Have the courage to live by your standards. Enjoy your unique spot in the world.
-The Total Woman, Marabel Morgan, 1973

Fascinating Womanhood and FMH

Feminist Mormon Housewives allowed us space for a blog post on their site. Many thanks to them for their generous support.

Read the comments.  People react strongly to Fascinating Womanhood, on many fronts. This is what our documentary hopes to account for---women who found Helen's books helpful and women who disagree profoundly with her strategies and suggestions.

As for myself, I have read several editions of Helen's book and I have tried to find ideas that are useful. Such as:

  • You can't change people.
  • You are responsible for you, so be the best person you can be.
  • Treat the people in your life with kindness. 

As a wise woman once told me, there's no commandment against common sense.

As for the rest of the book, ambivalence and heartburn abound when I read it. A friend just wrote to me her experience of the book, and I quote from her summary:

"But when you're scared, or overwhelmed, or lonely, or have tons of self-doubt, [the book] is a total siren song.  I think the enduring popularity of this book is really just a monument to how many people do feel scared, overwhelmed, lonely, are crippled with self-doubt, or have a history of abusive relationships and don't know what love actually is.  A monument to sad."

Maxine Hanks Profile

Maxine Hanks is most well-known for her book Women and Authority (1992), a historical review of women's position within the LDS church. Hanks is uniquely situated to comment on Helen's cultural roots who was a Mormon woman who used the opportunities available to her to promote her ideas about gender and marriage.

 Hanks offers a sympathetic perspective on Helen's attempts to be recognized for what she saw as doctrinally accurate strategies in fixing marriages.