FEMINISM, ART, AND THE WHITE MAN I LOVE

By Megan E. O'Laughlin

"I live with the feminist opposition here," my boyfriend Josh said in class today. Everyone laughed. I had been trying to interrupt him. But I am not opposing him.

Things infuriate me, and sometimes it's hard to feel confident. I stand in the check out aisle of the grocery store and look at the magazines. I see the weird stylish women with sullen faces and I just have this longing to fight it. This stoic model is not only an unhealthy vision for us, but she is coupled with disturbing phrases: GET HIM TO MARRY YOU; LOSE TEN POUNDS IN ONE WEEK; HOW TO ENJOY SEX. You know what I mean! When I pick up one of those glossy magazines, thoughts swim around in my head that shouldn't be there. I wish I could wear that, and not be the Thigh Queen. If I buy that lipstick, maybe I could look like Tyra Banks. I hope Josh doesn't leave me for someone prettier.

My mother ties with my father as the smartest person I know. She is funny and has this great laugh that makes her whole face shine. She devours books and remembers every detail in them. She cries. She is not afraid to tell people what she thinks. She has made sure that I am a strong woman, pushing me towards health and intelligence, and making myself happy before anyone else. She has taught me to be hopeful. The result has been positive, I think. I try to keep my mind as open as it will swing, and be good and kind to myself as well as others.

Today in Sculpture class, we were discussing an article we read about The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, place settings for women history has swallowed up: the goddesses, the saints, the artists, and other women whose achievements have been pushed aside. The installation is inspiring and important. The world was once covered with cultures that worshipped the earth goddess. Eventually, the Goddess personalities were all eaten up into the one male Christian God. The Dinner Party was created at the end of the '70s, the same time I was born.

The women I surround myself with--others my age--do things that most women probably did not typically do 50 years ago (at least not that we hear of often!) I love sculpture, especially when I can work with big tools and with concepts about Goddesses and fish. My art friend Staci cannot get enough of metal--casting. Another friend works on a fishing boat in Alaska in the summer. She's studying Environmental Science with another good friend of mine. Yet another old pal is studying Electrical Engineering and interns for the Navy in the summer. We like to fish, backpack, and drink stout beer.

We are, by no means, the flimsy women on those magazine covers. We were born at an important time, when women were standing up for themselves and everyone was becoming conscious. Contrary to the Gen-X stereotype of apathetic 20-somethings, we do all we can to help, with our jobs, art, the books we read, the food we eat, the things we recycle (everything), and our goals. We, like countless others, are devoted to helping this world.

Now that so many people who have been ignored in history are starting to be appreciated, what about the ones who are being blamed for it? What about my Dad, my great brother Mike, my dear Grandpa, my sweet boyfriend Josh? What about the white men?

I live with my brother and Josh. They are as interesting as my female friends are, and they are just as sensitive and respectful. But sometimes they seem panicked when I bring up anything about women's issues. They say nothing; sometimes they become angry and confused. In short, I think they feel personally attacked. Especially Josh. He searches for facets of feminism that seem almost sexless, artists like Eva Hesse, who writes of a calm existence, 'leading without leading', no blame involved. Sometimes he jokes about being macho, about being a pig, being an asshole. I know him well enough to discard such ramblings. His insecurities bring all of this about. One of his largest insecurities is about me.

I would not cheat on Josh. I have no desire to be with anyone except him. But I know, and he knows, that I would leave him for myself, if necessary, if I felt I was somehow compromising my IDENTITY to be with him. This has not happened, and I see no reason why it would. I never had a serious relationship before him. I know how it is to sleep alone. I also know how empowering it is to be with a group of women, shouting about life and loving it. It is a different kind of companionship. I feel complete in my own shell, inspired by my surroundings, and I want to share it with others through art. Although these realizations seem necessary to me, they intimidate Josh. He, like my brother and many other men, believes that doing something for women means that you are against men.

Judy Chicago is right. Women in history have been pushed under the machismo rug. For centuries, women were imprisoned. Although they raised children, they were given little opportunity to do anything else. Some women still live like this. Many from the Baptist and Mormon religions are not given as many rights by the church as the men have. Women under the Taliban in Afghanistan are publicly beaten, and not even allowed to seek health care because men would have to see their bodies. These situations of the past and present are horrible. However, they shouldn't be blamed on every man that walks the earth. But certainly, men should appreciate the feminist movement and give us credit for working towards a better world.

The world has many problems and so do women, but we are getting there. This is not just a woman' s battle: it is everyone's. Although we may be stronger as women, and not afraid to say so, we need to reach equilibrium. We do not need a world ruled by women, but one led by everyone, one that oppresses no one.

So, ladies, if you love a white male in your life, tell him so. Assure him that history is not his fault. Ask him to appreciate feminism, and realize it is about the simple equality and appreciation of everyone. Tell any MAN you know who becomes wide eyed when you mention Women's Issues, that we are not against him, but for everyone.




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