One key to many of these works, particularly the figurative or representational ones, is that meaning is over-determined: the artist is trying to appear interesting or to be seen as saying something (in other words the desire for meaningful expression may be completely sincere, but maybe it isn’t quite as sincere as it wishes to portray) – deer heads in an upside down bathtub, dramatic staircases to nowhere. Self-portrait as clowns: clearly all the young (usually male) artists who continue to image themselves as clowns have never read Benjamin Buchloh’s critical analysis of this imago of the artist’s abject role of jester to the bourgeoisie, in his 1980 essay “Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression,” where he writes:“The Harlequins, Pierrots, Bejazzos, and Pulcinelles invading the work of Picasso, Beckmann, Severini, Derain, and others in the early twenties […] can be identified as ciphers of an enforced regression. They serve as emblems for the melancholic infantilism of the avant-garde artist who has come to realize his historic failure. The clown functions as a social archetype of the artist as an essentially powerless, docile, and entertaining figure performing his acts of subversion and mockery from an undialectical fixation on utopian thought.”If they had, they would think twice … or would they? (think of Paul McCarthy’s imago of the artist as a disgusting clown and all the artists influenced by it).
Elizabeth Murray: Painting in the 80s at Pace Gallery arrives at an interesting moment in terms of the abrupt shift of stylistic currents and tropes that characterize art history and it offers an opportunity to revisit the situation of women painters in the 1980s.
Brief study prompt: Painting in the 1980s–you weren’t supposed to do it–that is, if you were a woman, and especially a woman interested in discourse on gender politics. Different story if you were an American, Italian, or German man.
Or you could do it, although particularly if you were a male artist, but certainly not sincerely, there had to be an ironic twist. An appropriational basis in photography and language helped.
The title of the show implies the aesthetic tensions of that moment, that is, the title is not Elizabeth Murray: Paintings of the 80s, which would place the focus on her work alone during a certain time period of her working life, but Painting in the 80s, that is, her activity of painting in the 80s and, beyond that, the activity and the discipline of painting at a particular moment in Western art history.
Starting in the early 1980s, the art market experienced a huge surge after a decade of relative recession which had been, not coincidentally, marked by creative and political experimentation and which was, notably, the decade of Murray’s first fully mature work. In the new market boom, large Neo-Expressionist and appropriational painting, largely by male artists, was the dominant medium and of course the favored market commodity, with women gravitating (and being pushed, by both external and internal forces) towards photography and photobased media (with correspondingly lesser market value). While the language of the heroic history of painting could still be applied to the former, along with newer modes of criticism influenced by postmodern theory, or, even, one might say, despite the dominance of the anti-essentialism of such theory, the other–work by women artists including those peripherally or explicitly interested in gender–was drawn to and delimited by the same theory with an emphasis on an anti-essentialism that particularly targeted painting.
A so-to-speak mantraic recap of that period might be, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Foucault Derrida, and, when it came to women artists, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer…not forgetting Baudrillard and Mary Kelly, and more, but you get the idea.
Of course there were powerful women painters during that time period, including in addition to Murray, artists such as Susan Rothenberg and Ida Applebroog. But international exhibitions and biennials of contemporary art usually included very few women and of these the three mentioned above were ubiquitous.
And at that time, as I have observed elsewhere, it was useful for such painters to do work that could be parsed for their representational depiction of ideas about the female body, femininity, gender and feminism. Abstract artists–including women painters and sculptors whose work had been so influential and notable within feminist art discourse in the 70s–often felt left out of major exhibitions and texts devoted to women artists and feminism. In that moment Elizabeth Murray’s work was a beacon. To walk into Paula Cooper Gallery in the 80s or into Murray’s first major museum retrospective, at the Whitney, in April 1988, was a thrill and inspiration. To walk into Pace Gallery today is to experience that thrill anew.
The paintings from that period, now as when they were first created and exhibited, are bold, confident, powerful, intensely physical, courageous in their assertion of space on and off the wall, massive, inspiring in their use of color and paint texture and application.
But at some level the paintings operated and still operate beyond discursiveness. At a time when representation and enculturation of female identity was the issue at hand, feminist criticism couldn’t quite get a grip on a large twisted broken shield or heart like a shield working at a monumental scale, leaping out at you from the gallery wall, where you couldn’t directly address a feminist narrative by which I mean the narrow interpretation of what a feminist narrative might be where representation, figuration, and appropriation would allow you to speak of psychoanalysis, for example. Not that Murray wasn’t widely admired but the important feminist criticism of the day was focused on artists whose work could be discussed in relation to Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, and there were clear specifications of what work was part of that discourse and which wasn’t.
These theoretical references were also the lodestars of a dominant anti-essentialist discourse on how the female and the feminine were socially constructed and you couldn’t address Murray’s work without dealing with how engaged she was with the basic components of painting—figure and ground, oil on canvas and support, and this was in the dangerous territory of the essentialism of painting itself. And while in fact Murray’s work demolished Greenbergian tenets, at the same time her painterly ambition both embraced and reinvigorated the great tradition of New York School painting of which his philosophy were an important component.
And, finally, as I try to give a sense of what being an artist in the1980s was like, Murray did not use “the language,” as someone once used the term to me, “those of us who have the language.” Her references could be literary and philosophical, what she said about her work was deep but different than an academic discourse, as much rooted in daily visual experience as in popular culture and in direct transmutation into paint of such experience. In discussing her work she did not use what later became known at International Art English. Very much like Philip Guston, she was very eloquent about becoming an artist, the personal and cultural sources for her imagery and style, and about studio process.
I have a history of constructing vivid but sometimes revealed to be false memories of favorite paintings by artists I love: a painting will be a lodestar in my mind, and I will remember not just it, but the wall of the museum or gallery that it hung on, and perhaps at the core of my memory is my memory of myself at the instant of seeing it. It is the moment of the coup de foudre, love at first sight, but, more than that, of when an imperative and a challenge is revealed to you in one glance. As time passes, I try to find the work again, but often can’t find any trace. Sometimes it is eventually proven to me that it never existed as I had remembered. For example, for the longest time there was a Guston painting of cherries that I had seen at McKee Gallery. There are many wonderful paintings of cherries by Philip Guston and though I love them all, somehow that one painting was in my mind the best one. I remembered where it was installed the gallery, on the back side of the back dividing wall. But no reproduction matched my memory. Finally I asked about it at David McKee Gallery, Guston’s dealer for four decades, and they figured out the year of the show I was talking about and were able to show me the layout of the show and the images, and evidently I had constructed the painting. Strangely, once my memory was proven to be false, the image began to fade in favor of verifiable works, though the ideal persisted.
Another such painting that stood out in my memory in my personal archive of works particularly significant to me–was a large multi-part question mark I had seen at Murray’s retrospective Elizabeth Murray, Paintings and Drawings, which opened at the Whitney in 1988. I never forgot the work, or more specifically, its subject, its materiality, its scale. And, again, more specifically, I remembered myself seeing it, being struck by it: it was there and I saw it, in that way you remember seeing across the street or across a large room a person who you will later meet and fall in love with, but you already did at the first instant of vision. Over the years I always wanted to see it again, and I looked for images of that painting, without success. After the Guston cherries episode I understood that I was capable of inventing archetypal paintings by other artists. Had I made up Elizabeth Murray’s monumental question mark?
Lurking in the back of my mind when I went to see the current show at Pace Gallery was the hope that it would be there. Without seeing it I walked purposefully towards finding it. And, in the back wall of the back room, there was the painting, Cracked Question. Apart from being more askew than I remembered, less vertical, more horizontal, it looked like the painting I fell in love with but doubt set in when examination of the Whitney exhibition catalogue did not include it. Detective work and pestering of friends ensued and mention of the painting was found in a review of the show written by Rob Storr,
Like an interrogative sentence in Spanish, Murray’s show both began and ended with the same punctuation mark, but one whose significance vastly exceeded its simple editorial or grammatical function. Looming just beyond the brightly hued paintings of the 1970s that created one at the entrance, Cracked Question (1987), a mammoth multi panel, multi-faceted picture that dominated the central room of the Whitney installation, was at once the first image on which one’s eye’s fell and a tense conclusion to the chronological sequence of intervening works. (Storr, “Shape Shifter,” Art in America (April 1989), p. 275)
Storr’s description of the pivotal position of the work in the show filled in my memory of seeing myself seeing it. [Because such stories interest me, I think the solution of the mystery is that the show originated in 1987 in Dallas at the Dallas Museum of Art, and was surely planned before that. Cracked Question dates from 1987 and the Whitney show opened in the spring of 1988 so it must have been a late, but, as Storr indicates, central addition.
The work is massive, sober, architectural, dramatic. In my notes I wrote that it is dispositive, it feel instinctively that it solves a problem, a conflict, although its subject stays at the moment of the question. It is sculptural and would be seen as such under any circumstances, but the dark grey and metallic silver paint emphasizes the segmented painting’s relation to steel and stone. Each part is as powerful as the whole, yet the whole embodies its existence as language–speaking of Murray’s relation to “the language,” Cracked Question is language. It doesn’t represent a punctuation mark, it is a punctuation mark. It does not only pose but it is a philosophical question and a philosophical text, that takes place in the languages of form and color and space and matter.
A friend spoke to me of the “ferocity” of Murray’s work. Cracked Question embodies and exemplifies that ferocity.
This show arrives at a moment when, after several years of the dominance of abstraction–much of it a variant of what has been termed “zombie formalism”—that is, constructions and deconstructions of established tropes of abstraction, usually very elegant, and often disconcerting, particularly for those viewers who lived through the “original” phases being sampled or replicated, because of the works’ lack of the historical content and the crucial trace of struggle for form and content that had characterized those earlier movements–there are suddenly dozens of exhibitions of figurative painting ranging in style from Alice Neel-like realism to a poetic fantastic that emerges from surrealism and can sometimes border on millennial pathos. So, right now, figuration is in, not in all cases with a overt political message, unless in terms of the racial or gender identity of the artist and the figures represented in the paintings.
So is this a case of bad timing or of good timing for this presentation of Murray’s great works from the 1980s? It is always fascinating to think about how sometimes museum retrospectives, though planned years in advance, open just at the moment when that artist’s work or that artist’s most controversial works look presciently fresh to a new generation. Often such works are revived precisely to give contemporary artists the historical buttress that will burnish their reputations: thus late figurative works by Picabia, previously seen as kitschy aberrations were first restored to critical favor in the 1980s at a time when it seemed to retrospectively offer an important patrilineage for and contribute to the historical buttressing of the work of a then emerging David Salle. Last year’s extensive Alice Neel exhibition at David Zwirner seemed perfectly keyed to the work of emerging art stars like Jordan Casteel. So what will young artists experiencing this moment’s stylistic Zeitgeist make of Elizabeth Murray’s greatest works, seen at this moment?
It should be noted that while the overall effect of Murray’s work is one of abstraction, and the artist described herself as an abstract painter in an interview included in the 1987 catalogue, there are many representational elements and references in her paintings, in a stylized style emerging from cartoons, comics, and graffiti as well as from pop artists like Claes Oldenburg: works are shaped like shoes or cups and contains stylized abstracted but identifiable figuration and still-life imagery. But her relation to representation is not in the realm of narrative or allegory, the thing itself is the important thing, the painting as an object that projects into our space carrying pigment on its surface. The importance of three-dimensionality is apparent when one compares her oil paintings from this period to related drawings: even when these are on several pieces of paper creating a shape or a broken field, they operate in a more conventional relation to form. The objectness of the shaped paintings from this period makes them always more than the working out of abstracted, biomorphic or geometric forms on a flat surface, since the form of the support itself is a biomorphic or geometric abstraction.
That places them in yet another situation of appearing to be beyond language: how she declares space is different than Barnett Newman’s declaration of the equivalence between figure and ground: what is painted as form and shapes on the large shaped works may be securely within the realm of figure, but on the other hand the whole object itself is figure on the ground of the wall in a way that conventional easel paintings, even Murray’s own earlier works, are not. Thus, again, if the works can’t be incorporated or tamed into discourse of gender representation, nor to the terms of the new critical language of gender, racial identity, national identity politics, they also can’t be reduced to the purely formal terms of the earlier discourse that had characterized painting from the late 1940s to the 1970s.
The sculptural nature of the works emphasizes the sculptural nature of oil paint itself. One of the things I have always found the most inspiring about these works is how the three dimensional support allows me to really experience the physicality of pigment. This is one of the things that painters live for, the moments when paint comes alive in a generative fashion, so for me, how Murray allowed oil paint to dry unevenly–an area of color will be matte and then shiny, which in itself becomes sculptural. And it is never enough to look them frontally, you have to experience the surface from the side to really see the color and the brushstrokes.
A year after Murray’s show at the Whitney, which included, in addition to Cracked Question, a number of the works in the current exhibition at Pace, I wrote the essay “Figure/Ground,” in which I confronted the critique of painting I have indicated as dominant in the 1980s with other discourses that were not usually brought to bear on it, including those of feminism and of feminist studies of the gendered, misogynist aspects and roots of fascism. In one of the last paragraphs of the essay, I wrote about some of what I love about painting:
For a painter there is certainly tremendous pleasure in working out a thought in paint. I tis a complete process in terms of brain function: an intellectual activity joining memory, verbal knowledge, and retinal information, is a given visible existence through a physical act. But the value of painting cannot rest of any individual artist’s private pleasure. Painting is a communicative process in which information flows through the eye from one brain, one consciousness, to another, as telemetric data speeds from satellite to computer, without slowing for verbal communication. Incident of paint linger in the working mind of the painter as continuous thrills, as possibilities, like words you may soon use in a sentence, and–in a manner that seems to exist outside of spoken language—as beacons of hope to any human being for whom visuality is the site of questions and answers about existence. The black outline of a rock in a Marsden Hartley landscape, the scumbled white shawl in a portrait by Goya, the glaze of a donor’s veil in the Portinari Altarpiece, the translucent eyelid of Leonardo’s Ginevra di Benci, the pulsing red underpainting of a slave’s toe in a Delacroix, the shift from shiny to matte in a passage of indigo blue by Elizabeth Murray, are only a few of a storehouse of details that are of more than professional interest to me.
Images used by permission © The Murray-Holman Family Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
What we are learning from the series of exposures of sexual assault and harassment by figures from Weinstein and other Hollywood directors I have never even heard of and now Knight Landesman at Artforum constitutes a veritable textbook of psychopathological deviance and perverse behavior put to the specific use of abusing and harassing women in the workplace.
I used to wonder if New York landlords all took the same course where they learned such typical techniques as how to go from cajoling a tenant with too good to be true promises to two seconds later seconds threatening your life if you didn’t accept their offer. Recurring patterns of the MO of the sexual predators we have had to spend time with this past month makes you wonder if they all go to such a school to learn these techniques and behaviors. Well yes, they do, the school is one with the biggest student body on the planet, one we all attend, that is, patriarchy. Women attend too, since birth. Though born to and brought up by women, such men don’t seem to have attended matriarchy school or the we are all human beings school.
For those of us who don’t practice this kind of abusive behavior or who are fortunate to have never encountered it to such a blatant degree as revealed in these cases, this news has itself been a school in all kinds of violent and psychologically humiliating methods. Further as a recent article about the newest class of abusers, Leon Wieseltier and Mark Halperin, points out, one is asked to believe that there is no relation between the political views held by these male gatekeepers of public opinion and their personal derogation of women:
What does it mean that these men — and so many others liked them — held the power to literally shape America’s political narrative? What does it mean, as New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister noted on Twitter, that the story of, say, Hillary Clinton’s public career was told by these sorts of men?
One does not need to dig very deep into Halperin and Wieseltier’s work to find echoes of their private behavior in their public comments. “For Leon, women fell on a spectrum ranging from Humorless Prig to Game Girl, based on how much of his sexual banter, innuendo, and advances she would put up with,” writes Cottle. It’s an observation that sheds considerable light on Wieseltier’s oft-expressed contempt for Clinton. In 2007, Wieseltier told the New York Times that she was “like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won’t stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone.”
Art historian Anna Chave, among others, has made a related point about the women gatekeepers of art history, for example in her essay “Minimalism and Biography,” collected in the excellent anthology edited by feminist art historians Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, Reclaiming Female Agency: Feminist Art History After Postmodernism. Chave critiques the rhetoric of objectivity of minimalism by examining the personal relationships between the male heroes of the movement and their critical proponents: “In the radicalized 1960s, neo-Marxists, including partisans of Louis Althusser, elevated the categories of the material and the social over those of the individual or the subjective. For Marxists generally—as indeed for capitalism also—personal and expressive values have historically been derogated as secondary and tacitly, or otherwise, feminine, sine women have ordinarily been acculturated to assume their arenas as their proper domains…But in actuality, the leading Minimalists have been hardly less heroicized than prior members of the elite of art-historical canons. …Most of the critics who built their own reputations by building the reputations of artist in Minimalism’s inner and outer circles were friends and, at times, lovers or spouses or the same artists, a fact that is a matter of record on a piecemeal basis at best and thus is widely unknown outside the circles in question.” Same point in reverse.
The evening of October 10, 1991, I watched Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas before the Senate Judiciary committee confirmation hearings. Chronology of events on Wikipedia places her testimony on the 11th but my diary from the period indicates that on the evening of the 10th as I ate dinner watching the hearings I shoveled food into my mouth without thinking and got a fish bone stuck in my throat–I was so transfixed by what I hearing I forgot to chew my food. The next day Friday October 11, the diary reads “watched Anita Hill but realized mid-day I had to go to hospital, went to Eye & Nose etc (sic) hospital 14th street got fish bone out.
A lot more pubic hairs have been added to that coke can since.
Of all the disgusting and arcanely perverse things I have read in the past few weeks these will stand out:
Once they left, Sivan says Weinstein leaned in and tried to kiss her. Sivan rejected that attempt and told him she had a long-term boyfriend. Weinstein then said to Sivan, “Well, can you just stand there and shut up.”
At this point, Weinstein and Sivan were in a vestibule between the kitchen and bathrooms. The only way for Sivan to get away from Weinstein required her to get past him and go through the kitchen. Sivan says she was trapped by Weinstein’s body and was intimidated.
Weinstein then proceeded to expose himself to Sivan and began to masturbate. Sivan said she was deeply shocked by Weinstein’s behavior and was frozen and didn’t know what to do or say. The incident in the vestibule didn’t last long. Sivan says Weinstein ejaculated quickly into a potted plant that was in the vestibule and then proceeded to zip up his pants and they walked back into the kitchen.(Huffington Post)
She went for the door. He told her he couldn’t let her go unless he had sexual release. All she needed to do was pinch his nipples and look into his eyes and he would press himself against her and come in his pants. She felt she had no choice. And while it was happening, she tried to look away, but he grabbed her head and made her stare into his eyes.(LA Times)
“In one alleged instance, Landesman learned that Elisabeth McAvoy, who was in her 20s and an Artforum employee, was living with her sister and was told, according to the complaint, “that she should move out so that her sister could ‘come herself to sleep.’ ” (ARTnews)
“Do you want a walnut? Let me feed you walnuts.” (Artnet)
In its editorial today, “Will Harvey Weinstein’s Fall Finally Reform Men?” the Editorial Board of The New York Times declares that, “This may turn out to be the year when the tide finally turns on sexual harassment.” They point to all the positive statistics of women in the labor force that might suggest that. They don’t point to the recent election of a pussy-grabber and to the regressive views about women held by the Christian fascist who may replace him if necessary.
Here are some of my experiences with recent moments of awakening and public attention to sexual harassment.
Just about one year ago, right after the release of grab em by the pussy tape, author Kelly Oxford started a Twitter wave “Women: tweet me your first assaults.” If you’re on Twitter take a look back. Thousands of tweets an hour at one point. Add these to the #METOO wave which started about ten days ago. #METOO though compared to so many women I’ve just dealt with fairly minor gross and inappropriate behavior + insidiously subtle & annoying forms of sexual harassment—the greater toll has come from all the professional situations where the anger at my feminist views and critical writings or representations in my work would suddenly be revealed and I’d realize how that anger affected my career in ways I was usually oblivious to believe it or not.
In the midst of the wave of #MeToo posts on Facebook and Twitter in the past few days, “#MeToo was all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — over 500,000 times on Twitter and 12 million times on Facebook in the first 24 hours alone according to an Op Ed piece in the New York Times, I realized that I had kept a screen shot taken during a previous similar hashtag wave, #YesAllWomen. Does anyone even remember that? I didn’t even remember what caused that episode of sharing (Rebecca Solnit had to remind me that it was in the reaction to the Isla Vista shooting, the kid who set out to kill the prettiest sorority girls because no one wanted to have sex with him).
Did that hashtag make a difference? Will #MeToo make a difference? Did the revelations of how pervasive sexual harassment and abuse are stay in public consciousness or change anything? Asked and answered.
I chose a particular screen shot of #YesAllWomen because of the tweet at the top, “#YesAllWomen because how often does a man text his friend to say that he got home safe?” Many women are sharing stories of outright rape, gross abuse, repeated dangerous and humiliating encounters, as well as pervasive experience with the kind of slights that seems minor, that one brushes off, diminishing many of those experiences in one’s own mind to the point of drawing a blank, I think as a defense mechanism so that one can continue.
That one sentence about women calling their friends and their mothers and sisters to say that they got home safe is the closest to the experience shared by all women, and it is enough to indicate a societal and global issue. From the minute a girl is allowed to go from one place to another by herself, she is instilled with fear by caring fearful adults. That alone is sexual abuse. That alone is something that must be dealt with and negotiated with within oneself. That alone is a limitation on women’s ability to fully inhabit a public and even a private life. Not all women live with the same degree of fear, most women continue to trust, and that trust has been made clear as a mechanism in several of the stories about Landesman’s abusive behavior as a publisher of Artforum, but still, I think the fear is very deeply instilled at an early age. I think back to one aspect of my childhood in New York City: my mother would insist that I take a taxi home from my best friend’s house across the park, but then I would sit in the back seat with my hand practically on the door handle thinking about how to jump out of the car if the driver looked like he was going to veer from his course. Now that cars have locks controlled by the driver I have my phone at the ready. So not only was it ingrained in me from an early age that there were dangers, all children do have to learn that but girls in a special way, but even that what was supposed to keep me safe could also be a source of danger. That is the basic plot line of many horror movies with young women protagonists: the killer is in the house, call the police, the police is the killer.
The point is that all women since childhood have to deal with at the very least, that fear and the necessity for heightened awareness, limitations on one’s movements, and shame as the weight of the abuse falls on the women. I think back to a conference held at Hunter College in the wake of the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill public hearings, one of the speakers, I think Amber Hollibaugh, said, every time she — Anita Hill, any woman—speaks her story of abuse, she IS sexuality, she IS the crime that was perpetrated on her…those weren’t the exact words, it’s a long time ago, but it rings true through to today, that when women do speak up, they get revictimized, even just by the act of speech, they embody the crime rather than the crime being embodied in the abuser—and yet if they don’t speak up no one thinks about it and the perpetrators go on and on without punishment.
And that is what is most disturbing and significant: for each woman who has had an encounter that ranges from violent crime to daily annoyment, there was a man who did it. Since I think that basically #YesAllWomen, that makes for a lot of men. So now we have #NOTALLMEN. But if it is 100% #Yes AllWomen then #whatpercentageofmen? So the problem seems to be in how masculinity is defined or more to the point, how over centuries patriarchy has defined woman as lesser.
I used as an epigraph to my first published writing, “Appropriated Sexuality,“ a few lines from a poem by Muriel Ruckeyser,
Whoever despises the clitoris despises the penis
Whoever despises the penis despises the cunt
Whoever despises the cunt despises the life of the child.
Because she is the source of life, she embodies the knowledge of death, and thus must be punished.
I first became radicalized and empowered by feminism when I was about nineteen. And here we are, with the hundreds of thousands of revelations of #YesAllWomen forgotten and not having brought about any change and #MeToo with us today. After all these revelations, and all these waves of feminism, and all these backlashes, a young woman still feels she has to say, oh OK feed me the damn walnut so I can get on with my work and keep my job.
There is no happy ending or solution to this rambling post just more hashtags because there are more abominations by the day.
For example last week (or was it last year, the current regime has made time a torment), General John Kelly waxed nostalgic about a past when “Women were sacred.” #Whenwerewomensacred? #Womenarenotsacredtheyarehuman #Ifwomenare“sacred”theyhavethegodlyrighttomakedecisionsabouttheirownbodies.Otherwisetheyareonly “sacred”as#broodmares #apologizeorresign
If the belief that women are not equal human beings is so deeply engrained in human civilization since the development of property rights, agriculture, and urban settlement, the battle to maintain and gain rights, parity and humanity is #endlessbattleforrights.
3. The women targets
The Consciousness raising sessions that were an intrinsic part of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s took place within living memory (mine at least), a movie like 9 to 5 came out in 1980, representing both a flowering of Women’s Lib and marking the end of that social movement and the beginning of the backlash against it. But in the intervening years there was still a lot of popular culture and popular rhetoric about the empowerment of young women. The Anita Hill episode was seen as a turning point in terms of reawakening feminist activism particularly at the legal level. Institutions have guidelines, don’t they? And the understanding I’ve been given—by several mini-generations of “post-feminists” and feminists, as a “70s feminist with all the stereotypical negative associations of that historical era, is that several new generations of young women since the 70s didn’t take shit from anyone.
But alas, they do, and I am not sensing that they feel the presence of a sisterhood that would back them up publicly as opposed to privately. As all women do, they at the very least told women friends but the story most often stayed there. Instead of feeling empowered to say, fuck off you perv, their first reaction has been the time-honored one: they tried to be polite, politic, and manage the situation if manageable—the situation of Weinstein and Toback also involve physical intimidation and violence. In the case of dealing with someone like Landesman or Leon Weiseltier, some eventually spoke up to the powerful man, which took enormous courage. But those conversations remained private as well so the behavior would continue.
By the way I am not writing here about the situation of women working for minimum wage who feel powerless and terrorized. The news in recent weeks is about abuse taking place at the top of professions with many of the participants well-educated women.
Can we crowd source a guidebook of techniques to deal with these creeps, from physical self-defense training—which is not relevant to every one of the millions of situations women encounter daily around the world–I think of a friend’s inspired response once when working for an abusive editor at a major (non art publication)–it wasn’t exactly sexual abuse as I recall though it clearly had a gendered substructure, he would yell at her and put her down viciously. Versed in feminist performance art, one day leaving his office where she had been yet again been verbally berated, she spontaneously got down on her hands and knees to crawl back to her desk through the open office space occupied by co-workers. By overtly enacting the position he was putting her in, she apparently shocked him into at least a moderate change in his behavior.
Most women have endured a lot of abuse without bringing complaints or legal action, although I would think that most companies and institutions would have strict rules about sexual harassment, if only to prevent lawsuits. My institution regularly insists that everyone take an online training course on discrimination and sexual violence. But the women who got huge settlements from FOX seem to be the glaring exceptions from what must be a huge pool of women who have been similarly degraded and controlled, among whom some waited and went along with their tormentors for years before taking action.
This becomes particularly problematic when there are women in the power structure.
4. The Women of the Institution #politesse
This past week, I was interested first by the case of Artforum Michelle Kuo, who resigned after the public statement by the publishers of Artforum. I do not know her and know very little about her influence in changing the publication or of her as a boss—indeed whether being editor in chief was considered a directorial position. But I was struck by the fact that some women in the art world commended/defended her while I had been wondering how she could not have known what was going on, since the kind of behavior Landesman “allegedly” engaged in included a lot of stuff that cannot be hidden. Saying intrusive uncomfortable , sexually inappropriate things is not the kind of thing that such men hide, though they may hide some of the creepier more pervy and intimidating stuff from their colleagues, guys who say stuff are the sine qua non of a woman’s life. In fact I think a round of applause is due for all work situations where this kind of stuff just doesn’t happen because the people are just decent. So how in a company with a relatively small staff and office footprint from what I know, could she not know? Did she not have some responsibility for the hostile work environment? Was she herself a victim? Or was she too a victim of the larger situation, like so many highly educated professional women in the art world, who have a deeply engrained sense of politesse and perfection of which one premise is that you do not question the hierarchy?
5.The other women of the Institution #ValiantWomen
Yesterday after reading the statement from Artforum employees “Artforum staff Condemns Magazine’s Management of Allegations,” I scrutinized the masthead of both Artforum and Bookforum, highlighting the names of those who had signed this declaration, so that I could also distinguish who had not signed. I thought about what the role might be or what one might reasonably expect from some for the most prestigious writers who are published in Artforum, such as the Contributors Editors: among these are such noted art historians and critics Jan Avgikos, Daniel Birnbaum, Yve-Alain Bois, Germano Celant, Thomas Crow, Hans Ulrich Obrist, James Meyer, and Katie Siegel.*
These masthead notables do not work at the offices of Artforum and they are not to my knowledge actual employees of Artforum. I could be wrong about that, but I doubt if they have contracts or receive a regular salary for occasionally contributing a text and being listed as a contributing editor. Thus they could legitimately say that they didn’t have anything to do with that aspect of the institution. But, still, I wondered, do they have anything to say, do they play a role, might not their views or support be of interest.
I have published writing in Artforum. Nowhere near the masthead but still, fewer than six degrees of separation. My first encounters with Artforum in the role of an art writer go back to a moment of significance in feminism, at the end of the highly contentious and polemic 1980s, the era of the backlash, of Jesse Helms, of ACT-UP, The Guerrilla Girls. In 1989 I was approached by Jan Heller Levi, then an Associate Editor, to publish a review of Janet Kaplan’s wonderful book on a wonderful artist, Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys. I knew Heller Levi through my work and circle of friends as the co-editor of M/E/A/N/I/N/G. After that, over a short span of two years, I published a number of significant features including a feature about the Guerrilla Girls and a cover article on Ida Applebroog. When Levi left, I worked with Deborah Drier on a more general essay “You Can’t Leave Home Without It” about the concept of home. Heller Levi and Drier were both knowledgeable and sympathetic editors and for all these pieces I had memorable editorial sessions with Ida Panicelli, then the editor who commissioned the Applebroog and Guerrilla Girls pieces. I call that feminism from the top. Incidentally Landesman was already an Executive Publisher, but I had no contact with him whatsoever, and was oblivious to any hostile work environment issues during my few but intense editorial conferences where I learned about arguing for “if” and “they” and other fine points of writing.
Twenty-two years passed before a few interesting new writing assignments came my way, not about directly feminist themes, but with a sense that I was asked in part because of my reputation as a feminist artist and writer. In this second phase, by the way, no office visits, everything is done by email, everyone very professional. In many of my interactions with this particularly institution, I feel that I have benefited from the support of women–editors, artforum.com editors and writers, reviewers, whose support I appreciated and who are among the employees who did sign the letter yesterday.
Women can and do mediate the careers of other women, writers, artists, only inasmuch as they have an allegiance, a solidarity, an intellectual and emotional identification with a feminist politics but also only inasmuch as they themselves have power within the institution and they only have power in the institution to the degree that they are able to negotiate the power structure or buy into the patriarchal hierarchy without forgetting their “feminist ideals,” the curious term used in Artforum’s first public statement about the charges against Landesman (cf.Hyperallergic wrap up “A Week of Chaos at Artforum Magazine Following Sexual Harassment Allegations” for the update on this rapidly developing story). Thus they have to manage their own support of women. This is particularly true of institutions where the top positions are held by men, so that constant politesse and negotiation must be engaged in at all times, in order to focus on the work by women as much as the situation will allow, with the top billing going to men by patriarchal default.
Micol Hebron’s analysis of Artforum’s covers is useful, with only 18% percent of covers since the inception of the magazine representing work by women artists. Hebron updated her survey this week but the percentage had not changed since she first assembled the research in 2015.
Many women artists owe a tremendous amount to the dedication of these valiant women in the institution. I think research would prove that they are responsible for a majority of lines on many a woman artist’s CV, all the smaller shows in university museums, the essays in feminist and small publications, and the always carefully strategized opportunities in more significant institutions. These valiant women of the institution do as much as they can to be inclusive of women. As Jennifer Higgie always says in her Instagram project on women artists history, “#bowdown.” Institutions might change if these women in the arts were raised to a bigger level of responsibility, so that what they think is important, what they are aware of, what they bother to respect, might be given room at the top of the institution. I think this might help change the culture of these work places.
I highly recommend an anthology that was published a year after the Anita Hill testimony, Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality, edited and with an introduction by Toni Morrison.
It includes powerful essays in a range of modes from the legal to the poetic by authors including Homi K. Bhabha, Nell Irvin Painter, Andrew Ross, Manning Marable, Cornell West, and Patricia J. Williams. I’ll end this piece about a system of basic social inequity that, according to historian Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy goes back to the earliest development of human civilization, with the end of Patricia Williams’s text, “A Rare Case Study of Muleheadness and Men or How to Try an Unruly Black Witch, with Excerpts from the Heretical Testimony of Four Women, Known to be Hysterics, Speaking in Their Own Voices, as Translated for this Publication by Brothers Hatch, Simpson, DeConcini, and Specter.”
So perhaps it is truth that any woman who is not a witch shall simply refuse to burn when tied to the stake. And perhaps it is truth, after all is said and done, that masturbation really does make men go blind.
- This text was published Sunday, October 29. On November 1, Artnet.news reporter Rachel Corbett followed her initial coverage of the Artforum scandal with an update, “Hans Ulrich Obrist, Molly Nesbit, and Other Artforum Contributors Condemn Publishers’ Handling of Harassment Scandal”‘ in which many but not all Contributing Editors composed their own letter of support of the Artforum staff.
The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.
For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.
Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.
Susan Bee and Mira Schor
Susanna Heller: A Pussy in the Boardroom
In the sphere pictured above you see visceral images: paint marks, line marks, blobs, scumbles, drips, and shapes evoking pussy’s world. The escalation, diminishment, or distortion of pussy’s scale, shape,and actual appearance occurs in every person, but the most powerfully destructive distortions are those coming from that great circle of violent power: the men at the table!
Where is MEANING now? One of many places to find meaning is in the glorious force of the physical weight of marks on surface, something I have always nicknamed ‘groiny-ness’. Whether making things or experiencing things, groiny-ness is empowering and brings courage and joy.
More and more I realize that simply insisting on this feeling in one’s life and work is pretty frightening and challenging to the boardroom-table-men.
Susanna Heller was born in New York. When she was 7, her family moved to Montreal, Canada. After completing college at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Heller returned to New York in 1978. She has lived and worked in Brooklyn since 1981. Her awards include grants and fellowships from the NEA, Guggenheim Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, The Canada Council, and Yaddo. She is represented by the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto, John Davis Gallery in Hudson, NY, and at MagnanMetz gallery in New York.
Rachel Owens lives and works in Brooklyn. Her first job in NYC was helping Mira Schor where she first read M/E/A/N/I/N/G. She makes sculptures, performances, and videos, teaches at SUNY Purchase College, and works with people in all parts of the world. La Lutte Continue!
Mary D. Garrard: Three Letters
Dear Enlightened Men,
Thank you for supporting Hillary, even though you never really got it. Nor could you have, unless you’d lived it viscerally, and your support of her is a credit to your moral imagination. But you never understood that to see her candidacy through the narrow prisms of her emails and her flaws (as if our greatest heroes didn’t have any flaws) was to distort reality and deflect the energy. Many of you are saying that this election was really about race, and Obama. Pent-up resentment was part of the story, but this time it was her name on the ballot, and her face in the crosshairs. You kept on saying that she just didn’t inspire us. What do you mean us, kemo sabe? Electing Hillary Clinton president was never some kind of tokenist box-checking, it was the end point of a long historical arc that, we now know, may not necessarily bend toward justice. It was to have been, as one writer (male) put it, the fulfillment of Seneca Falls.
Dear Clueless Women,
You say that to vote for her because she is a woman would be sexist. No, it wouldn’t. It would be a recognition that the little extra that is always required of women was especially needed now. To fixate on her rare flashes of self-interest or, for god’s sake, her ambition, in the face of the spectacular evidence in this election of patriarchy’s ever-present leer – pathetic or menacing, depending on its power status – is to be blissfully unaware that the butcher’s fat thumb is always on the scale. Until now, when the opportunity to embody and symbolize women’s fully equal humanity was so close at hand. Hillary herself has called out eloquently to little girls, as the standard-bearer of the most recent generation to put up a political fight for what was once called women’s liberation. It’s a liberation that has yet to fully take root in our psyches, but will eternally bloom in the hearts of little girls.
Dear Hillary Rodham Clinton,
As a participant, like you, in that now historical women’s movement, I want to thank you on behalf of our generation. Thank you for accepting and taking forward the torch that, in the reach of historical memory, was first ignited in the fifteenth century by Christine de Pizan, and carried proudly by Laura Cereta, Lucrezia Marinella, Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and so many others. Sure, it’s comforting to hear you say that a woman will be president one day, maybe sooner than we now think. But it’s cold comfort to realize that once again, a woman has paid a steep price for challenging the patriarchy, and once again the women’s agenda has been subordinated to supposedly more pressing concerns. This long struggle for equality has seen both victories and defeats, and I am so sorry you had to be the sacrificial lamb this time. But you have brought fresh energy and inspiration to the cause, and you’ve given us another role model for the dream that will never die. Thank you, Hillary, for showing a new generation of women and girls what feminism is. We are all so very proud of you.
Mary D. Garrard, Professor Emerita at American University, is the author of Artemisia Gentileschi (1989), and many other writings on women artists and gender issues in art history, including Brunelleschi’s Egg: Nature, Art and Gender in Renaissance Italy (2010). With Norma Broude, she co-edited and contributed to four volumes on feminism and art history, including The Power of Feminist Art (1994). Broude and Garrard were activists in the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s and ‘80s; Garrard was the second president of Women’s Caucus for Art.
Kate Gilmore lives in NY. She has participated in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, The Moscow Biennial (2011), PS1/MoMA Greater New York, (2005 and 2010), in addition to numerous solo exhibitions. Gilmore is Associate Professor of Art and Design at Purchase College, SUNY, Purchase, NY.
For my contribution I’ve used quotes from M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online #4’s Feminist Forum, 2007, as responses to the 2016 election. All of the essays from that issue were moving and inspiring; I’ve chosen these excerpts because for me they can serve as reminders and guides over the next four years.
Sheila Pepe, writing about her mother: As a Sunday painter and homemaker, visibility was not an issue for Josephine. Not like it is for her daughter and her artist colleagues. Service was Josephine’s guiding principle, and as much as I once completely rejected this call as decidedly anti-feminist, I now know its great value. Directing one’s work in the service of a greater good is at the heart of social justice, and therefore, Feminism. And that the art world, no matter how progressive it perceives itself to be, no matter how well the objects it produces claim the ground of good politics, the mechanism of it will always benefit from some old fashioned feminist practice: women willing to work toward a more complex and equitable future.
Carolee Schneemann: (Notes from 1974 for Women in the Year 2000 by CS) In the year 2000, books and courses will only be called, “Man and His Image,” “Man and His Symbols,” “Art History of Man,” to probe the source of disease and mania which compelled patriarchal man to attribute to himself an his masculine forbears every invention and artifact by which civilization was formed for over four millennia.
Faith Wilding: I am NOT interested in canonization or star-making or genius pronouncements. Rather I’m calling for a kind of deep socio-cultural history that can be helpful to all generations of feminists, students, artists, in understanding specifically how feminist artists have used the philosophy, politics, and practices of feminism to embody new images, visions, inventions, ideas, processes, and ways of doing things differently. Dissing “cunt art” was like shooting fish in a barrel for art critics, but let’s see them engage in specific discussions of how feminism can be (and is) embodied as an aesthetic, and as a LIVED ethics of justice.
Mira Schor, speaking about giving tours at the feminist installation, Womanhouse in 1972: One day when I was there, a number of middle-aged ladies from the neighborhood came by in their housedresses. As our little group of young feminist art students realized that we were approaching Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom, filled with feminine hygiene products and “bloody” tampons, we melted away, leaving these ladies to their own devices. Later, they came to find us and laughingly chided us for thinking they would be embarrassed. I realized how much we were still girls while they were women, and also how one should never underestimate any audience for art.
Maureen Connor’s work combines installation, video, interior design, ethnography, human resources, feminism, and radical pedagogy. Current projects include Dis-con-tent, a series of community events that considers the human story behind certain medical advances; and her ongoing projects Personnel and with the collective Institute for Wishful Thinking (IWT), both of which aim to bring more democracy to the workplace. Now Emerita Professor of Art at Queens College, CUNY where she co-founded Social Practice Queens (SPQ) in 2010 in partnership with the Queens Museum, she also co-founded the Pedagogy Group, a cooperative of art educators from many institutions who consider how to embody anti-capitalist politics in the ways we teach and learn.
These graphite self-portrait drawings, Split-Fingered Smile and Four-Fingered Smile, done in 2013 continue a series of works about manipulating my face to feign a pleasant, socially acceptable expression. I was invited to an opening that I couldn’t refuse, and so I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and used my own hand to push and pull smiles and grins onto my face. Thus a series of large charcoals, small paintings, and these graphite drawings ensued. This body of work from 2008 to 2013 alternately deepened, and ultimately purged, my depression. This July I started a series of paintings of women in long skirts.
These small paintings on primed paper are the first two works in a series entitled Skirts. They were begun in July 2016. For years, my work has been about the body, usually women’s bodies, often specifically my own. I have always worked from photographs and for the past five years I’ve been unhappy with that process.
The first painting, Skirt I started as an earnest attempt to paint a portrait of my daughter’s Chihuahua, Kiko. After a few strokes quickly done, the women in the skirt appeared. My heart pounded. I kept on painting. I didn’t have a thought in my head. I was filled with joy. There are now six Skirts. Trump was elected. I cried for days but these paintings still fill me with joy, The skirts have a life of their own, girding and girdling my loins—Donald Trump can’t become my president, not mine.
Bailey Doogan is a seventy-five-year old artist living in Tucson, AZ and Nova Scotia, Canada. She is Professor Emerita at the U of A where she taught for thirty-two years. In 2009, she was awarded a Joan Mitchell Painting Grant.
Suzy Spence: Plotting
We’re so ready, so it’s a shock to learn that society is still not ready for us. There will be no basking in Hillary Clinton’s matriarchal glory. The difficult election proves that progressive politics were not as well seeded as we’d thought. To their credit Mira and Susan’s first issues of M/E/A/N/I/N/G read as if they were written today: gender and racial dissonance are the subject of most of the critical writing from the 80s and 90s and those concerns continue to be central. For sure leftist ideals once relegated to the university fringe have slowly infiltrated the mainstream, in part enabled by the massive transition we’ve made to live a portion of our lives online. It’s as if the digital age has allowed our collective consciousness to grow a subterranean stem, changing our perspectives in ways we could never have predicted.
That said, coming of age in the era of Obama was a stroke of luck for some of us. At eleven, my child is already meeting our immediate predicament with resistance. She is obsessed with the play Hamilton; its multiracial cast and tight poetic score are as poignant to her as the story being told. Nothing Lin Manuel Miranda intended to lay raw is lost on this child, she is for it, and of it.
I’ve also been struck by the work of two young journalists at The Guardian who produced a video series that’s run parallel to election news called The Vagina Dispatches. Mona Chalabi and Mae Ryan’s earnest, confessional reporting is hopeful, and reminds me that the fringe can always work the back end, in order to make the front end look deeply unstable. Their first episode asks the blunt question, “do you know about vaginas?” The reporters demonstrate anatomy using puppets, photography, quizzes — the material feminist artists have reached for time and again, but this go round is for the general public. They reveal there is a terrible lack of knowledge (almost as shocking as Hillary’s loss), but it’s remarkable to see a major newspaper supporting their earnest investigations, indeed putting them on the home page.
In the final episode Chalabi wears a soft costume vagina on a trip to Washington DC, her head popping out near the clitoris, the labia spreading around her sides. Somehow she manages to stroll nonchalantly about the Lincoln Memorial, stopping briefly in front of Lincoln’s spread legs. In doing so I felt she sent the message that being invisible doesn’t necessarily mean being without agency. In other words even if we’re hidden we can still be plotting. The problem of countering misogyny and racism will be ongoing, a giant project handed down from one generation to the next for as long as it takes.
Suzy Spence is an Artist and Curator who divides her time between Vermont and New York.
Faith Wilding is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, educator. Co-founder of the feminist art movement in Southern California. Solo and group shows for forty+ years in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, and Southeast Asia. Her work addresses the recombinant and distributed bio-tech body in various media including 2-D, video, digital media, installations, and performances. Wilding co-founded, and collaborates with, subRosa, a reproducible cyberfeminist cell of cultural researchers using BioArt and tactical performance to explore and critique the intersections of information and biotechnologies in women’s bodies, lives, and work.
Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Erica Hunt, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, Legacy Russell, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer, LigoranoReese, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.
M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.
This morning I’m thinking back to a fantastic conference that took place at Hunter College Saturday April 25, 1992, “Women Tell the Truth: A Conference on Parity, Power and Sexual Harassment,” speakers included Liz Holztman, Geraldine Ferraro –those were the two names I wrote in my brief diary entry for the event–but there were many other feminist luminaries and radical thinkers. Anita Hill gave the keynote address–the conference took place in the immediate aftermath of the October 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas .
There were 2100 people in the audience, mainly women, and as many others were turned away for lack of space. I’m thinking about it today because one of the speakers, possibly Catharine MacKinnon, a leading feminist activist, lawyer, and legal expert on sexual harassment, spoke of the difficulty that women who have been the victims of sexual harassment or assault have, in that when they retell what happened they not only relive what happened and are revictimized by that memory but they become the sign of the violation, of the body, they are the crime on the body in a sense, they become the crime not the victim, I don’t remember exactly how she worded it and my notes are buried in a box someplace, but at the time her description or interpretation of the displacement of the criminal act onto the victim perfectly described the situation.
Just FYI, this conference took place at a time when the US Congress had actively attacking abortion and other human rights in the United States–thus a time not unlike our own and facing the same threats and it took place before the 1992 election, over six months before President Bill Clinton was elected (and one year before he nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, on June 14, 1993–by the way Ginsburg was confirmed that same summer, taking the oath August 10, 1993). At that time in New York City there was a lot of activism, including the activist group WAC (Women’s Action Coalition) which had been founded in January 1992 in the aftermath of the Thomas hearings.
This event was brought to mind by Van Jones’s fantastic rant about the hypocritical focus on Donald Trump’s recently revealed language instead of his actions, and on the racial inequity of responses to the kind of sexual crimes Trump was describing, which Jones posted on Facebook live yesterday evening. I highly recommend watching it if you can. Jones gloriously blasted Trump for engaging not in “lewd language” as it is being decried by Republican politicians and media but in criminal behavior which would land any black guy in jail. I relished every outraged word he uttered, but it occurred to me that the one thing perhaps that he left out is that many women experience some version of that kind of gross sexual harassment at some point in their lives–the link here is to a story about the thousands of such stories which have been posted on Twitter since Friday night with the hashtag #NotOkay and for the most part there is not much they can do about it or even think about doing about it (this in addition to the constant other kinds of less sexually overt undermining and mansplaining that take place all the time). As one example, Canadian writer Kelly Oxford wrote: “Women: tweet me your first assaults. they aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘p—y’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”
Yesterday Oxford reported on Twitter that she was “receiving 2 sex assault stories per second.”
So that discussion from the 1992 conference of the dilemma of the victim of sexual harassment came back to me this morning and I wanted to share it today.
This whole election or rather the Trump candidacy has been a violation of the country, all of us have been violated by the level of violence and indecency. The racism and the hatred were there. The Southern Poverty Law Center has posted a “Hate Map” of the United States. It is chilling. But they have been ignited and valorized to an extraordinary degree. No matter what happens, we will be an even more damaged and divided nation than we already were, replaying the Civil War for another generation.
And if/WHEN Hillary Clinton wins the election, her victory will have an asterisk* next to it for having had the most shameful opponent in American history so it will be possible to say, and it’s already being said, that the first woman President will have won only because she had the worst opponent ever put forward by a major political party (as if the policies of the others were any better). And the negative views many people are said to have about Hillary Clinton not only from the right but also from the left are a product of exactly the same misogyny reflected in Trump’s words. I should say that I am writing this as a supporter of Clinton now, but also as a person who both sees clearly her political faults yet who identifies with the difficulty of being her and doing what she is trying to do.
Tonight is the second debate. I was terrified for her before the first debate, because I saw her as being thrown into a pit with a monster. I thought, he’s going to call her a cunt on TV. What will she do? What can you do? Yet she managed something quite astounding, she ending up pinning the tail back on the donkey, and he got stuck with “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Now what will happen tonight, after his boasts about grabbing pussy has been broadcast into every home in the world?
These statistics were compiled in 1992.