People-watching at the VAG

Crowfoot: I also really liked seeing a lot of people in there too

eloriane: it was busy

eloriane: a lot of people seemed to be not sure what to make of it, though.

Crowfoot: hah yeah

eloriane: especially the hetero couples who seemed to be there on a date

eloriane: the men in particular would look really uncomfortable

eloriane: like, they’d keep looking from the art to their girlfriends

eloriane: like, “I don’t get this, but she does?”

Crowfoot: haha ooooh. maybe not the best choice. BUT a good choice for her! she’ll get an idea of how awake he is

Crowfoot: *snort*

eloriane: yeah, a great way to vet a boyfriend!

Crowfoot: indeed!

eloriane: but it was interesting to see them (maybe) learning that their loved ones live lives that are very different from their own, in real and important ways

eloriane: that their experience is not the default

Crowfoot: I admit I didn’t really look at the other people too much, mostly I was trying to soak up every last bit. I will look more next time

Crowfoot: right. that’s extremely important, in my view.

eloriane: oh, I couldn’t quite help people-watching

Crowfoot: our culture is not only dominated by the male point of view, I think men and boys are really discouraged from looking at the female point of view, or empathizing too much with women’s stories. Hence the “chick flick” designation when the story centers around a woman for a change

eloriane: yes, as if women weren’t ROUTINELY expected to accept very male stories as “universal”

eloriane: and identifying with people of the opposite gender

Crowfoot: exactly. that’s expected, a girl/woman to relate to a man

eloriane: because men are the default and women are Other

Crowfoot: and one of the things that donning our gender goggles does is really illustrate how much that is true, everyday, everywhere we look. Again and again and again we are told we are Other. We are shown we are Other.

I wanted to write about this bit of conversation seperate from the rest of our discussion of the VAG feminist art exhibit, partially to keep the other from being TOO long (ha!) but also because I felt like I had more to say about the people-watching aspect. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out WHAT I wanted to say.

If I lived in Vancouver, I would definitely take every potential friend or girlfriend to see it with me, to spark a conversation (and so I could have the chance to see it again and again). If it went well, we’d have fascinating discussions late into the night on my favourite topic, and I’d know this was a person I wanted to see more of. If it went poorly, and they weren’t interested in getting it, I would have learned it early and relatively painlessly, so I could discreetly move to a more distant relationship with them. While I was there, I wondered how many of the couples were there for exactly that reason. I also wondered if any of the men had invited their girlfriends, rather than the other way around, and if they’d done so because they were allies or because they thought it would look “sensitive.”

I also wondered who the exhibit was aimed at– feminists, or people who are not feminists yet? It was definitely a great experience for me, as a feminist– the art expressed a lot of ideas that I’ve struggled with in some very powerful ways. I could just feel the wheels grinding as I was soaking everything in and trying to process it. But would it be as powerful to someone who didn’t have a feminist background? Would they be able to get it? There were a lot of things that I know I wasn’t really getting, but I could at least scratch the surface. I was worried, watching those hipster boyfriends moving mutely through the museum, that it was going to fly right past them and they’d dismiss feminism as something obscure that women made up to seem smarter.

But I think that’s my cynical side talking. It could just as easily foster a feminist awakening in any number of people who may have noticed things, but never had anyone else point them out before. I barely skimmed the informational passages on the walls– just read enough to say, “oh, okay, this room is about body image”– but they could help people figure out what they’re looking at. And some of the pieces were not ambiguous at all. One of my favourites was a small dark room with crocheted webs and tubes hanging from the walls and ceiling, looking like the nest of some kind of terrible monster. (The tubes reminded me eerily of intestines, draped across the wall.) It was very evocative of the idea of domesticity as a trap, the idea that “women’s work” keeps women too busy to explore their own lives. Could someone step inside of it, and be inspired to explore feminism? I think so.

Yeah, when I let myself have even a little hope for the future, I believe that this exhibit could inspire quite a lot of people to explore feminism for the first time. And increasingly, I think that was the goal. It also happened to be a fantastic experience for those of us who are already feminists, but I think the primary goal must have been to put feminism in a public place and invite people in to hear the feminists’ side of the story. And I think it worked quite well. It made feminism into something any intelligent person might be interested in learning about (by putting it in a mainstream museum) while still keeping it uncompromisingly feminist (by never shying away from the name).

Which is why I just couldn’t help people-watching, and trying to read people’s faces– new feminists were being born all around me, and I couldn’t resist the chance to see it happen.


3 Responses to People-watching at the VAG

  1. Eng says:

    Oh wow. Great post. Lots to comment on.

    First of all: “that their loved ones [and I’m going to apply that to women in general] live lives that are very different from their own, in real and important ways…that their experience is not the default”…excellent point. Someone should frame that and put it above the museum entrance. I don’t know, it seems like such a basic message, but it somehow got through to me. So thanks.

    I’m not sure I agree about the “chick flick” marginalization of depictions of women – in my understanding, most romance stories are considered “chick flicks”. Is it any better that these are the sort of films associated with women? Not really – it’s sort of limiting on both sides. But I don’t know that films from girls’ points of view are automatically chick flicks.

    I’d hope that, as well as the two categories of guys you mentioned, there were also a few who invited their girlfriends along because they wanted to know more about feminism and wanted the girlfriend along to help explain things. I can’t help but feel bad for the guys who wandered along, trying to understand but not really getting it – but I hope the exhibit was good enough that they had some sense, by the end. Certainly when you described the domesticity trap exhibit, I had no idea what to make of it (though, of course, I was not there, which doesn’t help).

    Certainly agree that the main point was probably to get non-feminists to pay attention to feminism, and was probably most useful in that respect. Every person who passes through that museum, even if they don’t understand right away, or at all, at least walks out thinking about feminism, which might be the most important part.

    I’m rambling a little. But great post. πŸ™‚

  2. Dolly says:

    Seriously, you guys have the most intense IM discussions. I IM people and we’re like, “OMG, r u eating tacos right now? I luv tacos. *squee* teh kind w/ sour cream? yuhz [insert three stupid emoticons]” Makes me kind of jealous. XD

    Anyway, them more I hear you guys talk about this exhibit, the more I totally want to go. No boyfriend, so no worries about awkwardness (though I could bring along some of my absolutely sexist guy friends from high school to see what they’d get out of it). Frankly, I just want to do what eloriane did — see the birthing of feminists. Seems like that’s where the art is at. πŸ˜‰

  3. eloriane says:


    Okay, first of all, hurray! It’s always fantastic when someone gets something for the first time, and the idea that the male experience is (wrongly) considered completely default is a big one. Here’s a more eloquent version of the point, from Shakesville, my favourite blog. (You may want to check out their whole Feminism 101 series, it’s good stuff.)

    The “chick flick” statement was more about the fact that men aren’t expected to enjoy movies that center around women. (And I dare you to find one American movie that tells a woman’s story but is not a “chick flick”!) I mean, it’s not true of all men, but the stereotype is that a man will whine and groan about being forced to sit through a “chick flick”, even movies like, perhaps, Changeling (which is not a romantic comedy, but is about a woman) because the assumption is that men can’t identify with female leads. J.K. Rowling was originally going to have Harry be female, but then she changed her mind because she “knew” that boys wouldn’t want to read about a girl doing magic. Even my little brothers, who have been listening to me talk about this stuff their whole lives and will independently point out feminist considerations, resist reading my favourite books from when I was their age, because they’re about girls. It’s not true of all men, but it’s the expectation, and it’s part of how the female experience is othered.

    (If you’re still not convinced I’ll gladly put together a full post on the topic πŸ™‚ )

    Also, I’m SURE there were guys who wanted to know more about feminism, just as there were women who wanted to know more about feminism. I just get a little cynical (okay, a LOT cynical) and it’s a lot easier for men to ignore feminist issues (since they don’t live them), so I often assume that they will do exactly that unless a woman prods them into thinking about things more. Especially since men (in some ways) benefit from the patriarchy, they have a lot of incentive to ignore it. I’m not entirely sure it’s all that possible for a man start seeing it without at least a little bit of a push, but that’s true of women too; we just happen to get that “push” all the time from out own experiences of sexism.

    But it is certainly possible for men to be interested, and to figure things out, and to become excellent feminists, and indeed, it happens often! And I think it’s very likely that this exhibit opened a lot of eyes, hence why I loved it and just can’t stop writing about it πŸ™‚

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