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