LADIES. What are we fighting for here? Best of Gender? Because you are not gonna grow a dick however many sisters you throw under the bus...
In the summer of 2016 an androgynous version of Hillary Bonham Clinton was poised to become the first female president in the US in what turned out to be a Before and After proportions disaster. I, for my part, spent several weeks piecing together a nuanced, humorous yet poignant, personal yet relatable text on gender and sexism in the arts. I am lying. I spent weeks trying to figure out ways to express anger without appearing angry.
So much for that.
Then the last two years happened. Despite “Grab Them By the Pussy” happening. Women’s March happened; twice, three times. The Muslim Ban. Transgender ban from the military. #Metoo. Amidst the shit storm I became a mom. I was asked if my son is my biggest masterpiece. Funny the word “masterpiece” should finally come up, only in connection to DNA and biological reproduction. Picasso Baby? I was asked if my art has changed now. I was asked How Do I Possibly Manage now. I was asked that often; offered help—less so. I was invited to participate in a show titled “Motherhood has not changed my identity.” (Not for the better it hasn't...) Are Mom shows the new Cat shows? The words “sentimental” and “emotional” started appearing in my press releases like white hair. I pluck them out with the same relentlessness. The Handmaid’s Tale came out. OJ got out of jail. Judge Swingdick was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite having called birth control pills abortion medication.
Let me in the voice of Carrie Bradshaw and self-loathing women everywhere ask... “Are we equal yet?”
WHERE IS MY POWER?
Right ok, Betty Draper was a bitch who deserved it, but HOW is THIS STILL GOING ON? Women are half the planet. HALF of it. Wherever you see 5 men. There should be 5 women. And Marina Abramovic doesn't count. At the museum board, in the art show, on your instagram feed. No ifs, no buts, no "for the most part meritocracy" excuses. How is everyone else still fighting for Firsts and white men get called Genius every time they manage to put half a sentence together?! Women give birth and raise 100% of the population. Every Tom, Dick and Prince Harry comes through our vaginas. We nourish and nurture everybody on this planet, often long into adulthood. We spent their first years with them, we teach them their first words. Their world view is our world view. We got so much power. Where the hell is it? Who is taking away my power?
Their world view, is our world view
Now Be Here, Los Angeles, 2016 Photo: Isabel Avila and Carrie Yury. Courtesy of Kim Schoenstadt and Hauser Wirth -- Kim Schoenstadt's first edition of this project photographed 733 female or female identifying artists ( and a poodle) in Downtown LA. Now Be Here was repeated during 2016 and 2017 in New York outside the Brooklyn Museum, in Miami outside the Perez Art Museum and in DC outside the National Museum of Women in the Arts
THE A-Z OF MISOGYNY
In the A- Z of Misogyny the M doesn’t stand for Menstruate or Menopause, although both those words sure have the word Men in them. M stands for Motherhood. All the way back to the Immaculate Conception women are somehow stuck performing the hardest, most fundamental, vital task of all for the survival of the species WHILE being stripped of agency on their own body, not to mention carnal pleasure. I entered the hospital on February 2017 as Despina Stokou. I left “a mom”. In the Arts the impact Motherhood has in a career and the lengths women go to hide it take almost comically big proportions. In one of our first conversations late at night in a bar in Cologne the great Judy Lypke told me "You are gonna do great things. I know it. You are gonna be a great artist. You are gonna be a great writer. Or...You are gonna be a great Mother." I didn’t realise at the time he said either or.
DOUBLE THE WORK HALF THE CREDIT. THE FUCKING IRONY OF EMPOWERING WOMEN
Devaluing of women literally starts at the cradle. Male is default and any abbreviation to that is well... exactly that – the Other. The hungry caterpillar. The Giraffe that couldn’t dance. The Goodnight bulldozers, even the Grouchy Ladybag. All male character books we sooth our kids night after night. No more than 33 percent of children’s books in any given year features an adult woman or female animal, but adult men and male animals appear in 100 percent of the books. Needless to say the majority of children's book writers are female.
But…you will say. There are all these beautiful fairytales with the little girl who wanted to be an astronaut and studied every science book she could get her little hands on and despite all the obstacles made it in a men’s world... (Congratulations! You have a penis) Despite all the obstacles, she made it in a men’s world. Let's break down this sentence in its misguiding pseudo-empowering two-part message.
What is the message for little girls? The odds are against you. You have to be one in a million and work ten times as hard. Despite putting in the extra effort your voice will be ignored, your message diluted, you need to persevere then persevere some more, possibly sacrifice personal goals, definitely feel guilty about setting aside the usual female expectations in order to make it.
What is the message for little boys? It is a mens world! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and free Pizza!!!
I have often wondered how come I haven’t been so aware of all this until relatively recently. Was it my move to the States, or my age reaching 40s and motherhood? I think in our twenties and early thirties a white woman is very much like a white guy; available, eager, self -unaware. Then all of a sudden puff! You disappear.
It took me a while to grasp the extent of the unattainability of what women and people of color are fighting for. Non-white, non male individuals have to basically transcend their own gender, their own skin color in order to reach that next, ultimate level of success and leeway inherently granted to white men. We are talking gravity denying kind of leeway: failing up. Look it up. It takes a particular kind of mental balancing act to try and be as much of what you are as possible, an artist who is a mother for example, a woman who is black, and at the same time try to subdue any sign of it, lest it hinders your career. Two things can be true at the same time is an argument I hear a lot lately. Women are all too familiar with this paradigm. Post 2016 especially we have to both live with the intensity of offering our anger and trauma for public consumption and at the same time having to go ahead with our lives with the knowledge that we will, for all intents and purposes, remain invisible.
Jenny Holzer's Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise from the series Truisms T-shirts (1980-) joined a long, LONG list of "feminist" merchandise
The artists’ respond to #metoo was #notsurprised – I am actually always a bit surprised every time art imitates life only to dilute it. I am surprised there has been practically no #metoo revelations in the art scene; looks like we are not only the world's only industry working without contracts and HR departments we have also impeccable sexual behaviour, even with all this alcohol and coke flowing around. Kudos! I am surprised every time I see that strong, empowered female art dealer who spends most her time organising studio visits for her boyfriend. And yes I am still surprised when in 2018 we get not one, not two, but three museum sized Ai Wei Wei shows in Los Angeles. I mean I know we are way far west, but does no one here get internet access? Who are the female or LGBTQ Chinese artists we are completely missing out on by giving the meme worthy and often problematic persona of Ai another chance? That is what I want to know. Last years Made in LA edition had unsurprisingly many female and LGBTQ participations as it was curated by two talented women Anne Ellegood and Erin Christovale. The opening audience was a breath of fresh air and a glimpse of what our world should- could be. Colorful, bold, diverse, spectacular head wraps. One thing was kind of missing though. Dudes. Why won’t men show up for female work? Baffling. How many of you guys have really engaged with female work lately. Asking for a friend.
THE FAST LANE
Roberta Smith’s husband won a Pulitzer for art criticism in 2018. Shrug emoji. He won the Pulitzer for an article on the most basic of materials: himself. Later in the summer he attempted to address the gender imbalance in the Arts by tweeting this little nugget of revolt. “Sadly until very very recently, women have barely been taken seriously at all as visual artists.” Until, during and past that very tweet in fact. “Men should lay fallow the next 5 years (exhibition-wise)” How chivalrous! To give women the right of creative way so to say. He crowns this innovative thinking with his signature clownish nonchalance. “Why not?”
While he is at least superficially advancing the cause, I believe this tweet to be not only faulty, but also damaging. Let's break it down: First of all: It’s not sad. It's MADdening. If you are not mad yet, you shouldn’t be really talking about this issue, because you are not advanced enough to comprehend how this imbalance is fucking up our culture and the world we will leave to our children.
It is not men that should stay off producing art. It is galleries and art critics that should stay off this catatonic male only diet and eat their freaking vaggies. I am sorry; it was right there. It is men like him, gate keepers like him that have to do the extra work of looking for and uplifting disenfranchised voices. THE MARKET WILL ALWAYS GRAVITATE TOWARDS SAME, it is the easiest path. We all gravitate towards known, as cultural producers and consumers, we are all attracted to what mirrors our world view the best. How this worldview came to be that manhood is somehow universal, while womanhood or motherhood is personal I do not know. Nothing is LESS personal than motherhood, and not only because it's common knowledge you get to shit in front of strangers. To believe you are a universal subject, that’s how white male privilege is spelled.
So yeah, I get it Jerry. IT IS HARD, it is extremely hard to flow against the lulling market stream. I get it. BUT THAT IS YOUR JOB DESCRIPTION. You got a Pulitzer now for fucks sake.
Pee Break illustration by Laura Breiling
THE DEVIL WITHIN
Are we at War? I think we are at war. Let's get down to it. In case you didn't notice from my own misogynistic comments sprinkled around this text. We are at war with ourselves. The patriarchy is IN us. We are conditioned to pander men, to please them, forgive them, look the other way, to iron out any aggressions or awkwardness. And yet we hold ourselves and other women to impossible standards, we judge, we slut shame, we ridicule, we abhor, we antagonise, we ostracise other women, or watch it happen tight lipped.
LADIES. What are we fighting here for? Best of Gender? Because you are not gonna grow a dick however many sisters you throw under the bus. The old white dude ruling class is not going to budge. There is never going to be a place for us in this world order. Never. We can continue pushing and juggling and wiggling to get in one every blue moon. Or we can use our powers. The power of being emotionally intelligent. The power of empathy. The power of moral clarity. For some of us the power of giving birth. White men are the minority on this planet and for the most part we are living in democratic regimes. Let’s reimagine a world that doesn't revolve around men and their genitals’ unwanted pop-ups. A world that revolves around womanhood and motherhood as the source of life that it is. A society that puts women and children first, not last. A world that detaches reproduction from heterosexuality and marriage and offers everyone abundant technological and financial means to procreate. A world where same sex couples are encouraged to adopt children not prohibited and ridiculed. A world where men are also allowed to fail. And we, their mothers, sisters, partners let them do it. It is time.
THINGS I DON'T DO ANYMORE
I don’t post art by mainstream white male artists on my Instagram feed. I resist the illusion that by supporting men in power, power will somehow rub off on me. It doesn’t.
I don’t do men favours. Especially when they haven’t asked for them. It is an impulse I fight really hard to control. I think how to create value for everyone else instead.
I don’t say "Hey Guys" when I talk to women. I don’t assume male pronouns when I talk about/to pets and children.
*this essay was first published in the February 2019 issue of Monopol Magazine. Personal thanks to Elke Buhr