A Poem for my Mother

Happy Mother’s Day to a woman who constantly inspires.


My mother is a beautiful soul that was never told she could smile. Through intergenerational trauma, she was told she wasn’t worth a smile. And yet, she has inspired a fire inside my soul that radiates outward through the shine of my white teeth peering between crescent lips. I smile, because of her.  I smile because my mother has inspired me to find greatness when I am told there is none.

None? What type of concept is that? It’s subjective, but if you enter this world being told of nothing great, then you tend to internalize that you’re no one too great… No one matters except those that you want acceptance from. No one matters except a five year old girl who is sitting in front of a camera. She smiles larger than what her face can contain. It is the escape of true happiness, and the happiness escapes the infant’s body completely with a slap that wipes the smile right off her face. There is no forced friction of hand hitting skin, but rather a mother’s hateful words which suggest that her daughter is unworthy of smiling; that her daughter is unworthy of happiness; that her daughter is unworthy of existing. This narrative is not my own. I am not that five year old girl. This narrative is my mother’s, encased in maternal jealousy, fueled by unresolved pain from being denied her mother’s acceptance. As I said before, the cause is generational, and my mother became the first woman to rewrite the narrative. The journey is emotional, but it is also a story of healing. 

Healing is a process of undoing all the damage that we are fed as children. Healing, so we can find our sense of self beneath the preconceived notions of who we ought to be. My mother is an enigma. The more I talk with her about her accomplishments, the more wild her story gets. During the time that I’ve known my mother, she has been through clown college. She has openly talked about her experience with weed and being a paranoid high. She has been a woman in business doing everything from a woman’s adventure club (going dog sledding, gun shooting, horseback riding and organizing a two week backpacking trip across Italy) to having her own catering business. One of my favourite projects that my mother humoured was her desire to start a lounging stool collection. Needless to say, my mother embodies greatness. I’d like to think that she is proving her worth by partaking in so many wild and vastly different projects, but I also wonder if it was an attempt to find her sense of self after never being given the opportunity to develop agency in her mother’s embrace. 

They say a mother’s embrace is crucial for a child’s development, but the relationship that I’ve had with my mother was impactful from conception. My mother never knew she could get pregnant, until she had my older brother. Then she had people pray over her to get pregnant with me. Her pregnancy was life-threatening. There was a tear which caused significant amounts of blood loss. The doctors had to perform an emergency c-section and I lived my first week inside an incubator while my mother regained her health. Eventually we would both be sent home in full physical health. We know that emotionally, there was still healing to be made. My mother would often apologize for being emotionally absent in my early years. She fears that she was rewriting her upbringing. She is the only girl with three brothers, and I am the only girl with three brothers. In an attempt to free me of the intergenerational trauma between mother and daughter, my mother distanced herself. She didn’t want to become her mother, and she didn’t want me to turn into that five year old smiling in front of a camera and being told that I don’t have the right to be happy.  

Happiness is one of the perks to the human experience, and arguably, so is the gorgeous phase of teenage angst. Regardless of my mother’s efforts, during my adolescence, I was tainted by the intergenerational thought that we are never good enough. I failed to see my own mother as worthy. I was aware of my painful, ill understanding of my mother. Embarrassment filled my bones. It weighed me down, drowning in the sea of invisible love. I couldn’t express any form of love or acceptance to her because I actually thought my mother was dumb. I fought so hard to challenge this thought because my heart begged me to fight. My heart begged me to support my mother and her differences. My heart begged to scream WORTH! from the rooftops, until the top of my mouth hurts, until my heart drops. And I realized, this is a woman who inspires women to recognize their own worth.

Worth. I have used that word a lot. If you did a search of how many times I used that word in this story, you’d find thirteen results. Although it’s a word I don’t struggle using, it’s a word I struggle with in terms of association. As my mother heals and recognizes her worth, she has opened a dialogue where I can explore ‘worth’ alongside her. I know that we have progressed as dynamic characters in this narrative because I no longer see my mother as dumb. I haven’t associated that word with her for a long time. Instead, she inspires me to arrange a multitude of words of affirmation. Words that can be arranged in a poem for my mother, who inspires:

Would you believe me if I told you, that
Half the time, I let life get ahead of me, but you, 
Often remind me of how precious time can be.

I am, time and time again, the moments of wonder that
Never cease, and I am the time you spend counting the 
Seconds until life really begins when it already has.
Perchance you are still with me, even with all this distance.
In every second of the day, I hear your voice.
Reminiscences of teachings only a mother could conceive.
Even with all this distance, you remind me that I am worth
Spending time on, because of how precious I can be.

I told my mother that I wanted to write about her, and she texts: 
“I am honored that you want to write about me for the contest. I got emotional about the implications of that choice (we are not my relationship with my mom!).” 

It’s not only that I want to tell a story about a woman who nearly died because of me, but it’s that I truly felt inspired, nearly compelled to write about the enigma that circulates through my thoughts. I want to tell the story of a woman who inspires greatness. This is a tough story to tell because it is emotionally loaded, but I want people to recognize my mother as the beautiful soul that she is. People that are meant to be her support system failed her, and they continue to fail her. She is worth so much more than what she has been given, and she gives these people so much more than they’re worth. When they tell her she can’t smile, it’s because they are projecting their own twisted belief of self-worth. But you already know that, don’t you mother?`

My mother is a beautiful soul that was never told she could smile. And yet, she continuously inspires a fire inside my soul that radiates outward through the shine of my white teeth peering between crescent lips. I smile because of her. I smile because my mother has inspired me to find greatness when I am told there is none.

Artist Feature

Roxanne Tull, born 1987, is a Toronto-based mixed-media artist who uses pencil crayon and ink to showcase her emotional experience. Tull is visually impaired; she has no left peripheral vision. Although she is partially sighted, she can see shapes, colours and textures. Tull has been drawing and painting since the age of ten, and has developed a unique style which is composed of many organic shapes that explode on her paper. Tull does not plan ahead; her compositions are in-the-moment creations.



Tull was bullied by her peers and had a hard time overcoming the harmful interactions alone. She has a seizure disorder, is legally blind and has a learning disability. Because Tull has been bullied herself, she understands what it’s like to feel helpless or alone and she wants to help others who are going through a similar situation.

Roxanne Tull found her strength in her art. Art is a means to express your emotions and experiences. It tells a story about someone’s life. This is Roxanne’s story of overcoming bullying and falling in love with her art. She wants to help make the world bully free by helping others stand strongly by sharing her art and story.

Art is everything, and art is healing.


Find out more about Roxanne Tull Art

Austin Powers and Female Representation

Shayla Hickerson
10 January 2019

Three flawless, blonde, females figures enter the scene, and my jaw dropped equally as low as Austin Powers’. He froze in place, mesmerized by the gravitational, feminine seduction. I awed over the stellar guns that emerged from the Fembots’ breasts. That is where the difference in marketing existed. The Fembots are inhabitants of cyberspace, called to our screens by the male gaze. Yet, for the young Shayla who had no concept of gynoids, the Fembots were a manifestation of female prowess.

Today, my understanding of the male gaze has tainted my admiration for the Fembots. Paterson “[addresses] the desire to anthropomorphize machines and vilify women in the process as early as 1927 (…). Sex, danger,women and machines: the plot of virtually every futuristic, sci-fi movie in which women play any role at all” (1). Through the development of my social-techno comprehension, I am invited to critique the Fembots as hypersexualized bimbos – not the sort of representation that uplifts the female identity.

Similarly, from my understanding, cyberculture is crafted in reflection of our society wherein white men often hold positions of power and distribute texts based on a selected discourse. By result, the formation of cyberspace is arguably a series of texts based on the limiting, hegemonic, discourse where the feminine is influenced by the male gaze. Although women and other subordinate groups who obtain skills in programming can input their own reality in cyberspace, and the ability to upload personalized avatars to many cyber platforms provides them an element of jouissance, “the progress of new electronic technologies will leave them in the dust” simply because they do not hold positions in techno-conglomerate firms (Paterson 1). As Paterson notes, “women are largely absent from the institutions” (3). Ultimately, I have a limited understanding of the coding which programs cyberspace, yet the influential forces – the developers – are considerably lacking feminine representation.

Recently, I watched an interview with Noam Chomsky which provided an analysis on the theories presented in his novel, Manufactured Consent. The underlying notion explained how media is manufactured by consenting conglomerate firms. In other words, there is a powerful group that dictates which scripts are presented in all forms of media in order to maximize profit. That is their goal. Similarly, I believe that the concept is applicable to cyberculture wherein power dictates the reality of cyberspace. For example, Meredith Broussard highlights the effects of ‘technochauvinism’ wherein developers consider the most advanced technologies as the best while dismissing the needs, merit and safety of others. Broussard talks about driverless cars and reveals her concern for the safety of women traveling alone with strange men and no person to intervene (Crazy/Genius). Ultimately, the dismissal of these concerns stems from the lack of female decision making within major corporations.

Relating back to Chomsky’s theory, we are presented with tools to challenge the scripts selected by media firms by questioning the sources, similar to how cyberfeminists encourage us to hack cyberculture. Thusly, all I can say is: it was a huge disappointment accepting that the Fembots were introduced to the viewers on Earth because ‘sex sells’, rather than concluding breasts guns are an ingenious defense mechanism. By acknowledging the hegemonic forces, we can begin to challenge and rewrite cyberculture texts.

References

Crazy/Genuis (2018). Tech was supposed to be society’s great equalizer. What happened?[Podcast].

English, A. J. (2018, December 22). Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent revisited | The Listening Post. Retrieved January 10, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pf-tQYcZGM4&index=204&list=WL&t=124s

Paterson, N. (1991). Cyberfeminism.

Sex Sells, But How Do Women Profit?

This piece is a personal reflection on how my immediate circles are microcosms of the social sphere. I believe I have been influenced by the white, male dominated society that has historically, sexualized women. Because I am visibly female, I feel pressured to comply to these social standards and expectations. Women’s sexuality is marketed for the male viewer. She is meant to pleasure her man. I am meant to pleasure my viewers.

Hickerson, Bathe Myself in Your Motion, 2019, 4ft x 4ft.

Over the past 4 years, I’ve studied many feminist artworks that involve nudity, and wonder if they (the artist or subject presenting their nude body) could ever successfully challenge the male gaze.

An argument is that since these artworks are produced by the feminine eye (instead of by a male artist), it challenges the objectification and allows women to embody their own narrative, create their own identity.

Honestly, I’m still unsure on whether or not exercising the female nude as a woman artist challenges the male gaze, but I’ve become aware that taking ownership of my femininity and sensuality feels damn empowering – especially when female pleasure/reproductive health etc. are censored or hidden from direct view.


A Review of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975)

Shayla Hickerson
29 January 2019

The audience witnesses a nude performance by the feminist artist, Carolee Schneemann, and a question arises: is her naked body an embodiment of subjectivity or objectivity? Primarily, the notion of the Self and the Other, as theorized by Simone de Beauvoir, suggests that otherness is determined by what the Self is not. In other words, the Other is determined through objective alienation. A major division between the Self and Other is the removal of similarities and familiarity. The Self tends to refuse understanding the Other and is unwilling to bridge the localities. Thus, there is the establishment of opposing perspectives. Through this concept, we can define feminist objectivity, which “is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object” (Haraway 678). Notably, throughout the discourse of this essay, I will consider the historical ideologies of the female nude, specifically in academia, the relevancy of the male gaze, the correlation of subjectivity and objectivity in performance art, and how renditions of the performance, Interior Scroll (1975), further challenging the notion of objectivity. For Schneemann, and other feminist artists including Anne Juren, the female nude becomes a tool which highlights the universal embodiment of the Self and Other.

Historically speaking, the female nude was modelled by men; Michelangelo’s painting, The Fall of Man, reveals a very muscular bodied, angular faced Eve. Since art was used primarily as a means of education and religious message, there was no place for a woman to be in the art world. Eventually, the female nude begins to reveal voluptuous curves and soft features, but the modelling role is the only position women had in artistic academia. According to Nochlin, there have been no women artists because women are “incapable of greatness” (147). The artistic process requires reason, and thus, only men are deemed capable of producing note-worthy masterpieces. Typically, the ‘masterpieces’ depict the female nude. Ironically, the subject that had no place in Art academia had a place as an object to be observed. The portrayal of the female nude is crafted under the male gaze for the male viewer. Her identity is recognized by her apprehended sexual availability in order to provide pleasure to the male spectator. When alone, the naked female is her-Self, but when posed as a reference for the male artist, she transforms into an objectifiable nude.

Flashforward to the 1970s; feminist artists begin to expose that there has always been women artists, but they have been written out of history or they practiced under their husband’s or father’s name. Simultaneously through efforts of recovering the names of women artists who did make exceptional contributions to the art scene, the feminist artists of the 1970s look to carve out space for present and future women artists to manifest their own identity in the art world. Considering that art is a reflection of society, the efforts also provide social empowerment. Nonetheless, women artists turn to a more active technical approach to artmaking. Performance art and film allow women to reconstruct their identity as the Creator and creation. They manifest body as performativity and bring a new experience to the feminine essence. Their physicalities are manipulated as a tool to depict a Self free from influences of the male gaze. Aforementioned, the female nude was crafted by male artists for a male audience. Thus, the female nude existed as a tool for male pleasure, but feminist artists challenged the male script by performing jouissance (the process of documenting the feminine experience). The Art history canon (the authoritative art club consisting of white, cisgendered dead, genius men) ensures that “the body especially the female body, has been systematically regulated and disciplined by strict codes” (Wark 43). In order to challenge the looming force of the Art history cannon and their use of the male gaze, women artists need to use their perspective to narrate their experience.

As exemplified in Schneemann’s performance, Interior Scroll, “the female subject is not simply a ‘picture’ in Schneemann’s scenario, but a deeply constituted (and never fully coherent) subjectivity in the phenomenological sense, dynamically articulated in relation to others (including me,here and now in my chair), in a continually negotiated exchange of desire and identification” (Jones 12-13). During the performance, Schneemann stands naked in a gallery. There is paint brushed across her body, sparingly. She pulls a scroll out of her vagina and reads:

I met a happy man, / a structuralist filmmaker . .. he said we are fond of you / you are charming / but don’t ask us / to look at your films /… we cannot look at / the personal clutter / the persistence of feelings / the hand-touch sensibility. (Jones 12)

The text reveals an encounter between a man and a woman wherein the male gaze is prominent. Afterwards, the text from the scroll, along with a photograph capturing Schneemann reaching for the scroll and another one with the scroll almost wholly emerged is printed as a poster. As an extension of her performance, Schneemann releases various bodily fluids including urine. The stains of the fluids are noted on the poster, and the final product is then displayed a gallery setting. Undeniably, “the deliberate grotesqueness of her display defiantly asserted the corporeal reality of her body as a challenge to the objectifying gaze of the ‘happy man’” wherein her nude physique was used to appease sexual desire (Wark 45). Arguably, the abject nature of her performance can be considered (slightly) repulsive. She transforms the inferral of her nudity from an objective perspective to a subjective one. Although her naked body is the same matter that would embody an objective nude, the process of self direction redirects location away from the male gaze and offers a new source of situated knowledge. The audience reads her body as more than simple pleasure.

Similarly, Anne Juren utilizes Schneemann’s performance to further challenge the reconstruction of the female nude through magic. Juren performs a rendition of Schneemann’s performance, yet, rather than an interior scroll, Juren reaches into her vagina to pull out a line of fabric. In addition, Juren does not include an audio component. She stays silent throughout the duration of her performance. Considering that the performance is not original, it becomes subject to comparison. Spectators consider the differences between Schneemann’s and Juren’s performances. Schneemann’s performance is raw, fresh, provides insight to a new perspective separate from the male gaze. Schneemann comments on the male gaze. Yet, Juren highlights that magic, although humourous, also becomes a tool for entertainment. The audience is encouraged to consider:

Hasn’t the female body always been a magic show of sorts, celebrated for its surfaces and reviled for what lies beneath? Isn’t it a truism that dominant cultures demand illusionist tricks of women’s bodies—maintaining youthful beauty at all costs—and seemingly effortless performances of women’s labor? If so, what better form than the overt deceptions of magic to gesture to such histories of thought? (Felton-Dansky 257)

Through representation and magic, the female nude can be manipulated to entice the male viewer. Similar to Schneemann, Juren embodies the role of the magician and the magic trick in order to reconstruct the location of situated knowledge through jouissance.

In conclusion, the objectified female nude is fabricated by ‘limited location’ and ‘situated knowledge’. When constructed by the male artist, the female nude is an object to be desired. The identity of the model is stripped away, and her bodily form becomes a means of sensuality. Women artists use their naked body as a means to redirect the focus from the male gaze. The female nude stays the same in physicalities, but her essence is reconstructed. As opposed to the male gaze, the creative process acquired through jouissance invites women to embody simultaneously the Identifier and Identity, the Creator and creation, the artist and the artwork. Through performance, specifically, Schneemann and Juren expose their nudity but separate their form from male desire. Their bodies are a tool which depicts performativity and reinforces identity. The presentation of the Self through the nude unites the women’s physical aspects with her autonomy. The message of their performances are actively apprehended and  “the moral is simple: only partial perspective promises objective vision” (Haraway 678). The historical ideologies of the male gaze established in academia through the Art history canon is challenged. Schneemann presents how the correlation of of subjectivity and objectivity is unified in performance, and Juren further challenges the notion of objectivity through the entertaining magic in a rendition performance piece of Schneemann’s Interior Scroll.

Works Cited

Felton-Dansky, Miriam. “Anonymous Is A Woman: The New Politics Of Identification In Magical And Untitled Feminist Show”. Theatre Journal, vol 67, no. 2, 2015, pp. 253-271. Johns Hopkins University Press, doi:10.1353/tj.2015.0066.

Haraway, Donna. “The Persistence Of Vision”. The Visual Culture Reader, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Routledge, New York, 2002, Accessed 27 Jan 2019.

Jones, Amelia. “”Presence” In Absentia: Experiencing Performance As Documentation”. Art Journal, vol 56, no. 4, 1997, p. 11. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/777715.

Nochlin, Linda. Women, Art, And Power And Other Essays. 1971. Pg.. 145-176.

Schneemann, Carolee. Interior Scroll. 1975, performance. (image courtesy of Dr. Andrea Terry.“Wk 3 – 1970s Feminism”, VISU 3870 Crit Studies Feminist Art Hist, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture Presentation.)

Terry, Andrea.“Wk 3 – 1970s Feminism”, VISU 3870 Crit Studies Feminist Art Hist, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture Presentation.

Wark, Jayne. Radical Gestures. Mcgill-Queen’s University Press, 2014. Pg. 45-48.

Footnotes

  1. Blahuta, Jason. “Philosophy & Science Fiction.” Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture.
  2. Lorber, Judith. Gender Inequality Fifth Ed., “Lesbian Feminism”, Oxford University Press: New York, 2012. Print. Pg. 151-164.
  3. Niittynen, Miranda. “Guerrillas & Craftivists: Femini.” Lakehead University, Thunder Bay. Lecture.