i love bikini kill. i remember sitting in my car after school my senior year, waiting for my popular, social sister to finish talking to her friends so we could drive home. i would turn up the volume on my bikini kill mix tape as high as it would go and and feel my anger and frustration slip away with kathleen hanna’s words. the riot grrl movement was central to my high school identity and to the identity of the awesome women (and men) around me at the time. ok, so i have a million memories of bk, le tigre, riot grrl and radical feminism (and my bad ass little sister, who probably DID NOT self-identify as popular) but i want to talk about the punk singer.
so, i loved bk but i’ve always said that i want to do the visual art version of le tigre. i didn’t really know what that meant, but after watching the punk singer it was illuminated for me.
kathleen talks about the formation of le tigre and how she and joann wanted to create a band that talked about all the things that were good. she says that in bk they were singing to a outside asshole dude and that in le tigre they were singing to other women. and i interpret that as, bk was responding to the dominant narrative, which needed to be done and i think they did it in the most bad ass way possible. but le tigre was operating outside of the dominant narrative, creating a new one.
she mentions that they were creating a non-competitive atmosphere and a culture of praise which is absolutely outside the dominant narrative.
of course there is this element of raw beauty to everything she has worked on which i think aesthetically jives with what i love. after the movie, there was a panel discussion and i noticed i got totally annoyed by the speakers intellectualizing punk and riot grrl. it literally got me hot under the collar!
i think that so many of us have that left over valley girl accent with question marks on the end of everything or hairy armpits or a little bit of repressed anger and that by moving forward and being who we are and contributing something good to the world, with our imperfections, well, i think that’s all we can do really.
this essay serves, as many catalog essays do, to superficially introduce the artists represented in the exhibition. thompson states that political art is not dead but has been flying under the radar throughout most of the 90’s. he, like helguera, talks about the way of making political art that is not restricted by representation. he also talks about the use of “tactics” by the artists or “interventionists”. the whole essay reads with aplomb and a little bit of aggression, kind of like a carl hiaason novel. though the projects are assertive and exciting, like william pope’s black factory and lucy orta’s art fashion they kind of rub me the wrong way. they have a common spirit, of course, that’s why they are being exhibited together, but there’s something about that that kind of cloys. maybe they are very 90’s feeling??
i can’t help but feel like they are, collectively if not respectively, TOO dramatic. they lack elegance and beauty and wonder. the biographical film about steve kurtz, founder of the critical art ensemble exemplifies this for me. after the unrelated, tragic death of his wife, steve kurtz was arrested and the art work of the CAE was seized. the film felt exploitive and flippant to me.
i guess it’s an aesthetic thing.
a couple of weeks ago i had the great pleasure to see pablo helguera speak at my school. he is a social engagement artist, director of adult and academic programs at MOMA and the author of many books including ‘education for socially engaged art’. as i prepared for the lunch seminar he would be leading by reading his book, i was immediately intrigued. he mentions in his introduction that he wants this book to act as an introductory reference and i appreciated the fact that he offers up his definitions and criteria for art that is termed socially engaged or social practice. he dismisses the term social practice because it doesn’t claim art explicitly and proposes instead socially engaged art because it makes it clear that the work is first and foremost art and not say, anthropology or social work.
i found that super interesting coming as i do from a family of social workers and from my planned parenthood background. i love social work and i love ‘doing service’ to borrow (perhaps inaccurately) from bell hooks. and i love doing art work and am interested in where these seemingly disparate trajectories can come together.
for his lunch seminar helguera focused on a critique of social engagement art. in fact we literally critiqued three projects that he presented to us (just to name one, he proposed a “poverty project” in which the artist would spend no money what so ever but would live in a gallery and/or a fancy all expenses paid residency in france. hilarious). the majors criticisms of the projects were that they were self-centered, indulgent, not really helping or bring attention to the cause they purported to, etc. totally valid and i was glad to hear him critique this kind of arty behavior but then i was even more surprised to see his own artist’s talk. it was kind of a snore and i honestly didn’t see where his work really intersected with anything social. his work was in my opinion self-centered and self indulgent. in one project he didn’t have childcare so he took his daughter with him and performed a reading of a play, while holding his daughter and comforting her when she fussed. in the second he has created this elaborate system of envelopes that will be mailed long after his death. i wasn’t really sure how they enriched society at all or how they might “affect the public sphere in a deep and meaningful way” to quote his book.
not that they had too or that it was his intention but after reading the book and sitting in on the lunch seminar that is what i was expecting.
during some initial research i found a few of these videos. the ones below have been active links pretty consistently, others have gone private or been removed. of course these women are not collaborators but inspiration. i would love to interview them for my project.
these women, their stories and their bravery (in posting publicly) as well as the super inspiring story of my good friend were two major factors in my deciding to focus my thesis work on the intersection of art and feminism.
thank you ladies.
once you start looking, you realize, there are a lot of repositories for abortion stories, which is pretty awesome. from stories uploaded by individuals to anonymously posted tumblr submissions, there are a lot of stories. what i think is interesting is how certain narratives come out and are reflected in the stories posted. i think that due to lack of education, empowerment and support, so many people are left feeling profoundly and painfully conflicted. of course that’s pretty typical when it comes to things were marginalized folks are concerned. because we are forced to fight tooth and nail for the right to reproductive choice, any conflict is appropriated by the opposition to support their argument. i think that is somewhere that my project can help. by curating the stories, by seeking out particular stories and placing them into the context of wonder and contemplation i think that it offers a true alternative narrative. not one that is free of conflict but one that is full of confidence and empowerment.
exhale is an excellent, awesome organization that offers post-abortion support. when i was working abortion services we gave out their info to everyone who came through the clinic. it was great to be able to give people SOMETHING since we have so little in the way of mental health services available to us. it’s available to anyone who wants to talk following an abortion procedure, including family, partners and parents.
they also have a campaign going called pro-voice, where folks are telling their stories on tour. as part of the information about this program they offer a PDF pamphlet on ethical story sharing, which i downloaded and started reading. it’s really perfect for this project i’m working on. thankfully i’m already doing some of the things they recommend, like getting informed consent!
MY ABORTION, MY LIFE
a repository for personal stories and public campaign to reduce shame and silence around abortion. you can submit a story or get involved in several different ways including handing out cards or hosting a film and discussion. they have an excellent resource link list.
interesting texas based blog site where people can submit anonymously. in addition to being a repository for personal stories there are interesting articles and resources posted. the administrators also reach out to and answer questions by those who post. it feeels…..messy…..and kind of unfocused. i’m so interested in the fact that they respond to people, either offering support or information. there were several posts by people who clearly needed some support. but i think the support group aspect of the blog confuses the message, which is stated as breaking the silence……but from everything i’ve read there might should be a website that is responsive.
this was the very first instance of someone putting their abortion story on the internet that i was ever aware of. i was working in abortion services when i came across it and i was very excited about it. myabortion.tumblr.com a.k.a. what to expect when your aborting boasts the tagline “I’m 23, I’m knocked up. I’m not keeping it. You can fuck yourself Judd Apatow.” as it indicates, it’s VERY straightforward, this young women is not holding anything back. rereading it before this post i am actually kind of amazed at how savvy she is. she says that she googled around for abortion blogs, hoping to get some information and only found anti-abortion propaganda so she decided to blog about the experience in the hopes that someone might find her blog if they needed info. it’s not particularly journalistic but very opinionated and real. i’m glad to read her raw, unedited posts, but i am bummed out that she didn’t have the best of experiences at an organization that is very close to my heart.
realistically i know that it is often the case that people on the front lines of not for profit healthcare don’t or can’t always give the best healthcare in the moment, for so many reason. Inevitably the clinicians, physicians and clinic assistants are all working for little pay, with major time constraints and without lunch. some days are 12 hours or even longer. for me, working in abortion services was significantly about providing a positive experience for the folks who came in needing services, but i know that at times it was very difficult to give all that it took to provide excellent service. and i was extremely lucky to work with such bad ass, kind, strong people. in retrospect i wish there was a ab services version of the student evaluation…….
there were a few inaccuracies that i noted, which is totally understandable, she is the patient not the clinician and it’s not actually her responsibility to explain the medical side of things. but just for the record she incorrectly explains that folks with rh negative blood are required to take a shot in order for the pain medication to work when in fact they are required to have a shot of rhogam because there is a likelihood that the fetus’ blood will be rh positive, the opposite of yorus. if that were the case your body would treat it as an invader and manufacture antibodies against it which could compromise your health and the health of a future pregnancy.
in any case, this author is no holds barred and serves up, along with her personal abortion story, resources on abortion in pop culture, advice and other gems such as the abortion recovery kit. definitely required reading.
i came across this interview while googling around for resources on abortion stigma. the article is in a journal called because created by an organization called ipas, which is an international organization that was founded in 1973 and is committed to helping women access comprehensive abortion care and preventing death and complications from unsafe abortions. while poking around their page i read that before it was legalized in 2003 half of hospital admissions in nepal were due to complications from botched abortions. that’s crazy! this is really important work ipas is doing!
they’ve created a journal called becuase, which publishes articles on reproductive health issues around the world and draws connections between them and u.s. policy. lots of great articles in their many issues and all are available for free download in PDF form.
this interview in particular was a lucky find because it speaks so directly to the mission for my thesis project. in this interview titled women are heroes: changing the abortion narrative tracy weitz talks this change and a little about her organizations ANSIRH and CoreAlign, both of which are working to address the stigma associated with abortion by changing the dominant narrative surrounding it.
the interviewer starts out by asking her if she thinks it’s important to change the pro-choice rhetoric around abortion, basically the woman as victim rhetoric. weitz talks about how the current feeling about abortion is at the moment that women are being saved from something, at best, rape or incest, at worst, their own irresponsibility and how that frames the way we see the women who are seeking abortion. of course every victim needs a savior, in this case it’s the physician, but in the anti-abortion camp the doctor plays the role of villain. in either case though, women are the victims, not taking an active role in their “choice”. of course, choosing, or acting on one’s own agency has never been popular for women. when it first became available women who choose to use birth control were stigmatized and slut shamed. (could you imagine if the same logic were applied to men with guns protecting their property….?)
she goes on to say that this is basically wrong. abortion isn’t something that “happens” to women, it’s something they choose and have chosen. for just as long as they have chosen to be mothers, women have chosen not to be, or how often. abortion is something that happens, a part of the whole reproduction picture and we need to accept that as a society.
i thought that tied nicely to what caitlyn moran had to say, life and death, as it pertains to potential for life housed in their uteri might should be the purview of the humans attached to those uteri.
she talks about transistioning to a culture that accepts abortion as a respected choice, where the woman is the hero of the story. and she states that this might meaning losing the support of those who only think abortion is okay if the person getting it “doesn’t really” want it. she points to the immigration rights movement as a role model, saying that despite undergoing fierce opposition, their is a sense of “we belong, we are standing up, we are americans.” i think that tie is an interesting one because as caitlyn moran says it is sometimes easier to appeal to potential supporters as the victim, but considering how far we’ve come, i just don’t think it feels right anymore.
weitz goes on to talk about abortion storytelling, a strategy borrowed from the LGBT movement. based on contact theory, or the idea that if people tell their stories more and more people will realize they are connected to someone who is gay, or has had an abortion, and this knowledge that someone they love and respect is gay or has had an abortion will contribute to them reevaluating their position on an issue.
i don’t know how my project contributes just yet. i do know that there will probably be several iterations and they may all contribute in different ways but i feel honored to get to collect people’s stories and start to see the correlations and parallels that appear.
a couple of side notes:
tracy weitz is the director of ANSIRH, or advancing new standards in reproductive health. ANSIRH is an academic organization at the university of california, san francisco. they are concerned with contributing evidence to policy makers. basically they do a lot of studies so there are facts available to the people who need them. they use a multidisciplinary approach to research and tackle issues like whether or not physician assistants, nurse practitioners and midwives can provide abortion services (most states require a physician to do this safe and straight forward procedure), how barriers on second trimester abortion affects clinical care, and much more.
she is also a founder of CoreAlign (not the exercise!). CoreAlign‘s mission is to build a network of leaders who innovatively change policy, culture and conditions surrounding sexual and reproductive decision making. they have several programs, including a generative fellow program, which is really exciting! check out the current cohort here and look for me next year, because i will definitely be applying!
you might have heard a review of moran’s book how to be a woman on npr in the last year. it definitely sounded good and while talking to my housemate mariana baquero, she mentioned that it had a whole section titled “abortion” and went to grab it from her room. i read through that section first and am now starting on the whole book. her story is both narrative and commentary. she starts out plunking you right in to her experience by telling us how she discovered she was pregnant to begin with (an exam to diagnose polycystic ovaries) and then goes on to say how she knew right away she wouldn’t keep it. i won’t ruin it for you, it’s a lovely story about motherhood, agency and empowerment.
she speaks directly about how abortion is vilified and how the women who seek them are victimized. the state makes allowances for abortions because left to their own devices desperate women would get themselves killed in botched back alley abortions. the more i read, the more i realize that’s its never easy to articulate that systematic victimization of women. that idea that women should be punished for choosing abortion by a lifetime of guilt and regret. you can access abortions ladies, but only if you don’t really want it. it’s so unfair and it was great to read what she had to say about it.
there is something that really touched me. she talks about how abortion is seen by society as fundamentally wrong, that women could be seen as these endless fountains of selflessness and mothering and that they should prefer to simply trickle away rather than refuse to give life to another potential human (ok, i’m paraphrasing here). in any case, she’s not down with that. she proposes that arguing over “is it alive” or “isn’t it” should be abandoned and that the pregnant individual and their “dominion over life” should also have “dominion over not-life”. “not-life”. i like it. i mean, i totally, super agree with her. she talks about kali, the mother of the whole universe and devourer of all things. she proposes that motherhood might mean bringing life into the world and it might mean not doing that.
“on a very elemental level, if women are, by biology, commanded to host, shelter, nurture and protect life, why should they not be empowered to end life, too?”
there are so many things she said so well that i think this post will warrant a pretty hefty rewrite, but for the time being i’ll close with what i think is really pertinent to my thesis topic. she states that all the accounts she had ever read about abortion before had always foregrounded the”mark” left. i take that to mean, the regret. but her story is not on of regret. it is one of a person who made an easy, right choice and has lived everyday since them knowing she did the right thing. i’m just glad that she wrote her story down and i’m really excited to collaborate with people in getting more of these stories down and out into the world.
after my post yesterday my friend sarah tancred sent me some resource suggestions. i had never heard of loretta ross though i was lucky enough to attend the 2004 march for women’s lives, of which she was the co-director. though i have a whole list of resources to annotate here, i clicked the link and was smitten. thanks sarah!
sarah’s link sent me to makers.com, which is a aol/pbs collaboration that does video showcases of women who are changing the world and/or “fighting for something bigger than themselves”. watching the “about” video showed me snippets of features of ellen degeneres, gloria steinem, condoleezza rice, and many, many more, a really amazing and inspiring bunch. i also like that the website makes a point to say they feature known and unknown women, high profile to everyday. i guess that felt really inclusive, so i appreciated that choice of language.
the loretta ross video was about her experiences with reproductive injustice at an early age and how those experiences led to her becoming an organizer. the most interesting part for me was the short history she gave of the term “reproductive justice.” this was a new term for me and, in my opinion, such a beautiful term. she begins by talking about how in 1994 she attended an international conference in which activists were using a human rights framework from which to talk about reproductive rights. they were interested in how that created a more holistic movement, where abortion wasn’t the most important topic, where economic justice and access to basic healthcare were just as important. she goes on to say, how the african american community has been subjected to population control in the past so, therefore, the right to HAVE children and toRAISE them is just as pertinent to the topic of reproductive freedom as is the right to abortion access. she sums it up real quick here:
she goes into more detail about her organization sistersong, reproductive justice and the political term “women of color” in this video:
i’m just embedding part 1 but i definitely recommend going down the rabbit hole and youtubing everything on loretta ross because she is freaking amazing.
when i searched for more information on her personal abortion experience (since that is the topic of my current work) i found a tumblr called “that’s my abortion”. this site acts as a space for women of color to tell their own stories of reproductive justice. there is a huge movement by the conservative right to paint abortion as an attack on the african american community and this site combats this. the front page of that’s my abortion.tumblr.com states “The right wing is targeting the reproductive agency and rights of black women and other women of color. Their messages are couched in a deceptive framework of anti-racism in billboards and advertising in NYC, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Austin, D.C. and Philadelphia.”