26 artists who happen to be women

Last fall I began posting a painting every Wednesday on Facebook: partially because I just finished my M.A. and still wanted an excuse to research, and partially because a student of mine had posted some paintings by Ángeles Santos, and I wanted more posts like that in my clickbait feed.

Everyone knows the Ninja Turtles of art history, but there’s so many artists that fly under the mainstream radar and, unsurprisingly, there’s also a gender bias in the selection of the “greats”. So I set myself a simple task: one woman and one painting, once a week. And within that to try to reflect some measure of diversity of style and background.

Without further ado: here’s the first half year, organized by vague geographic area and in chronological order!


no. 3: living! artist Wangechi Mutu: Kenyan-born, Brooklyn-based, sometimes categorized as Afrofuturist, with one of my all-time favorite quotes about the interaction between art and social influence: “Art allows you to imbue the truth with a sort of magic… so it can infiltrate the psyches of more people, including those who don’t believe the same things as you.” This is My Strength Lies from 2007. (http://wangechimutu.com)


no. 9: Guan Daosheng, known for her prominence in the history of bamboo painting during the early Yuan dynasty. Appears to have been active as a painter first and then as calligrapher. Focus on bamboo was unusual for a female artist as it was thought to possess more masculine qualities. Often painted it as part of the landscape as opposed to isolated branches. Some of her works15241225_10101404185667464_560607982766207193_n.jpg received the imperial seal and were taken up into the imperial archives. Included poems with her works and employed humor in their phrasing. Sometimes dedicated works to female patrons. This is “A Bamboo Grove in Mist” (attributed to Guan Daosheng) from ca. 1296-1319.

no. 26: Tokuyama (Ike) Gyokuran, Japanese painter and calligrapher known for contributions to the 17862738_10101575432068304_824283505461929680_nNanga (Southern painting) style. Born in 1727, her painting teacher likely gave her the name Gyokuran. Her husband taught her painting in the Chinese influenced Nanga style. Taught her husband poetry in the waka style, her mother and grandmother were notable poets in their own right. Lived in a studio in Kyoto. Gained a reputation for bohemian lifestyle, devoted to making art and living on little money. Painted screens, scrolls and fans. Passed away in 1784. This is a hanging scroll titled “Orchids”.

no. 14: Müfide Kadri, painter and first professional Muslim female art teacher in the Ottoman empire. 15978015_10101468798108614_8989870892835744472_nBegan taking painting lessons at the age of 10. Her paintings were exhibited and received awards in Munich. Taught music, art and embroidery at the Istanbul Girls High School and gave private painting lessons to the Sultan’s daughter. Exhibited three works at a major exhibition from the Istanbul Opera Society in 1911. Diagnosed with tuberculosis shortly thereafter and passed away from the disease in her early 20s. This is “Women in the Country / Picnic” from 1910.

no. 21 (International Women’s Day/Free the Nipple edition): Pan Yuliang, painter, said to be the first woman to paint in the Western style in China. Born in17200899_10101534924166464_6907713699648723701_n Jiangsu province in 1899. Sold into prostitution at the age of 14, after her parents passed away. A customs official bought her freedom, then married her. Studied painting at the Shanghai Art School. Subsequently studied in France and Italy. Would go on to win prizes in Rome, Paris and Belgium. Returned to China in 1929, where she was invited to be a professor and gave several solo exhibitions. Increased criticism of her work in the 30s led her to return to France. Joined the faculty of the École des Beaux Arts and became chairman of the Chinese Art Association. Passed away in 1977. This is “Four beauties after bath (self-portrait)” from 1955.


no. 24: Tina Blau, Austrian landscape painter, known for her contributions to “atmospheric Impressionism”. Born in 1845 into a Jewish family, her father supported her interest in painting. Studied privately as women weren’t allowed to study at the Vienna Academy until 1920. Sold a painting to pay for a trip to Munich, where she continued her studies and widened her influences through trips to Holland, Hungary and Italy. 17553655_10101558338244464_2367303861673604813_nHer painting “Spring at the Prater” was exhibited in the Paris salon in 1883, receiving an “honorable mention” – the only award given to an artist from outside France that year. Subsequently participated regularly in international exhibitions. Converted to protestant Christianity in order to marry the painter Heinrich Lang, also in 1883. They lived in Munich until he passed away. Had solo exhibitions in Munich, Berlin and Leipzig. Taught landscape and still-life painting at the “ladies’ academy” of the women’s art club in Munich. Returned to Vienna in 1891, co-founded the school of art for women and girls in 1897, at which she taught until 1915. Won “Small State Medal in Gold” in 1897 for another painting of the Prater, now lost. Passed away in 1916. This is “View of the Palatine in Rome” from 1886.

no. 8: 15194475_10101396995586444_203938128151095294_oHannah Höch, German Dadaist known for her photomontages, born in Gotha and lived most of her life in Berlin. Studied glass design from 1912 to 1914 at Berlin-Charlottenburg’s school of applied arts. Brief stint in Red Cross before enrolling in a graphic arts class. Worked at a publisher designing knitting and other patterns from 1916-1926. Claimed that the idea for photomontages came from cut and paste images that soldiers sent home from the front. Was the only woman in the Berlin Dada group and exhibited her Dada dolls and photomontages at the First International Dada Fair in 1920. Lived in the Netherlands and returned to Germany only to be banned from exhibiting by the Nazi government. Continued to live and work on the outskirts of Berlin until 1978, right on the border with the GDR in Heiligensee. This is “Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkulturepoche Deutschlands” (Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany) from 1919-20.


no. 11: Maria Yakunchikova, painter and embroiderer. Born in Germany and raised in Moscow, turned to the visual arts under the guidance of 15442203_10101426086073874_5559677373509922648_nher sister-in-law. Became associated with the Abramtsevo colony, which looked to return to the roots of Russian style found in medieval era works and traditional handicrafts – a sort of parallel to the Arts and Crafts movement. Studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture beginning in 1885, then worked mostly in Paris after 1890. Moved to Switzerland to try to recover from tuberculosis and then passed away from the disease in 1902 at the age of 32. This is “Little Girl and the Wood Spirits (Leshy)”, which was awarded the Silver Medal at the Paris World Fair in 1900.


No. 5: Mary Nimmo Moore, etcher and painter, born in Scotland and emigrated to the U.S. as a child. Often exhibited as M. Nimmo Moore so that her gender wouldn’t influence potential buyers. Was the only woman among the 65 original members elected to the Painters-Etchers Society of London. Her home in East Hampton became a successful artists colony at the end of the 19th century. This is “Across the Water” from ca. 1880-90


17342586_10101543470000544_7453122360834203564_nno. 22: Mary Cassatt, painter and printmaker. Born near Pittsburgh, moved to Philadelphia at the start of her schooling. Began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts when she was 15. A fifth of the students at that time were female, but few wanted to be professional artists. Studied in Paris beginning in 1865 until she returned to Philadelphia during the Franco-Prussian war. Returned to Europe to study in Italy, then traveled to Spain, Belgium and Holland to learn from the works of their old masters. Began to show regularly in the Paris salons in the 1870s. After an invitation from Edgar Degas, exhibited in the Impressionists’ exhibitions as the only American officially affiliated with the group. Played a significant role in the shaping of art collections in the U.S. by advising patrons and collectors. Stopped painting in 1904 due to failing eyesight. Passed away at her country home north of Paris in 1926. This is “The Child’s Bath” from 1893.

no. 10! Alma Woodsey Thomas, painter. Was first fine arts graduate from Howard University. Taught art at a D.C. junior high school for 35 years before retiring and focusing on her o15390681_10101411984543454_1160012261127091015_nwn art full-time. Developed her signature abstract style only after retiring, in her 70s, before that she had painted in a realistic genre. Became the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney in 1972. Her “Resurrection” was the first piece of art by an African-American woman to be displayed in the public rooms of the White House and added to the permanent collection in 2015. This is “Orion” from 1973.

no. 17: Agnes Martin, American painter. Born in Saskatchewan and grew up in Vancouver. Tried out for the Olympics as a swimmer then became a teacher. Moved toWashington to help her sister and received American citizenship in 1950. Received her B.A. and M.A. in fine arts from Columbia, and went back and forth between Taos, New Mexico and New16507951_10101498988072684_8659542804271465408_n York. After establishing a relationship with the dealer Betty Parsons, moved to a studio community in Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan in 1957. Was hospitalized for her schizophrenia several times. Left New York in 1967, arrived in New Mexico in 1968 and settled on an isolated mesa. Began to exhibit again in 1975 and made a film one year later. Opposed to critical readings of her work, she cancelled an exhibition at the Whitney in 1980 because they wanted to produce a catalogue. Would receive multiple honors over the 90s including the National Medal of the Arts in 1998. Passed away in 2004 at the age of 92. A Google Doodle was made in her honor in 2014. This is “Friendship” from 1963

no. 614991804_10101378215192504_3035239183224322245_n: Carmen Herrera, Cuban-born painter, living in New York since the 1950s. Began to paint in her Geometric Minimalist style while living in post-war Paris. Didn’t garner serious attention from the art world until she was in her 90s. Her first solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art opened in September. She is 101 years old. This is “Friday” from 1978


no. 19: Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Australian Aboriginal (from Alhalkere) painter. Worked with animals on farms in the area for most of her life. Trained in the arts as part of creating designs for women’s ceremonies. Began with batik in the 80s16938797_10101518647704624_8488863098832585227_n and then moved to painting at the end of the decade. Over her 8 year career as a professional painter, before she passed away in 1996, she created over 3000 paintings. Had several solo exhibitions in the 90s. Her painting “Earth’s Creation” became the most valuable work from an Aboriginal artist when it sold for over 1 million Australian dollars in 2007. This is “Big Yam” from 1996.


no. 23: Lygia Clark, Brazilian artist known for her paintings, intera17426078_10101551018687914_6037939155916081687_nctive sculptures and installations. Born in 1920, moved to Rio de Janeiro to study with landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx in 1947. Began studying and living in Paris in the early 50s. Co-founded the Neo-Concrete art movement in Rio in 1959. Created a series of “Critters” sculptures that spectators were invited to rearrange. Said she was abandoning art in the mid 60s, began work with “relational objects”. Also turned toward investigating art therapy. Taught at the Sorbonne in the 70s. Passed away in Rio in 1988. This is an untitled work from 1956.


no. 18: 16708359_10101506266107444_4432016968611728864_nSaint Catherine of Bologna, painter and patron saint of artists. Born into aristocracy in 1413, served as lady-in-waiting beginning at age nine and received her education, including training in drawing and illumination, at court in Ferrara. Entered the convert of Corpus Domini at Ferrara in her late teens. Founded her own monastery of the order of the Poor Clares together with other young women from the convent. Returned to Bologna to found and serve as abbess of another monastery of the same order 24 years later. After her death in 1463, graveside miracles were said to occur before her body was exhumed, found to be “incorrupt”, and put on display in the chapel of her monastery in Bologna, where it remains to this day. Her works include hymns, poems, frescoes and the “Treatise on the 7 Spiritual Weapons Necessary for Spiritual Warfare”. This is “Madonna and Child with Fruit”.

no. 1: one painting every Wednesday: beginning with the woman whoArtemisia_Gentileschi_Selfportrait_Martyr made me want to study art history, before I figured out it was going to focus on lot of dead white men. you might also know her from her Judith Slaying Holofernes. Artemisia Gentileschi. This is her self portrait “as a female martyr” from 1615


no. 12: Elisabetta Sir15825851_10101451355493754_3626051649314244237_nani, painter, lived in Bologna. Taught by her father and took over his workshop after he stopped painting due to his arthritis. Included her sisters and 12 other women in the workshop, and produced over 200 works over 13 years. Became a full member of Rome’s Accademia di San Luca. Died suddenly at the age of 27. This is “Portia Wounding Her Thigh” from 1664.

no. 25: Rosalba Carriera, Venetian portraitist, known for her innovations with pastels and contribution to development of the Rococo style.

17523421_10101565833608694_8681724218637361629_nBorn in 1675, learned lace making from her mother. Her first-known pastel portrait is from 1700. Accepted into Accademia di San Luca in Rome in 1705 on the strength of her miniature paintings. Lived with her sister, who also worked as her assistant, and widowed mother on the Grand Canal, except for one year in Paris. Was visited by many patrons from European nobility, especially those on the Grand Tour. Served as inspiration to generations of women artists in Europe, though she only had three students. Her sister passed away in 1737. Lost her eyesight at the end of the 1740s and passed away in 1757. This is a portrait of the English politician, and art historian, Horace Walpole from ca. 1741.

no. 15: Remedios Varo Uranga, Spanish-Mexican painter. Copied her father’s technical drawings while they traveled around Spain and North Africa for his work as a16194982_10101483183505164_4637451141029361435_n hydraulic engineer. Educated at convent schools and entered the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid at the age of 15. Moved to Barcelona, came closer to the Surrealists and exhibited with a group called the Logicophobists. Moved to Paris and took part in the International Surrealist exhibitions in Paris and Amsterdam. Fled Nazi occupation to Mexico City and worked in commercial art before taking up painting again. Held her first solo exhibition in 1955 and her career only continued to gain momentum before she passed away suddenly from a heart attack in 1963. This is “Vegetarian Vampires” from 1962.


no. 4: Known for her signed knives, Flemish-born Clara Peeters became the first prominent female painter of Dutch Realism in the 17th century. Of course still lifes were particularly a14671094_10101359193247634_6806030818732808300_nppropriate for women because they wouldn’t have to study anatomy to execute them. Anyways, an exhibition of Peeters’ works opened at the Prado Museum Madrid yesterday (#200yearsislongenough – it’s their first ever dedicated to a woman)! This is “Still Life with Nuts, Candy and Flowers” from ca. 1611. Look at the metal carafe on the right to see the artist’s reflection.

no. 7: Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, miniaturist and portraitist, one of the four women (that was the limit) admitted into the French Royal Academy 15032134_10101388252103454_6867825255183025459_nin May 1783. Although her patrons were mostly from the upper echelons of Paris society, she did not flee the French Revolution and sought a new definition of her vocation by focusing on education for women. She also painted portraits of the members of the National Assembly, including Robespierre. Many of her portraits were still destroyed during the Terror in 1793. She continued to campaign for women, arguing that the academy should be reopened to them during the early 1790s, and exhibiting in the salons until 1800. This is “Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, Marie Gabrielle Capet and Marie Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond” from 1785.

no. 16: Rosa Bonheur, French animalier, painter of animals. Born in Bordeaux and began training as an artist with her father at 13. Frequented “male” places like the horse fairs and slaughterhouses to better understand her subject matter and later wrote “I was forced to recognize that the clothing of my sex was a constant bother. That is why I decided to solicit the16473225_10101491680801514_6511900186242248021_n authorization to wear men’s clothing from the prefect of police.” Debuted at the Pairs Salon in 1841, and experienced success not only at home but also in the UK and U.S. She also took over the directorship of her father’s school. Tired of the fame, she eventually moved out of Paris to set up near Fontainebleau in 1859. Received multiple gold medals for her paintings and was awarded with the cross of the Legion of Honor in 1865. Passed away in 1899 at the age of 77 leaving behind hundreds of paintings which had not yet been shown in public. This is possibly her best-known work: “The Horse Fair”, from 1852-55, and which she referred to as her “Parthenon frieze” at a size of 8 x 16.5 feet (2.4 x 5m).

no. 13: Berthe Morisot, French Impressionist painter. Received a private art education that included copying paintings at the Louvre. Began working in “plein air” in 1860. Two of her landscape paintings were shown in the Salon de 16003219_10101459069150524_8271286838581935051_nParis in 1864, when she was 23. Participated regularly in the Salon until the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Works were judged as among the best by critics at both the Salon and the Impressionist exhibitions. Currently holds the rank as fourth highest-priced female artist, after “After Lunch” sold for $10.9 million at auction in 2013, her works also sold well during her lifetime. This is “The Cradle” from 1872, which was shown at the first Impressionist exhibition and then purchased by the Louvre in 1930.


no. 20: Elisabeth Thompson, British painter, especially of history paintings. Born in Switzerland 16999146_10101527090614964_5773148383824897126_nand grew up in Italy, where she received some painting training. Entered the Female School of Art in London in 1866. First achieved notoriety with the extremely popular painting “The Roll Call” in 1874. Moved with her husband to various military bases around the British Empire and continued to paint and exhibit at the Royal Academy, but was never admitted as a member. Retired with him to Ireland and continued to paint in the same style and on the same scale through the First World War and into the 20s. Passed away in 1933 at the age of 86. This is “Scotland Forever” from 1881.

no.2: Leonora Carrington, sculptor and painter, and generally awesome human being. the-giantess-1950.jpg!PinterestLargeThis is The Giantess from c.1947.


A freelancer’s auto-reply

a form response for all my fellow freelancers tired of dealing with potential clients’ shock at their prices.

Dear well-meaning person looking to hire a freelancer,

You’ve expressed some disbelief concerning my fee. Since I want to believe that you’re a good person, I assume that this reaction is caused by your ignorance with regard to how freelancers set their prices. It’s also quite possible that you’re just an egotistical leech looking to exploit other people’s work. But because I genuinely hope that’s not the case with you, here’s five things to keep in mind when you’re trying to understand a freelancer’s rate.

  1. I am taxed like a business. Depending on which country I’m based in and the type of work you’re asking me to do, my prices may include 7%-21% VAT. Maybe you’ve caught me at the beginning of my career in a country that provides discounts/tax exemption for young freelancers, and maybe I’ve decided to pass that discount on to you. But that’s my decision, not yours. Oh also, I pay a tax on the part of that price that’s actually income. So it depends on a lot of factors, but it’s possible that 30% of that price is tax.

  2. Even if I’ve quoted you an hourly rate (and not a different type of pricing per unit) that rate does not equal wage – so you can stop thinking “How on Earth can she expect that wage in THIS economy!” Not only am I taxed like a business but I also have to charge like a business. That hourly rate includes tax, my wage, and the following:

    • Health insurance: because I’m based in a country that requires it. Or because I can’t count on my family/a welfare state to cover my health costs should I be hospitalized. Or even if I don’t have a formal health insurance plan, I need to have a comparable amount saved to cover unanticipated costs. Because self-employed people don’t have to be a drain on society or the people they love.

    • Pension: see above.

    • Unemployment insurance: because financial crises happen, and then there’s NO WORK, not even from people like you. Also illness, injury, disability.

    • Expenses: Because my work involves more than my normal body functions (although someday I’m sure we’ll all be paid to digest, pump blood and turn oxygen into CO2), I need to buy equipment, rent space, and pay people to do the accounts/taxes/etc that I can’t/can’t afford to do myself. Also there’s the time it takes to write all those emails explaining my prices. I have to* pay myself for that time as well.

  1. There may be industry-standard prices for the type of work you’re asking me to do. Do you know them? … I didn’t think so. Otherwise you would have offered me a reasonable fee upfront.

  2. I am not a student. Or someone else who’s just looking to make a bit of cash on the side.

  3. I know I said previously that I am like a business. And in some ways my professional life has to be run like a business. There are some key differences though: I have no investors; I can’t expect big returns on my capital investments; most of the time I have no way of earning revenue from multiple sources at once. So that hourly rate does have to cover ALL of the expenses incurred in one hour. At least until I land that dream deal that gets me regular commission off some project I completed years ago. I should probably also mention here that I don’t have a room in my flat to rent out on Airbnb.

Now let’s focus on the positives. Isn’t it great that you can hire a freelancer at all? Remember the days when you had to go through agencies and they would charge you extra to cover their expenses? By contracting with each other directly we’re cutting out the middle man, and that’s good for both of us.

On top of that, you don’t have to hire me as an employee! I can probably work up to 20 hours a week for you as a freelancer and that’ll still be legal in most countries. Then you don’t have to worry about all the details, like everything I listed above (health insurance is a pesky one, isn’t it), vacation pay and having to fulfill the terms of a contract.

All you have to do is pay my invoices, on time. Yeah, you do have to pay on time. Because laws.


A freelancer

*Do I have to? Really? Don’t I just enjoy my freelancer life of endless coffee breaks, sleeping after noon and working in my underwear SO MUCH that I’m willing to write endless emails for free? Yeah….no.

My mother, on feminism

In which my mom discusses hippie tops, describes her parents’ role reversal and asks me how I felt about day care. 

My mother is not an expert on feminism. If anything, she swam away from the second wave of the 60s and 70s. By the time I was born in the 80s, she was an educated, conservative working mom in a stable job, but still worrying about work-family balance and the downsides of day care. As I grew up, we never talked about feminism, despite – or probably because of – our differing politics and lifestyles. Which is why I decided to finally ask, with a certain safe distance provided by Skype and an interview format.

ME: Thank you for agreeing to do this. It’s just that I was thinking about writing something about feminism and realized I couldn’t really remember ever having talked to you about it.

MOM: My mother didn’t talk to me much about it either, but I was looking up on Wikipedia and it said that the first wave of feminism was the suffragettes, and the second wave started in 1963 with The Feminine Mystique. I was in 6th grade when that book came out and I think I remember my mother reading it, she may have tried to say something to me, tried to get me to read it. But I guess I never did.

But you remember her mentioning it.

I think so yes, and I think that propelled her to get her PhD. Because she spent our high-school years working toward that, and bless her heart I remember her fixing dinner and then falling asleep on the couch every night, so I’m ashamed to say it but I didn’t support the feminist movement back then.

Because Grandma was overworked?

Yeah, my mom was always tired, although she had always worked, so I think it was more about ambition, the way society was at the time, women weren’t supposed to be ambitious. There wasn’t equal opportunity for women. At the time of the Equal Rights AmendmentPhyllis Schlafly came out against it and I can remember at the time thinking “Well, that’s neat” because that was my view.

Do you remember why you were against the ERA?

Because I wasn’t comfortable with the role reversal I saw, both of my parents worked but Dad did the laundry and Mom was always too tired to interact much with me. I was young at the time and I didn’t realize what the ERA meant. That there was this repression of women in the workplace. I was in junior high and high school. And at the end of high school in 1969, what impressed me more was the hippie era. And women just leapt out, they leapt out of their bras, leapt out of their protected status to a life of sexual freedom.

What do you mean by protected status?

Well, I guess that is a little strange.

No, it’s just an interesting phrase.

I guess I mean they didn’t have this sexual freedom. Our society protected women in a strange way. Or they repressed women. I guess you could say they leapt out of their repressed status, or suppressed. It’s tough to admit to you that I was such a conservative. Although when I got to college I bought a couple of tops: the hippies wore clothing made in India so I had a couple of those tops, I think I still have them.

In what way would you say you were conservative?

In that I did not support the ERA, I did not see the benefit. I wasn’t working and my mom never talked about what it was like in the workplace. I also saw the role reversals of my dad doing the laundry and my mother’s ambition to go to college for a PhD. I remember thinking it was wrong. I didn’t appreciate how hard my mother was working outside the home and going to school to better herself for her own personal well being. But she also didn’t like to give her opinions on anything. I think she was afraid that we would take the opposite stance or something.

She was afraid of you guys rebelling?

Yes, so we never really had some good conversations, which is kind of sad.

Well, I guess we can never have all of the conversations we want, which is sad when you think about it. Anyway…

Now I’m happy there was such a thing. An Equal Rights Amendment. Was that passed in all states?

It never passed actually. Not enough states ratified it in the end.

Oh…Ok … And then I worked for the government for 39 years and never really encountered a lot of bias against women. There wasn’t overt support of women, and yet I got to work part time when I had you guys. And I know of other women who worked part time when they had little kids.

How many hours were you working?

20, for quite a while. And I encountered some sexual harassment but not much. When I was a secretary there was this one guy who came around and tried to snap my bra straps, you know…

That’s mature.

(chuckles) Right. Told him not to do it but that didn’t work. Finally he left. But that was the only incident of sexual harassment that I encountered. So it was really a good place to work. The pay scale was such that everybody knew what everybody got and I think I went as high as I could without a master’s degree. My bosses always promoted me so that was great.

One difference between my generation and yours was that grandma was going back to college when you were in school and you had already done that before I was born.

And you went to day care. How did you feel about that?

I don’t think I knew there was was a difference. And I liked hanging out with other kids. I don’t think I ever felt any disadvantage in having gone to day care.

I always wondered about that.

And I remember you saying that you felt guilty about it.

It was hard to leave your child, leave them crying you know.

I’m almost positive I stopped crying pretty quick after you left. I honestly don’t remember it at all.

I think a lot of women that worked had this conflict between should I stay home or should I work. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one.

No, I don’t think so, and it’s definitely still a conflict now.

It’s good to know that you didn’t feel like you should have a mother at home.

I’m trying to remember if I was ever bitter that there “weren’t homemade cookies” or something like that, and I don’t think so – even though I remember it being a pop culture reference. Either you were a latch-key kid or you had homemade cookies, there wasn’t much in between – On a different note, you mentioned that you did some research to prepare for this conversation. What was it?

Oh I just looked up on Wikipedia Gloria Steinem and the National Organization for Women. It was organized 3 years after The Feminine Mystique and I can remember that was a big thing.

Can you summarize your understanding of feminism now?

I think feminism has the goal of trying to bring issues that are of importance to women to the forefront in order to break down the mystique barriers and show that women really can perform as well as men. But it says here that there are six core issues that NOW addresses are abortion and reproductive health services access, violence against women, constitutional equality, promoting diversity/ending racism, lesbian rights, and economic justice. So I think those are some of the things that need to come to the forefront before women can really feel that they are equal to men.

So would you say that you are a feminist?

I certainly have an appreciation for it. I’m not very demonstrative but I support the concept. I am not an activist, but yes, I would say that I am a feminist. In general terms, I believe in both men and women achieving self-actualization and flourishing, with equal pay along the way to that state of fulfillment.

The definition that everyone talks about now is exactly that, just believing that women and men should have equal rights.

And I can see that that’s the major goal. And they say that if you educate women, you educate the world, you educate the next generation.

P.S. After this conversation my mom decided to read Betty Friedan. She then wrote “in a recent book club meeting, I reported on Betty Friedan’s book Life So Far and one of the women in the club who is from my mother’s generation said that she had read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique when it was published and she said she loved it and that it made her assertive.”

Pacifism Reexamined

One answer to the cries of helplessness from Westerners unsure of how to stop the brutality that we are so much more aware of thanks to 21st century technology, and a call for a practical view toward long-term pacifism to substantiate the oft-repeated refrain “never again”.

I am a pacifist. My father couldn’t hide his laughter the first time I said that out loud. As I was at the ripe old age of 18, I’m sure it just looked like rebellion to him. A rebellion against growing up surrounded by the euphemistic “defense” industry. And it probably was rebellion to some extent, an attempt at self-definition by being against. But even then I knew that my pacifism wasn’t a simple non-war position, but that it was rooted in an idea of peace-making deeper than Nixon’s détente.

Before all of my friends in the military click away, don’t worry, I am not an absolute pacifist. I am not content with the simple position that all violence is categorically wrong – what about mothers defending their children? But I think most of us are peace-makers of one degree or another and it would benefit us to recognize that — and take another look at pacifism.

I’m taking the time to do this now because today was peak listicle of What Can You Do For Aleppo and while I understand that having 6 steps that put band-aids on a gaping wound makes us feel better, I worry that it distracts us from doing the work to prevent these kind of conflicts*. Knee-jerk moral outrage often dies out over the long term if it’s not backed up with a robust moral position.

I do not expect that everyone will share my exact views on pacifism, and that’s also not the point. There just seems to be a disconnect between our everyday moral views, in which most violence is unjustified, and our societies, in which wars or “interventions” are often justified. This contradiction is what keeps leading me back to a serious engagement with reasonable pacifism, not in order to devote my life to a cause but because I believe that even “part-time” activists should take their beliefs seriously. Without further ado, two points of discussion:

  1. Pacifism isn’t that simple
  2. We’re not putting enough value on diplomacy and nonviolent conflict resolution

Pacifism is not Passivism  (even though they basically sound the same)

Sadly our view of pacifism is clouded by stories of peace-loving naive utopians who will inevitably be rolled over by armies or militarized police because they failed to recognize that one must fight back, or at least do something — they passively accept their fate. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are the exceptions that prove the rule, and even in those cases the preferred term is nonviolent resistance. And that leads us to the core of the problem. Pacifism is a broad enough term that it’s not only difficult to defend, it’s also difficult to just plain define.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is amazing, if dense. And their entry on Pacifism gives a comprehensive overview of the family of positions that fall under the rubric of pacifism. They range from the strict reverence for life promoted by Albert Schweitzer to the just-war pacifists who “object to the way modern wars are fought”. One relatively recent position is that of the liberal pacifism advanced by Robert Holmes. Pacifism is justified because war, with its conscription and military hierarchies, goes against the values of liberal democracy: “no one has a right to command others to kill, and no one is justified in killing on command”.

I subscribe to a practical, contingent, transformational pacifism: In the overwhelming majority of cases war and violence aren’t justified, and a realistic but committed ethics of care will eventually reduce our need for war as a species to zero. A girl can dream!

(Aside: thank you Jane Addams for being my first feminist hero: “The sphere of morals is the sphere of action”)

The title of this section is a reference to an article by Duane Cady, a retired professor of philosophy. Partially derived from the principles of just war, his scale of pacifism as opposed to warism is easier to understand than the metrics set out in the encyclopedia. He also points out that pacifism is not only anti-war, but also committed to peace. This is where annoyingly hippie-like vocabulary — building cooperative communities and fostering understanding — starts to come back in, but if we turn off our cynicism for just a second we realize that a commitment to peace is really what most of us make in our daily lives. Because conflict is usually a waste of time and resources, so it’s probably even in our own best interest to create lives in which we minimize conflict and maximize… peace**.

The view of pacifism as naive and idealistic restricts our ability to engage with the diversity of pacifist views and create functional pacifist narratives. Warism has filled that vacuum with its default is that war is acceptable. That narrative about human life has allowed us to accept increasingly distant and automated forms of war even though they may no longer be just with regard to discrimination or proportionality. And now we find ourselves in a world where our level of interconnections makes it increasingly difficult to ignore the moral injustices that result.

Narrative in this sense doesn’t strictly mean story, but rather the broader category of all explanations for human action. This kind of narrative serves as a short hand for communicating moral priorities — X is good because it caused Y — and is far more engaging and effective than hundreds of moral axioms in lists. And perhaps this is just the bias of a performance scholar, but I believe in the power of narratives to shape action, for better or worse.

If, with the range of more moderate pacifisims at our disposal, we turn our back on warism and even commit to peace, then what do we do next? Pacifism is active at its core – it’s derived from the Latin for peace and making. So how do we make peace, even from our positions of relative safety and our irrelevant skill sets?

For me one of the first steps has to be continued communication about moral priorities – especially between citizens and their governments. Even that minimal commitment will begin to create the narratives that lead to a world free of large-scale violent conflict. Then of course we have to ask how we keep our governments and the international community accountable to their stated goals, i.e. protecting human rights, especially when the solutions are far from obvious.

Support and innovate diplomacy and non-violent conflict resolution

Action items can be found everywhere you google so I don’t what to focus on those kind of answers but rather on one simple idea: What would a world look like in which humanity spent as much on nonviolent conflict resolution as it does on defense? I hate to reduce value to money – curse you late capitalism! – but we need to recognize and continue to call for productive alternatives to the extreme levels of military spending around the world. Let’s put an end to the doublethink of “preferring diplomatic solutions” while pumping up military spending and weapons exports.

The media doesn’t help, and fair enough, it’s much easier to identify visually-compelling stories in a military context — look at that tank! — while images of diplomats shaking hands are about as interesting as paint drying. It’s not surprising that journalists were embedded with the military and not with the Coalition Provisional Authority during the Iraq War. Still, can’t the mainstream media also spotlight those ventures toward nonviolent conflict resolution that are making progress? 

The organizations working towards peace on a practical level deserve more attention. The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict supports and connects students and researchers who want to study civil resistance. Diplo is a Swiss/Maltese foundation that helps small and developing states make effective contributions to global diplomacy. Defining war as a man-made disaster, the International Crisis Group works to prevent deadly conflict through analysis and advocacy. The South African Centre for Conflict Resolution’s stated aim is to make contributions toward a just and sustainable peace on the African continent. And that’s just the beginning…

The pacifism I dream about has techniques for conflict resolution that are just as innovative as our weapons. It creates situations in which even extremists can be brought to the negotiation table. It turns the existence of police states into nothing more than warnings from the history books.

Of course, none of the goals of pacifism can be reached overnight. But that doesn’t make the small steps and narratives any less important. In this time of displacement, conflict and violence, play the long game. For those of us in the positions of privilege and safety, let’s continue to tell stories of a practical pacifism, hold our governments accountable for what they do with our taxes, and call for a future in which our promises of a world peace are no longer empty. Warism is not the only “reasonable” choice and we need to stop assuming that it is.

*Yes of course, we also need to support the people helping right there right now. Here’s a link to those organizations that have been checked out.

**Peace is also difficult to define: My working definition in this context is a state of being for human society in which all conflicts are resolved through nonviolent measures.

Questioning the network

a reflection on a ten-year anniversary, including one not-very-rigorous study

Ahhh social media. I’m still not fully convinced by it. I was a reluctant convert to Facebook over ten years ago, but I refuse to start with Instagram and Twitter keeps telling me to get back to basics. I’ve stuck with Facebook for its not-too-annoying interface, acceptable methods for communicating to various networks/contacts and “free” advertising. And for the Brutalism Appreciation Society.

Like most Facebook (and drug) users, I’ve considered quitting. I even took one break from Facebook (125 likes) and considerably shifted the kind of material I post since 2006 – my last photo album is from 2011. I’m not very revealing on Facebook – I was raised to keep my emotions secret, even frommyself, so why would I make an exception for the cold blue and white of Facebook? I don’t post impulsively and do quick google checks on everything that smacks of factual inaccuracy – a natural reflex, I think, for someone who researches artists that specialize in “fakes”.

So in the demonization of social media in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I’m thrilled to hear other people talking about fact checking and echo chambers, because it seems like we might finally be at the point where we can start critically examining how social media is used as a tool. Because any malleable instrument with this wide of a reach is bound to have both negative and positive effects – at levels ranging from the personal to the local to the global.

I’ll leave larger sociological studies of the effect of social media as a tool for socializing and forming opinions to those who do that stuff – this article on the Arab spring is pretty awesome though. I’m more interested in use on an individual level. I’m not willing to quit social media entirely, so I’d like to be honest with myself about how and why I use it – especially since it’s been over a decade now.

Most of my use thus far has been based on a kind of magical thinking. I believe that posting will have an effect – raise awareness about X, spark debate about Y, make my “friends” think Z about me – without any proof. I believe that logging on everyday, producing content and responding to other people’s content keeps me connected to my “network”. Ok, that might actually be true on some level of connection, but the fact that I believe that posting regularly means that more people will eventually see the posts that really matter to me is pure magical thinking – I have no real idea how the newsfeed algorithm works.  

Like lots of magical thinking this posting ritual provides me with some comfort and stability. I know ritual is the opposite of “spontaneity and authenticity” but I gave up on channeling those qualities on a form site a while ago. At the same time I’m not quite happy with my ritual. So I thought I’d shift my usage pattern just a bit, and switch from statement posts to questions. And once I tried it I decided to reflect in more detail on what I expected from my posting on social media – and that has never been just an answer to a question. Do I want to learn more about other people? Figure out if I am “normal”? Get positive reinforcement for things I think are witty commentary?

In the spirit of semi-rigorous testing, I tried 5 different “types” of questions over one week. My last question was very short and therefore automatically posted in a larger font. I controlled for no other variables and I still have no idea how the algorithm works (definitely deliberately perpetuating my ignorance).

Question 1: practical consumer advice (1 like, 25 comments)

My mother likes shopping for Christmas presents so I decided to find out what kind of water bottle she could get me to replace my nalgene water bottle. I could google around, but I understand that algorithm even less, so I asked my “network”. Got fewer hits from the people living in European time zones and more once the N. Americans started waking up. Comments ranged from the ubiquitous person asking what a nalgene is and then saying that they’ll google it, to a friend posting a photo of her bottle because she wasn’t sure of the brand. Overall enough recommendations to keep my mother happy. Also heard from people who hadn’t interacted with me for almost 10 years. Which left me with a surprisingly awesome feeling of interpersonal interaction – because of /despite the mundane subject.

Question 2: language usage survey (0 likes, 35 comments)

A fairly specialized question explicitly directed at “theatre” people that elicited a lot of answers from people who aren’t really in the theatre. I asked for cases in the theatre in which the piece could be described as being “by” or “from” the director. I then wrote a general comment about the use of “von” in German which apparently made some people think I was asking for a translation. Overall got a lot of responses with “directed by”, vaguely confirming my hypothesis that in the English-speaking theatre we think directors are just vessels for the ideas of the playwright and therefore would never say anything implying more authorship. Most of these commenters were not my target audience, but I had forgotten that, of course, everyone is an authority on Facebook. Also received an additional comment about how Americans can only use theatre with the “British” spelling if they want to be pretentious or if it’s a proper name. Generally felt like I had failed to be clear about the intention of my question – to elicit views on authorship reflected through pronoun use – and was a bit sad that no one had asked for clarification. Is it asking too much to assume that understanding the question is a prerequisite for answering it? I also very much underestimated the power of previous answers in shaping how people interpreted the question. Finally I realized that I thought everyone subscribed to Wittgenstein’s “meaning is use” view, which is a sadly pretentious assumption. 

Question 3: habits survey (2 likes, 27 comments)

Chose a question that could not have a right or wrong answer, as a contrast to the attempts at definitive answers from the day before. Generally asked about how and when people talk to their parents. Couple of Apple-product specific differences. One description of parents watching TV while skyping. One description of the process to get to cemeteries. One use of a Ouija board. Overall happy to know that I’m not the only one who makes appointments for my family. The range of responses from sincere to comedic was also refreshing.

Question 4: deliberately cynical question (20 likes, 1 laugh, 8 comments)

An attempt to subvert the dominant tone of Thanksgiving (“I’m so thankful for X”) by asking for people to own up to the things that they do that deserve thanks. Answered it myself first: “Every time our new neighbors make love, like clockwork every Sunday at 11:30pm, I have resisted singing along.” (35 likes). This definitely set the model for the other answers in which people resisted doing something. Of course I know all my friends are too humble about all of the awesome things they do to answer honestly. So everyone will continue to be thankful for nonspecific and boring things like “health, love and my friends and family.” Still, it was worth a try. Also wondered about the point of a question if one is just going to answer it oneself.

Question 5: open-ended social criticism (4 likes, 22 comments)

Asked “Why Black Friday, Why?” And immediately got a response riffing off the racial meaning of the adjective “black” – “Because “n***** Friday” isn’t acceptable anymore/yet ?”. I’m pretty sure this had an effect on the rest of the comments. I also left it uncommented as I considered whether or not I should delete it, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to address the use of the n-word in that context. One comedian friend liked it while another bashed it and I finally decided to respond with my surprise at how a question about a consumerist “holiday” had gone off in this direction. Also got references to the 1995 movie Friday, Rebecca Black and the Black Friars. Two comments actually addressed Black Friday as the day and not a combination of words. And there was one straight-up definition – to which I was far too snarky in my response. But seriously, who sees WHY and thinks WHAT IS?

In summary: I’m pretty sure I got more comments in the last week then I have in the last 6 months. And that really did make me feel more aware of – and perhaps connected to – my network. I thought about people I hadn’t seen in years. Read anecdotes I can’t imagine having heard of otherwise. And asked questions I would never ask in person.

Overall I’m still looking for answers to my insecurities about the effects of communication over social media, where I’m not sure who the recipient or audience is, how long they take to read it, how they’ll interpret it. I definitely treat my posts as if they were printed, written language while others seem to understand them more as spoken utterances that are produced without too much thought and will quickly fade from memory – therefore imprecise use of inflammatory language doesn’t matter very much. I confirmed my suspicion that no one (including myself) reads everything carefully and we rarely ask for clarification. Questions rarely receive more likes than statements and previous answers can shape the understanding of the question. And that race will come up at the slightest provocation. 

But I also feel justified in continuing to explore social media’s possibilities. Until they reveal that they’re making far more money off my browser history than I imagined. Check back in with me in another ten years.


*thanks for the image: https://quotesgram.com/img/funny-facebook-quotes-about-addiction/7092914/ – and yes, as of late 2016 there are nearly 1.8 billion users of Facebook.

Let it Go, Erdoğan, Let it Go

The German government just decided to allow an inquiry into TV host and writer Jan Böhmermann’s Erdoğan poem. More on the details of the case here. The sketch in German can be found here, and a translation in English here.

Say what you will about the quality of the sketch, it’s clear that the framing is to educate the president about what actually counts as slander and the poem is intended to be a example thereof. But the government is leaving it to the courts to decide – isn’t an independent judicial branch a wonderful escape plan! (Not in Poland)

In the meantime, I have decided that Böhmermann’s pedagogical sketch deserves a bit more support in its mission to educate Erdoğan. With nothing other than Disney music – in the style of  A Spoonful of Deutschland -and to the tune of Let It Go!


-Erdoğan, wandering on a dramatic desert ridge. Europe enters the frame as a jolly middle-aged woman wearing nothing but the EU flag.



It all started out with Extra drei

And their critical report

I thought all the Germans

Wanted to send refugees back to my ports

They said EU membership so I did not think twice

Now they insult me, why should I play nice.



Now my “good” friend

Why can’t you see

This is what freedom means to me

I know it hurts

And it was low

But it’s just a show


Let it go, let it go

Little penis joke got you riled

Let it go, let it go

You’re acting like spoiled child

Just last year

The brits said their prime minister

Had fucked a pig!

So it’s not as bad as that anyway



But Jan Böhmmerman lied

about me beating litte girls

And then he had to reference

my repression of the Kurds.

It’s really never been ok

To imply that I might be gay

I’m always right, no rules for me!

You see!



(spoken: still you’ve got to)

Let it go, let it go

You’ve got Merkel on your side

Let it go, let it go

So what if the remarks were snide

It was very clear

That it wasn’t sincere

The storm will calm down


Europe: It’s just normal to use satire as critique

Erdoğan: No, I jail journalists who might make me seem dumb or weak

Europe: Ok no more precious EU membership!

Erdoğan: Oh no don’t do that! I swear I’ll get a grip.



(spoken: I’ll)

Let it go, let it go

That old goat joke was cheap

Let it go, let it go

Just like the Welsh and their sheep


I’ll just pretend it’s ok so the EU says yes

Even though it’s all a lie

For so many countries anyway  (looking at your gag law Spain….)


A sad tale of two images

This is a story about two pictures, so I’m reprinting them. I don’t endorse them and I’m not linking to their sources. They don’t deserve the clicks.

The events at the turn of the year involving sexual assault in Cologne (Köln) and Hamburg are shifting the narrative regarding Germany’s response to the refugee crisis. As part of this already depressing and frustrating media flurry, two images just appeared in national publications as “illustrations”. They encapsulate what makes me so angry about certain trends in this discussion: women are being objectified and set into a racist narrative. 

The Focus magazine cover photo depicts a nearly headless blonde woman with her mouth slightly open. ASIDE:  It also advertises California at the top. Thanks … I guess? I would have rather seen the woman’s eyes. She’s naked, except for dark handprints on various parts of her upper body, and her arms in the typical two-sides-of-an-upside-down triangle format expected of women to cover their three socially-unacceptable parts. The headline is also designed to help her cover up: “Women press charges: After the sex-attacks by migrants: are we still just tolerant or already blind?” Oh look! They gave women an active verb in the headline! We are making progress. In all seriousness though, the image is demeaning, not because of the nudity, but because her eyes are cut off, robbing her of the chance to stare back. 

In the taz, Lalon Sander and Anna Böcker fittingly analyse the image as an “elegant symbol for everything that has gone wrong in the recent discussion about the sexual attacks in Cologne. It attacks the sexism of the ‘other’ but is sexist itself and eroticizes sexual violence”. They add that the conflation of dark skin with dirt and the image of black hands groping for a white woman all root in the “Reich” of racist sexual fantasies of “racial defilement” – note the deliberate use of Reich for “realm” and the Nazi term “racial defilement”. The other image addressed in the article, and which appeared in the weekend edition of the Suddeutsche Zeitung, is a simple graphic and depicts a pair of white, presumably female legs — denoted by rounded thighs and relatively small feet — against a black background and with a black hand reaching up to where the pelvis should be.


Image: SZ via Facebook

My first response to both of these images was one of shock and disgust. And that was probably their creators’ intention. But my shock wasn’t at seeing the blunt illustration of the crime. My shock was at the callous instrumentalization of a painful and often traumatizing experience mixed in with racist imagery, all for economic gain. 

I fail to see how anyone on the editorial boards of either organization could have had the victims in mind when they endorsed these images. And that’s what has made me so angry about the part of this discussion where the focus is not on the crime (which can be and has been committed by people of all genders and races) and the victims of the crime, but on the race/religion of the attackers. Victims of sexual assault, and women in general, do not deserve to be passive characters in racist narratives. For the media to continue their sexism – using women however they want, cutting off their eyes, reducing them to outlines – and add in some racism for good measure, is all the more disgusting in the context of this story.

This commentary isn’t meant to minimize the genuine problems with the integration and organization of refugees in Germany. These must be addressed, immediately. It’s just an attempt to question why these particular representatives of the media couldn’t take a break from their own sexism and greed for just one story. For the sake of the women of Cologne and Hamburg. Hell, for the whole world’s sake.