Today on International Women’s Day 2017, nearly 45 years after the women’s liberation movement stormed onto the scene opening a floodgate of discourse about women’s rights, it’s déjà vu all over again.
It’s hard to believe that systemic gender inequality still exists today and women are still being moved around like so many pawns in a political game that seems to be played by men only. The denial of reproductive rights, sexual violence, domestic abuse and income inequality are still very much a part of our current dialogue.
It’s a long way from the consciousness raising days of the 1970’s, as women across the country gather to figure their way forward in the age of Trump.
Today a global Woman’s Strike is taking place.
The organizers behind the Woman’s March in DC have created another call for action called a Day Without A Woman to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in the U.S. and global economies, as well as call attention to economic injustices. They are calling for women to take the day off, if possible, and encourage them not to spend money to show their economic strength and impact on American society.
Why are women’s lives so difficult even now in the 21st century?
Ironically because feminist ideas are so taken for granted few women think of themselves as feminists. The persistent stereotype of 2nd wave feminists as male bashing, make-up-less angry and non domestic was the same stereotype perpetrated by the media at the time.
It is worth remembering their struggles.
Women, Gender and Politics- Women’s Liberation
My collage “Women Lib: A Storms Approaching” takes a look at a time pivotal time period when women became conscious not only of the inequality but how our identities had become fragmented by a media insistent on dictating ever-changing standards.
When women grapple with gender inequality they often find themselves turning to a rich 10 year period of modern history – the 1970s. Before the 1970’s a woman could not keep her job if she were pregnant, get a credit card, report cases of sexual harassment or have a legal abortion.
The piece, part of a series called “Media Made Women” is a pastiche of postwar American imagery, a time when confining and conflicting images of media stereotypes of women littered the pop culture landscape that was erupting in a women’s liberation movement.
These images helped shape the female psyche in setting standards of how women should imagine their lives, think of fulfillment and arrange their priorities.
Collage as Expression
Collage becomes the perfect vehicle to deconstruct these fragmented messages.
Like most Americans, I have consumed vast amounts of pop culture imagery over the decades; as an artist and a collector I have amassed a formidable collection.
Like a toxic overspill, fragments of these countless mass media images remain imprinted in all of us.
Using collage as a means of deconstructing myths and examining social fictions, the piece is composed of hundreds of images appropriated from vintage advertising, periodicals, newspapers, vintage school books, old illustrations, comic books, pulp fiction and all sorts of ephemera.
Media Matters- Media Made Women
Like most women growing up in the 1960s I was fed a generous serving of sugar-coated media stereotypes of happy homemakers who were as frozen and neatly packaged as the processed foods they served their Cold war families
Within a decades time these same images would be thawed out under the hot glare of a woman’s movement only to be joined by a heaping helping of new conflicting media representations of how a girl’s life should proceed.
What did it mean to be a woman in the wake of the woman’s movement; what kind of woman should we be? How assertive and ambitious should we be, and how accommodating to men.
This ideological warfare about women’s proper place was the prevailing subtext of American popular culture in the 1970’s.
Just as the right has demonized liberalism, so the backlash convinced the public that woman’s liberation was the true American scourge.
The back lash against feminism was filled with cautionary tales about what happens to women who are too angry or outspoken, and get too much freedom and attempted to push women back into acceptable retro roles .
The result was we were ambivalent toward femininity on the one hand and feminism on the other.
The media’s stereotypes about feminism turned the images into caricatures. They certainly played a central role in turning feminism into a dirty word and stereotyping the feminist as a karate chopping, Nair-rejecting bitch, with bad clothes, a perpetual snarl and a larger than life chip on her shoulder.
The media has long presented conflicting contradicting images of women and we have had to navigate the plethora of images offered up to young girls and young women suggesting what a desirable worthwhile woman should be.
Contrary to Popular Belief
The irony is 45 years later the contradictions still exist and the media continue to provide us with images and rationalizations that shape how we make sense of the roles we assume in our families, our workplace and our society.
The media continues to be relentless in their assault on the imperfections of the female face and body while our bodies continue to be a battleground in the political arenas.
The current backlash against women and their reproductive rights still inform our dialogues and re-markets old myths about women as new facts.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.