NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSSETS, 7 June — Writer, blogger, wife, mother, feminist, and founder of The Mamafesto blog, Avital Norman Nathman has been posting profiles, This Is What a Feminist Looks Like, on Mamafesto for about a year now, and she recently invited Yours Truly to write one, which you’ll find both below and on the official Mamafesto / TIWAFLM. Actually, she’d invited YOU to write one too. Do follow the link below, it’s a great project.
Name: Vanessa Anne Blaylock
Occupation: Performance Artist / Art Educator
Location: The Hague & Second Life
Any other relevant tidbits you’d care to share: I have ten toes.
1. How do you define feminism?
Haha, good question! Does “feminism” mean Equal Rights? Equal Protection? Equal Opportunity? Civil Rights? Human Rights? Equality? I hope it does mean all that, but if “Feminism” only means that, then the word is equivalent to “Civil Rights,” isn’t it? So we’d like to live in a world of Equality and Civil Rights regardless of your Ethnicity or Orientation or Ableness or Weight or Age… or Gender. Wow, I’d love to live in that world! But if that’s what “Feminism” means, then we don’t really need the word, do we? We don’t speak of Ethnicitism or Orientationism do we?
So, I have to wonder if in Feminism, yes we do mean Equality, yes we do mean a world of Civil Rights and Human Rights, but since we’ve created this special word about specifically gender, does it mean more? Or different? Or other? You don’t have to be the trope of the man-hating feminist to notice that the male gender has not done the best job of governing the world. I like men. I’ve married two of them. And I don’t even hate the one I’m no longer married to. But I wonder if beyond Civil Rights, somewhere else than hating men or simply reversing oppression, if this amazing word doesn’t also carry some notion that fathers are great, amazing, important, wonderful, invaluable people… but… that a mother is a unique being in our culture.
Is it biology? Of course there are great dads. Of course there are crummy moms. You tend to get all kinds of people in a truly diverse world. Still, dads don’t carry their offspring for nine months. I’m not saying that children are trophys for dads. But they are literally a grown part of you for a mom. Perhaps this matters. Perhaps on relationships, on violence, on many things, a mother has a deeper, more personal connection. I don’t mean that women are better. I don’t mean that men are less or other, I’m simply wondering aloud, if to bother to have the word “Feminism,” when so much of what we want is “Civil Rights,” if to have this specific word, isn’t to suggest that beyond equal rights, that the female gender possesses an extraordinary power that has perhaps been under-appreciated, perhaps under-utilized by our culture.
I’d love to live in a world, so diverse, so inclusive, so deep and rich, that terms like Equality and Feminism and Civil Rights and Human Rights have no meaning or value or necessity. I don’t know if such a world is theoretically possible or not, but I at least don’t realistically expect to live in that world in my lifetime. As long as I live in a world where people are murdered because of their sexual orientation; denied a living wage because of the color of their skin; abused because of their gender; shamed because of their weight; ignored because of their ableness; dumped in the trash heap because of their age; as long as we live in such a world, then I believe that we need feminism, and I hope that feminists can help make that world a place where more people have freedom and opportunity, the right to speak, the right to live, the right to participate, fully, in culture.
All that, and, I like the video you gave in your prompt:
2. When did you first identify as a feminist?
I wish I had a lightbulb moment to share here. I don’t. I’m not aware of an epiphany. More of an evolution. More of a growing awareness. A growing into.
It’s funny, in our culture we have minimum ages before we think you can handle graphic sexuality, or graphic violence, or tobacco, or alcohol. Interestingly, we don’t have a minimum age before you can be indoctrinated into a religion or nationalistic identity, even though these are at least as complex and “adult” concepts as any of the others. Some people claim that high minimum ages on, for example alcohol actually hurt more than help. That becoming legal drinking age in the middle of college and binge drinking there is worse than having alcohol be a more organic part of a much younger home life.
Perhaps sexuality, violence, alcohol, tobacco, religion, nationalism… and gender studies… should all be part of an organic home upbringing. Perhaps a world where there aren’t “Feminist Epiphanies” or “First Identifications,” because it’s an interwoven, holistic part of culture, would be a pretty good world to live in.
3. Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
The word that my feelings about have changed over time is “Tolerance.” I used to like the word. “Oh yes, let’s ‘teach tolerance.'” Maybe I’m being too literal, IDK, but for me “tolerance” or “being tolerant of” or “tolerating” kind of means that I will accept you even though you suck or are tedious or are less than or are other. Fuck that! I don’t want to be tolerated! I want to be embraced! I want to be appreciated! I want to be loved! I want to be celebrated! Why “teach tolerance” when you can “celebrate diversity!?”
When you get that new iPad, the package says something like “Designed by Apple in California; made by Foxconn in Shenzhen.” In fact this is a bit of racist or nationalistic advertising, implying that it wouldn’t be as cool if it had been “Designed in Shenzhen.” But putting that aside for a moment, what’s so great about being designed in California? Chauvinistic a place as America can be, it in fact is a land of diversity. And California especially so. From the enormous cultural diversity and richness of the many Bay Area communities, to the culture clash of Los Angeles, perhaps best typified by Venice, CA where motion picture digital effects wizards pulling in huge 6-figure salaries work just a few blocks from itinerant boardwalk artists selling paintings for the price of a meal. The diversity not just in income, but in so many aspects of culture, that slams up against so many different cultures here is remarkable. And it is from the richness of this melting pot that “Designed by Apple in California” comes to mean something special.
It would be enough if Diversity was more inclusive and more human and more decent.
But even if you’re a hard-nosed parasite, the reality is, Diversity is better for business. Better for creativity. Better for generating new ideas and products. Better for understanding and speaking to a large consumer base. In California Diversity fuels both Hollywood and Silicon Valley. When including people can produce so much richness for so many, to be only “tolerated” just doesn’t seem like enough. Tolerance is bullshit! I want to be loved! I want to be celebrated! I want to be treasured!
4. Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
Let me answer something slightly different. I once worked with a guy who turned out to be a gay, white supremacist. I’m a girl who’s half Jewish and half Latin, but looks more Jewish. And he hated me for that. This was a real epiphany. I think I just sort of foolishly assumed that because you’re gay, a member of an oppressed minority, that that automatically makes you tolerant or inclusive or pro-diversity. It doesn’t. He wasn’t. The sad truth is, just because someone is oppressed, doesn’t mean they can’t also be an oppressor.
Charlie Gage’s film Inspired: The Voices Against Prop 8 explores Marriage Rights, and Gay Rights, but also Racism. It is a beautiful consideration of the many faces of civil rights and inclusion.
5. What do you see as the future of feminism?
Well, as I’ve suggested above, a great future for Feminism would be for it to become an obsolete and useless word. Unfortunately I don’t see that coming in my lifetime. I do think that First Wave feminism was a remarkable, powerful thing. I wrote about Victorine Meurent the other day:
To be a feminist in the 21st century is a beautiful, and perhaps even a little bit courageous thing. But what Meurent did in the 19th century? Where did she find the power? Where did she find the vision? Where did she find the courage? Did she have a role model? Was she making it all up on the fly? It’s humbling to think about a woman like Meurent and wonder where she drew her strength from in the context of her age.
Similarly, I don’t think it’s possible to have too much respect and appreciation for Second-Wave feminists. Yet over time they have been vilified. I won’t even stoop to saying that awful, bastardized word that some chauvinistic talk radio jerk made so popular. But you know the word. It’s surprising to realize how many young college women and men today think that “Feminism” is extremist or freaky or over or unnecessary. It’s bizarre and depressing. A little bit like having a holocaust denier describe some strange alternate world.
After so much hard work and so much success and then so much progress lost to neocon idealogues, I do have to admire the young Sex-Positive Feminists of today. Theirs is a different flavor of feminism, but in its own way, it is a movement that builds on the feminist work of the past, and finds meaning and egalitarian ways of being in their own time.
6. Got a video for us?
kk, you didn’t actually ask for a video, but it’s 2012 and what web page doesn’t want a video to go with it?
I love this Beyonce If I Were A Boy / Pinocchio mashup. It’s a poetic consideration by Beyonce. And in this post I’ve suggested that a lot of Feminism is about Civil Rights and ultimately a lot of Civil Rights is about Identity. I think pretty much any time someone else defines your identity, that’s oppression. Any time you define your own identity, that’s empowerment. And Pinocchio is really at the nexus of all of it. Pinocchio is the “fake” boy who’s more “real” than “real.”
What make the fake boy so real?
If the only real identity is the identity you claim for yourself, then what do you claim? How do you define your identity? By desire. By who you want to be. By who you think you are. By who you dream of being allowed to be. By who you long to become.
Desire is identity.
Vanessa Blaylock is a performance artist exploring identity and individuality in the 21st century. Her virtual performance art organization “Vanessa Blaylock / Company” uses the virtual body, or avatar as its art medium. Blaylock holds a BFA degree in choreography from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and an MFA in New Media from the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague.