It is still a radical and generous act to love a woman for who she is apart from, as well as with, others.
My favorite artist is Frida Kahlo because she was a woman who dared to do art about her own self, in fact often about her own physical self. When she did that it was brave; and it still is brave to consider your life as a woman important enough to focus on. Let’s face it– women are not considered a priority in a world which still underpays women for the same jobs that men do. When I entered the work force in 1976 women made 60.2% of what men make. In 1986 they made 64.3%; in 1996 73.8%; in 2006 76.9%; and in 2010 women made 77.4%.
Where will that statistic be in 2016, 40 years after I entered the workforce? Will it be equitable? It’s doubtful considering how slowly the percentage has risen—it took approximately 30 year, that is, three decades, and the beginning of the second wave Women’s Liberation for women’s pay rates to rise 17 percent.
It was not Frida’s own fascination with her illness – her crushing accident which left her semi-paralyzed and in pain and in plaster casts – that fascinated me, nor many others. It was not her passionate and sometimes destructive attraction and turbulent relationship with Diego Rivera that fascinated us, nor her bisexuality or her cross-dressing that was the most fascinating. No, the most fascinating thing about Frida Kahlo, for many women, was that she painted herself. In fact, she painted herself giving birth to herself– that’s how deeply she painted her self—flowers growing from her womb. Giving birth to her deep self, she who would never bear physical children, developed a voice and image that resonated for many who found it audacious, grand and eventually liberating. The paintings literally came from her womb.
Who are the women who are famous artists? Still today we name many women for whom the choices of art making versus family responsibilities and constraints of being woman and womanhood led them to commit suicide, among them most notably Sylvia Plath speaking from beneath The Bell Jar. The poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote that “if one woman told the truth about her life, the world would split open.” And the truth may be as Callie Khouri, screenwriter of the iconic Thelma and Louise, told me that she wanted, as many of us do, simply to see “women like me” or rather us on the big screen dealing with what women deal with. We all want like the rock star Pink to scream, “I’m still a rock star…I’ve got my rock moves…” when we’ve been done wrong. But often we feel lost. We never had that feeling of taking up space—our thoughts, our dreams, our languages get co-opted by other’s needs. The space of our selves is filled daily by too little money and too much of a to-do list. What many of us want ourselves, and all women, to do is to keep/get/use “their rock moves.” Because so often we don’t even realize we have rock moves that we could use. We regret at the end of our lives not playing the wild card, not wearing purple as reads the aptly titled poem by Jenny Joseph, “Warning.”
In the classic The Feminine Face of God: The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women, the implied theology is that women had not at the time of its writing found a specific female theology because they had not had time to go to the mountaintop to create it—it is not that they/we could not do it…it was literally that we had not had the time, money, energy to create the space and means with which to do so. Tillie Olsen’s 1978 book Silences on women and class still rings true. Not having enough money can silence you; other’s needs can silence you…and the working class that works the second and third shift may have, and often does have, amazing and creative ideas that rival anyone else’s; but these ideas may not be birthed because there is not time or resources to birth them. While the muse may visit us all equally she does not provide equal resources for everyone to birth her into being.
In a world that does not pay equal pay for equal work it still means often women, by definition, will not have the time to love their selves enough to find time for their work. It still means, for instance, making that choice between having children and having/making art. It means making the choice of making art, making work, making a language of the sacred, such as theological discourse. This is a choice for most women still—we cannot “have it all.” This also often means that men cannot have it all, either. What is the matter with the society that births the family that forces the man to choose, as one of my male Gender Women’s Studies students was forced to do, between his job/keeping his job and being able to see his wife give birth? Although The Feminine Face of God is a volume from the second wave of feminism, it is still true in the millennium that women are not encouraged to go away to the mountain top—and create that perhaps sacred relational language that would allow for family and women’s independence to shine. It is still radical to face the mirror and examine one’s own soul as Frida did.
While researchers like Carol Gilligan have commended us on our ability to be relational, we also want to be interdependent. Relationship, right relationship, means I take care of myself as well as you and vice-versa. We admire Rosie the Riveter, still, as an image from the 1940s because it is still so unusual to see an image of a woman that models masculinity; to see an image of a woman that models “We can do it!” Rosie is the image of a woman alone in the forefront—doing it. I’ve got my rock moves, she says. We do not all need to be crushed in an accident and painting our body cast to look deeply in the mirror and give birth to ourselves. But we must all at some point, to truly be effective in the discourse of religion, find god as ntozake shange does in for colored girls who have committed suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf. She suggests we must, as she did, “find god in myself and love her. Love her fiercely.”
In this month of love and valentines let us love ourselves enough to birth flowers from our wombs. Let us fly into love in the face of the fear of being called selfish. Let us burst with pride in our accomplishments in the face of our to-do lists and double shifts—whatever those accomplishments may be. Let us praise women. Let us sing praise and say Happy Valentine’s month to the writers and readers of Feminism and Religion. Love yourself! It is still a radical and generous act to love a woman for whom she is apart from, as well as with, others. Love yourself—truly, madly, deeply. For you are the only you that you will ever get.
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.