A Valentine Towards an Ethics of Loving Women Making Art by Marie Cartier

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%.

Marie Cartier, A Valentine towards an Ethics of Loving Women and Art

Frida Kahlo, self-portrait, Roots,1943

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.

Frida Kahlo, Having it all, The feminine face of God, valentine's day, feminist theology

Frida circa 1926, photo taken by her dad Guillermo

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 JarThe 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.

We can do it! Rosy

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.



Categories: Activism, Art, Community, Feminism, Feminist Awakenings, General, Herstory, Love, Women's Spirituality

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14 replies

  1. Bless your words and passion Marie. Yes it is still hard for women to take time to love ourselves. This past week I was teaching Z Budapest and discovered that many of the women in my class on The Return of the Goddess still have not learned to love themselves and their bodies. Some of them found Z’s self-blessing ritual a new idea. (See Z’s The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries or Womanspirit Rising to find it. It could change your life!)

    This morning I was writing about Charles Hartshorne and the commandments to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. (By the way he called God “He or She” in his later writings.) He points out that the command to love your neighbor as yourself implies that you love yourself as much as you love your neighbor. Too bad most of us learned that the command means loving your neighbor instead of yourself or at the expense of yourself or before yourself.

    Thanks for reminding us to love ourselves too.

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    • Carol —

      On my first album (_Chants for the Queen of Heaven…and Earth_), I recorded a song that reflected the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but from a feminist perspective. It began with Ntozake Shange’s “I found God in myself/And I loved Her fiercely,” but continued with a second verse: “Look for God in each other/And love your sister, and love your brother.”

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    • Thank you for reminding us to love ourselves, too,Carol. I believe I have mentioned before that I took your class at Claremont Graduate University and it was such a lesson in loving our wildness, our life and women’s spirit.

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  2. The first book I ever read on Women’s Spirituality was “Womanspirit Rising,” and there first met Carol P. Christ’s writing, also Starhawk, and Phyliis Trible and many others too. I resonate with so many things you mention, Marie, basically I would guess we are of the same generation growing up in the States, and that would include a love for Frida Kahlo’s courageous self portraits, certainly, but all the other iconic images you point to, like Carol Gilligan, “Thelma and Louise” and “The Feminine Face of God.” Thank you for a marvelous tour, and which has brought us forward to where we can dance in the sun now on the Internet. Since I named the first book I ever read on feminist theology, just to add the most recent, highly recommended, called, “Receiving the Marrow: Teachings on Dogen by Soto Zen Women Priests,” a collection of writings by contemporary women Zen masters. It is amazing to me that these Zen women priests are so able to put their own special revelation into a female-centered context, absolutely fearless of being labelled, “feminist.”

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    • ross- thank you for you heartfelt response. i loved/love *womanspirit rising.* yes! we are of the same generation i think :). i look forward to checking out *receiving the marrow.”

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  3. I loved this post; it is the most joyful and sensible and powerful of any on this site so far. I often wonder why it is women are so short of time, or why women find it so hard to love themselves. To me, the very act of lesbian love, is to love yourself, because women literally are our very selves. This is the divine nature of lesbian love free of male domination. But lesbians too can get caught up in everyone else’s worlds except our o

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  4. …except our own. I went to Frieda Kahloe’s house many years ago with a wiccan priestess. It was quite the adventure. I think of all the women who have inspired me, given great effort to the cause of women’s very love in the world.

    I think the very act of being in eccstatic love with women at a lesbian event takes me to new heights of imagination and energy.
    We defeat patriarchy everytime we create for our very own selves, because to love a neighbor does require that we love ourselves. The lesbian body itself celebrates the sacred love of self and the woman we love simultaneously!

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    • turtle woman- thank you so much for your response. i know you are a frequent contributor to the feminism and religion site– so i deeply appreciate your conversation here and in other posts. thank you for your engagement and so glad the blog meant so much to you! many blessings!

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  5. This is the good stuff, the me stuff, the you stuff, the women stuff, that love stuff.
    Your post resonantes, as I see that loving yourself is such a great act of love in the “right relationship.” It is so important to love your relationship with yourself too.
    However, taking the adventure to that point of finding that self to love, “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.” Now it seems like sound bites and so many forms of technology take time from that sacred space to make “a rock star” as well. So much information all at once, not to mention the information of those we care about. It’s yet another thing to juggle but a necessary act, as it is often a useful instrument in our lives. I think it also plays a huge role in our construction. Are we simply left to only loving that journey “to the mountaintop” when physical, emotional and mental resources are operating in a vacuum?

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    • thank you for this!! i agree– information overload DOES help us and also does take us away from ourselves into the world of seemingly endless information. I really like your last question. if you get a chance, dialogue with me here about it. how would you answer that question?

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  6. Every woman has a different situation, but for me, only loving the journey isn’t an option. I need more than that. More l(o-i)ving in/of the elements.
    The romantic in me says, “love conquers all!” In loving our personal journey, it will destroy the vacuum and create vast amounts of opportunity & inspiration to create. Where the vacuum was once a weapon to the detriment of creativity, our love turns it into a weapon for the advancement of personal power.
    The realist in me who loves the journey but recognizes scarcity, says it takes a lot of discipline, ambition and willingness to work long after dark on those special projects. Projects of passion which can run other pieces of life into the ground. Making it even more critical to speak up when it comes to politics so the eventual, slow-moving outcome can provide more opportunity for carrying out creativity.

    I mean, it’s far from a binary subject… there are a lot of approaches to being rockstars. Your thoughts?

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  7. i could not agree more- it takes “a lot of discipline, ambition and willingness to work long after dark” (and a lot of caffiene at hopefully cool coffee shops ;) to make things *happen.* there are a lot of approaches to living your life and loving your life and loving your self. my point here is that women often lose themselves in the lives of others and if that is their intent– so be it. but if one’s intent is to love the self apart from and with others then one must find the self apart from others in order to nurture her as well the self that exists with others.

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