“I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time
To go ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell
Can’t bring myself to do what it is
You think I should”
(Dixie Chicks, 2009)
The quote listed above is the lyrical reaction of the music group the Dixie Chicks in response to the backlash of lead singer Natalie Maines public criticism of then US president George Bush and US military involvement in the Middle East during a music concert in the UK. Because the concert was televised, her criticism reached millions of people. As a result of her words, the band experienced extreme repercussion which included death threats and all of their songs being banned from the major radio networks in the US for an extended period of time. These song lyrics are a prime example of art being used as political activism and its effectiveness to make the point using peaceful means. Women have learned that if they are not allowed to enter through the same door, the front door, as the one intended for men they will find another way.
Working in public education programs predominantly in low income neighborhoods provides a firsthand account of the tremendous impact of oppression. Generational poverty, gang related disputes, institutional racism, distorted media coverage, academic tracking, funding hostilities and high school competitive sports programs are powerful and complex examples of the oppressive system we live within and the public education school site as a strong microcosm of this historical dynamic. Inner-city neighborhoods, just as rural communities, have been force-fed a myth that intermingles the American Dream with the reality of homelessness, despair, racism, illegal activity, unemployment, substance abuse, violence, religious fanaticism and socioeconomic disadvantages. Of course, it is no surprise that public school programs reflect the communities in which they are situated. Public schools with high instances of violence and failing students are always located in communities with high instances of violence and failing adults. Or, perhaps, the better term is falling – falling students and adults. Communities in crisis are served by failing programs without enough funding or support to provide enough measure of success. Inevitably, these school programs hold center ground in neighborhoods with high percentages of poverty; one of the ultimate manifestations of oppression and a condition that impacts men and women belonging to every identified ethnic group.
Moving the microscope lens metaphorically, the next realm of evidence to consider is the impact oppression has on women of every ethnicity, income bracket, nationality and religious affiliation. Income inequality, the ‘glass ceiling’, the exploitation of women in popular culture, media as well as the music and clothing industries are examples of common and every day oppression. And, of course, the instances of rape, domestic assault and attacks from unknown assailants in this country is astronomical. And, of course again, these numbers increase tenfold for women of color. Add to this the small numbers of women in national politics as well as women holding leadership positions in major corporations and the picture becomes clearer. “The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby trapped.”(Frye, 1983, pg. 89)
Feminist theory clearly places patriarchy as the source of oppression against all marginalized peoples. Patriarchy is the term used to describe the social structure in place characterized by current and historic unequal power relations between white men with financial assets and marginalized peoples – all women and anyone who belongs to an ethnicity other than white, a religion other than Christianity, and all people living in poverty – are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed. This takes place across almost every sphere of society and in every part of the world. Inherently, women in minority groups face multiple oppressions in this society, as race, class and sexuality intersect with sexism. “Ingrained in patriarchy is that women belong to men, and that male potency is reflected in the number of children they father. The more patriarchal the family, the religion, and culture, the younger when married, less educated, and less independent the women. Women’s sexuality and childbearing is then in the service of men.” (Shinoda Bolen, 2005 pg. 26)
Witnessing such oppression takes a tremendous toll on one’s psyche and well-being. However, there is hope on the horizon in that it is reported that we are currently undergoing a metamorphosis of global culture by author Philip Slater. “Incivility and chaos arise when an old system is breaking down and a new one hasn’t yet fully taken hold. Today we’re in that very spot, undergoing a transition between two global cultural systems with opposing values and assumptions: one of them thousands of years old and dying, but still tenacious, exhausting itself in ever more violent resurgences; the other in its youth, but growing stronger every day.” (pg. 8, 2009) Slater’s book, The Chrysalis Effect provides a fascinating account of the massive culture change that we are witnessing today. It is our obligation to contribute to the cause and perpetuate the vehicles of transformation.
One facet of this global culture shift is the recent phenomenon of women meeting at the junction of the process of art making and the pursuit of spirituality in order to actively engage in their own transformation. As an artist who has participated actively in this venture there is something incredibly compelling to be explored and is evidenced by more and more women over the last decade who have come to the process as a means of personal and collective transformation. Matriarchal structures such as collaboration and working in a collective are core components of these programs along with an emergent approach which recognizes that participants and their individual ideas become something else altogether which could not have existed before or as individuals. This style of art making also incorporates Contemporary Symbolism, the use of personal symbol and imagery, and encourages the use of intuition and women’s wisdom which maintains more influence in the development of the final product than emphasis on creating a polished piece of artwork with the sole intent to make a profit. Women note that being able to use their own voice, to be heard and witnessed, is a powerful and transformative experience. This transformation then radiates outward to families, communities, social organizations and interconnects with the energy of other women in other places engaging in the same transformation. This form of activism is feminist in nature and founded in peace.
Women participating in these circles come from different walks of life, different ethnicities and heritages and choose to enter this gateway for a variety of reasons. What is most interesting in the review of all contributing aspects is the sense of a quest, the action to pursue and process as another means of knowing. From personal observation, women who have suffered egregious forms of abuse, women in profound need of finding a supportive community, women looking for an alternative approach to express the content of their soul and women looking both to find their voice and find their way come to the circle. These circles are often a safe haven allowing room for exploration, opportunity for examination of patriarchal structures, a sanctuary for healing and provide education in a variety of topics in addition to art skills and techniques. This approach to art making cultivates intuition by creating a relationship with one’s muse, one’s inner and true voice, and helps the artist to acknowledge feelings that may be difficult to articulate. A relationship with the Divine is nurtured, aside, inside or outside of religious parameters, and the canvas itself can become a portal to a mystical place with the brush as a magic wand or the canvas can hold one’s pain so that she doesn’t have to bear the weight any longer. Every act of peace and kindness is feminist activism; find the back door and enter as you will.
Clements, J., Ettling, D., Jenett, D., & Shields, L. (1999). Organic Inquiry: If Research Were Sacred. Draft Manuscript.
Creswell, J., & Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Dixie Chicks – Not Ready To Make Nice. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pojL_35QlSI
Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality (Trumansburg, N.Y.,: The Crossing Press, 1983).
Grey, A. (1998). The mission of art. Boston: Shambhala.
McNiff, Shaun. (2003). Art-based research. London, England: Jessica Kingsley.
Moustakas, Clark E. (1990). Heuristic research: Design, methodology, and applications. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Shinoda Bolen, J. (2005). Urgent message from mother: Gather the women, save the world. York Beach, Me.: Conari Press.
Slater, P. (2009). The chrysalis effect the metamorphosis of global culture. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.
Williams, H. (2002). Drawing as a sacred activity: Simple steps to explore your feelings and heal your consciousness. Novato, Calif.: New World Library.
Jessica Bowman holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology, a Master’s Degree in Women’s Spirituality and Creative Expression as well as California Single Subject Teaching Credentials in Social Science and English and Administrative Service Credentials. She is an Associate Superintendent for a rural high school district focusing on support for underrepresented students. Jessica is also an artist, healer, and seeker. She is a doctoral student at the California Institute of Integral Studies researching Social Justice and the application of Goddess Consciousness as a Women’s Leadership Model. For more information on some of her work please see http://www.creativityandthedivinefeminine.com and http://www.magicalapothecary.com