Photo By Adriana Yugovich
By Heidi Gjengdahl
What is your relationship to feminism? That was the question that was posed by Connie Samaras upon her arrival at the University of Michigan. This happens to be a question that I have been struggling to come up with an answer to for some time. I don't think that I can simplify it to the bumper sticker mentality that "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too." In some ways that is a contemporary radical notion because it was in this century that women gained the right to vote, but I think there are more layers to it than that. It is not just the notion that women are people but that they have rights to fair and equal treatment and representation as people.
There seems to be a difference in the approach to feminism in the 90s versus the 70s when the women's movement was blossoming and strong. Women aren't burning their bras anymore, they are buying Wonder Bras and still calling themselves feminists. Does feminism lie in the clothes we choose to wear, or not wear? Look at the Spice Girls. They bare their flesh, wear tight-fitting clothes, and shake their booties at will. They proclaim "Grrrl Power" as their motto. Is this a marketing ploy to further uphold the stereotypes of women as objects, (Barbie with a slogan?), or is this the face of 90s feminism?
Although I was too young to be an active particip ant in the women's movement of the 70s, my recollection is that the labels of "woman" and "lesbian" were important to the people involved. These labels were used to proclaim and redefine an identity, and feel empowered by that identity. If Samaras is representative of what feminism in the 90s looks like, than these labels are no longer needed. For her images click here for feminist and lesbian representation.
Samaras, who considers herself a progressive feminist, would like to see the notion of gender smashed. What would the world look like if that were the case? I have always been uncomfortable with the definitions of what equals masculine and what equals feminine. That implies some innate predisposition to the color blue or pink. Or in art history it refers to the hard-edged shapes of David Smith versus the soft-edged shapes of Barbara Hepworth. I'm not all that fon d of pink and I like both squares and circles. Samaras wants to not just redefine gender but to obliterate the area inbetween the polar opposites of male/female, gay/straight. By doing this, she suggests that room is made for groups of people that have otherwise been marginalized and whose experiences have not been included in writings of history, or recognized as part of the social structure.
In Samaras' project on correcting the information sent into space on the 1977 United States Voyager space probes, she corrects old categories and creates new catgories of earth culture that were not included in the original information. The original information was presented from a white, eurocentric male perspective and presented a narrow view of life on earth. Samaras wants to broaden and challenge that view. There is a vast human experience beyond the white, straight, middle-class male perspective that needs to be recognized and valued. It is my impression that 90s feminism has expanded to take up the fight not just for women's rights but for the rights for free expression of sexual identities as well, be it male, female, transgender, bisexual, straight, lesbian, or gay. This is echoed in Samaras' work.
What is my relationship to feminism? At times I cradle it and other times I hold it at arms length and examine what it is doing and how it fits in with my life. As the social structure continues to change, feminism will have to too. There are still women being exploited, raped, and abused in numerous ways. The work of feminists is far from over, and Samaras continues to draw new lines in the sand that challenge power structures and need to be dealt with.
Also, Samaras tells radical narratives on humans and aliens. Her work has been exhibited and published internationally and cyberspatially, and she is a co-editor of a forthcoming book and CD-ROM titled Terminals.
Photo by Adriana Yugovich