Friday, March 11, 2011

Hear Me Roar

I'm taking an art history class on Monday nights. I've been very excited about it for several reasons:

1. My mother studied art history in college, and I like feeling connected to her.

2. I love art, but would love to understand it better, as I'm really quite ignorant.

3. It isn't a grueling, stressful science class.

4. It doesn't bear any weight on my acceptance to the RN program.

The professor is artsy, as one would expect. In her sixties, crazy frizzy hair piled up on top of her head, green-rimmed glasses, and clothes that nobody but an art professor would put together. You know what I mean. But she's also engaging, dynamic, funny, and able to bring art down to a level that a student can begin to interpret. Or, maybe she's bringing the students up to the level of the art. I'm not sure. Either way, each week has been enlightening, intriguing, and so much fun.

This week, however, she took a detour, becoming increasingly familiar to me in the college/academic world, and started teaching her own philosophies as truth.

We were talking about bipolar opposition, where pairs of concepts are historically linked together and considered black and white, with no gray in the middle. One is valued over the other, and they are seen as being in conflict with each other. Examples would be:


We were looking for these themes in art, specifically the Male/Female bipolar opposition. Historically, the male is considered the valued of the two, and is shown in art as being bigger, stronger, more angular, enjoying more of the light of the painting, while the woman is traditionally softer, rounder, smaller, weaker, emotional, and in the shadows.

The professor put up on the huge screen images of toys and ad campaigns that continue, even today, to reinforce these traditional gender roles. Go into a Toys R Us and you walk through the computer games and boy toys first. (Boys are more "valued".) The colors are bolder and brighter, and the toys encourage strength, competition, strategy, and outdoor play. When you finally work your way over to the girls' toys, the colors become soft and pastel. The toys are for indoor, domestic play, and for vanity and appearance.

She showed a side-by-side of G.I. Joe and Barbie. You can all picture this. G.I. Joe is angular, muscular, and dominant. Barbie is unrealistically skinny, beautiful, and well-dressed. Not much good for anything but looking amazing. Picture their hands. G.I. Joe's hands are huge! Barbie's hands are impossibly small. Again, not much good for anything but powdering her nose.

Now, I'm getting all of this. For the record, I think Barbie is stupid. I was not allowed to have Barbie as a girl, and my daughter never had a Barbie either. Barbie spends way too much money on tight clothes and high heels and fancy cars, and vacations. But go back to the gender roles programmed into toys in general. The boys should be tough, girls should be soft and domestic thing. From here, my professor took a meandering path.

She started ridiculing traditional gender roles, calling them archaic and destructive. She said that back in the day, women had to be at home, pregnant all the time, because the mortality rate was such that survival of the species was in jeopardy. Men and women's lives revolved around survival, but now, now? There are too many people, she said! Women should stop having babies and staying at home. People live a long time. The way of the old gender roles should be abolished, shunned, and in fact, women should throw off the chains that have bound them throughout history. What everyone should be doing instead, she advised to a group of impressionable, young students, is forget about gender roles and just go to school as long as one possibly can and then start thinking! Thinking and finally solving the world's problems! That's the solution, she believes. That's the way to fix this mess we're in.

I sat there with my head down, the Spirit long since gone from the lecture hall. This woman is a mother. I thought of all kinds of contradictory statements, but instead held my tongue, knowing that nothing I would say would alter this woman's point of view. But when I got home, I let it all out to my husband, who was waiting up for me.

"Throw off the chains?" I said. "That right there is archaic! Thinking that motherhood or traditional womanhood has a woman bound in chains! Motherhood is the single most powerful position to hold in this world! Nobody affects the community, society, nations, the world, as much as mothers do! How can she say that? Sure women can do anything that a man can do (except maybe some heavy lifting), but that doesn't mean that they should! Look what has happened since women left the home! This is progress? So her suggestion is to create a bigger problem and then have everyone sit around thinking about how to solve it, while ignoring the fact that they caused it?! If mothers would be in the home, a lot of the problems we now have would be gone! Women act as if motherhood is some part time gig they can swing in their downtime, after they do their "real" job! They're missing the point! And how can there continue to be positive personal growth without the callings of womanhood and motherhood? Huh? Huh? We should all just be the same? That's ridiculous! Why does everything have to be the same? Why are we so concerned about fair? We have our own stewardships and divine possibilities. We have our own roles! As soon as we start equalizing everything and switching it all up, bad things happen! A society can only be as strong as its mothers! Mothers are stronger and more influential than Presidents, than Kings! What was she talking about? And all those kids in the room, hanging on her every word, forming their opinions about the rest of their lives! She has no right to mix that in there with Michelangelo and Coatlique!"

Adam was unprepared for all of that. He was silent on the bed. Finally he ventured, "I can see how you would be totally and personally offended by that," he said.

"Oh, but I'm not personally offended," I countered. "I do not feel a need to defend my decision to be a mother. I know who I am and how important I am in that role. I'm offended that she would teach this worldly and asinine opinion as truth! It was wrong! It was just wrong! Who does she think she is?"

He got it. Thank goodness, he understands. And he let me vent and rant and rave all over the bedroom. And then I got into bed, and into his arms. Safe and protected and validated. His roles.

I'll take emotional, and soft, and even round any day as part of my own role. But never weak. No sir. The power and value of woman is one of the least understood and misunderstood truths out there today. Women have never really been in the shadows.

After all, who's raising all those strong, courageous, capable men?


Stephanie Humphreys said...

Well said, Jenna. Well said.

Kendra said...

Love this!

Heidi said...

Right on! I agree, she had no right to talk philosophy in art class AND she has it all wrong. This is such a great post.

isshou ni said...

Oh that I were an angel and could shout that truth to the ends of the world.....Seriously wish we could!

Andrea said...


Lisa said...

I read your blog often so I may as well comment right! I agree! I remember hearing professors profess all kinds of un-truth in college. The proclamation on the family had just come out then and I remember being SO grateful for it!! Although I knew truth I really did, being young and listening to so much un-truth over and over can get confusing. And we still need reminders now even though we are grown-ups. Lines continue to blur around us everyday. P.S. I voted for you :)

Vennesa said...

If you're like me, you think of all these things to say AFTER the fact! This is perfect Jenna. Not that it would chang her view, but I wish she could read what you've written.

Anne/kq said...

What's funny is, if you look at the great paintings of women, especially from the Renaissance era-- those women are STRONG. Michelangelo's models were housewives, they did manual labor on a daily basis. Stronger than most men nowadays.

I would probably have tuned out as soon as she started in, and just sang a song in my head while I looked at pretty pictures. LOL.

perkiwindy said...

The biggest thing I hated about college were professors like that. They take advantage of their place in the classroom and the captive audience. Teach philosophy in philosophy class. Have some respect. I am glad she is at least a fun and interesting art teacher or I would complain BIG time if I were you!

Alejandra said...

It seems like most professors think alike. They preach diversity, equality, tolerance. But the truth is there is no real diversity when it comes to their way of thinking. I heard teachers talk like this all trough college. Even though I was very young, I knew better, but so many of my classmates took everything the teachers said as "the truth", very frustrating. I totally know how you feel, thanks for sharing!

Luisa Perkins said...

One of your best posts.

Curls said...

Excellent post!

MDB said...

This is incredibly powerful. Bravo. XO