Revisiting “Beyond Betty”
I painted the above image three years ago, at the beginning of my senior year of high school. I am now about to enter my junior year of college. It was one of the first things I ever posted and wrote about on this blog, and on the blog for young feminists “The Fbomb.” You can find the link to the original post here: http://sketchbookradical.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/beyond-betty/ and here:http://thefbomb.org/2011/07/a-feminist-image-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/
One of the comments on that post came from blogger “mhuzzell,” who wrote, “My eye caught on the apparent fancy-schmancy silver quality of the cutlery-crucifix, and read in some class messages as well. Partly, probably, from knowing what I know about Betty Friedan’s own class background. I guess I saw it as both a sarcastic commentary on upper/upper-middle-class housewives feeling like martyrs even when in a lot of ways they’re insanely privileged, and at the same time a sober recognition that even people with a lot of economic privilege can have these very stifling social norms that they have to fit into. Meanwhile the title ‘Beyond Betty’ made me think it was about moving past the phase of feminism that focuses disproportionately on upper/middle class housewives (or, these days, on the handful of women who manage to get themselves into powerful positions in business and government), and as advocating a more populist feminism. The woman’s expression, to me, looks quite petulant, which I think reinforces the sarcastic interpretation.”
None of this had occurred to me. The comment was a turning point regarding how I viewed feminism as a whole, and directed me toward intersectional feminism and criticisms of mainstream feminists like Betty Friedan. I read Alice Walker and other feminists of color on why mainstream feminism has been such a toxic place for non-white and/or working-class women, and for transgender women. Three years later, I look at this painting and see an unwitting “petulance” that well describes the attitudes of cisgender, white feminists who refuse to involve themselves in the vital intersection of feminism, race, and class.
As a white, cisgender, middle-class woman myself, I have a lot of privilege that I did not properly recognize as a teenager. In a few years, I’ll probably look back and cringe at the things I write and the things I’m making now, but the point is that I continue to grow as an activist, feminist, and ally. As I learn more from people who have lived very different lives, I see that one of the most important parts of being a good activist and a good friend is admitting fault and remaining open to new and conflicting information.
So thank you, mhuzzell/Aldebaran, and all the other people who have ever talked with me about art and activism (shout-out to the Crauzats- hope I’m spelling that correctly!- who sought me out this week to share their thoughts on life and on this blog and even to give me gifts; I’m honored). I can only hope I have been a quarter as useful.