Brace yourself, this is a long one.
In the above photo I am wearing a Handful Bra with padded inserts and the camisole I am wearing says,
‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’.
This week, I read Stephanie Forsyth’s post called, ‘I Yam What I Yam‘, where she talks about being a potty mouth, beer guzzling, super-rad, quilter chick who doesn’t want to put on airs to please anyone else. Well? She stirred the pot and now I want to write a similar post.
I have kept this blog for many years, I was an early adopter and was blogging when few quilters had blogs. I published Inspired to Quilt in 2009 and my latest book in 2012. For years I thought my ‘audience’ was traditional quilters who had an artistic side that they wanted to indulge. I don’t think this anymore. I think I have gathered a community of artistic people and that I am a member of an artistic community who are interested in expanding and growing visually, many of these people know how to quilt traditionally, but only do so occasionally or under duress. 🙂 (I am kidding about that part.)
I have a personal history of catering to a ‘presumed audience’, with biases and traditions that do not apply to me or my work. In the face of this, I have held my tongue in fear of offending a potential reader of my blog and books.
Want to know some of my thoughts?
I don’t like the term quilt art. I think that the focus remains on quilt in the traditional sense and not art. When we show ‘quilt art’ in quilt shows, it separates us from the art world. Quilt shows provide space to show (which is wonderful), but degrades the ability of the quilt artist to be taken seriously in the art world because the focus is on conjuring as many categories as possible, so that as many quilts as possible can be shown. At the same time, quilt art is often judged by traditional quilt standards, when it does not seem that the judges are well versed in art history, tradition or technique. Many quilt shows also run along side consumer events which is an engine in itself, and a bit of a distraction from the event itself.
I argue that traditional quilting is a fabulous craft (This is not a bad word! Rather it is a respectable word used by people who hone their skills to high standards, to present beautiful and functional objects), and that art is art, non-functional in use, perhaps inspirational or confrontational and artist’s must learn many skills too, drawing, composition, color theory, history, materials and how to use them, to name a few. Artists cannot and should not work in a vacuum and I fear that many quilt artists work in the vacuum of the traditional/quilt art community.
I think it is great to have quilt shows (I both participate in and enjoy them), and understand that quilters have gone unnamed and and created works in anonymity for much too long, perhaps our need to fit as many categories as possible into each show is as a result of this. I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand how difficult it is for female art to get seen either, these shows do wonders in this respect. I just wish that the cross over between the quilt art world and the art world was not so vast and I question weather we do ourself a disservice by showing our work in insular, mixed focus environments. It is almost as if we parallel play with both the traditional quilt world and the art world.
And don’t get me started with ‘crafty art supplies’. I want my pigments and paints to mix to the color I-intend-to-mix and use, and so I want them labeled with pigment names and numbers so that I can get the repeatable results no matter what sub straight or media I use the paint on. I do not like using supplies whose real intention is getting me to purchase brand name refills.
Now onto some other topics that I would like to open up and explore in this space. It is no secret that I had breast cancer and that I opted out of ‘reconstructing’ my body. Choosing not to reconstruct and not wear prothesis is an interesting proposition. If you look at the numbers, 1 in 5 American women have (immediate) reconstruction after breast cancer treatment. This means that 4 out of 5 women are… wearing prothesis? I don’t know. If these numbers are right, there are a fair amount of Very Quiet Unobtrusive Women out there. Luckily for me, there are also a good number of women who are banding together to create community based on our Flat and Fabulous perspective. If you are flat and would like to join a private group for some support, comment and I will hook you up.
It may be a good time to read my Role/Reboot article on this topic.
So I wonder, why are all of these women being so quiet, where are they, why can’t I see them? Why are there such expectations for conformity and body image? After surviving breast cancer treatment, why is the human body, with all of its beauty and will to remain healthy, not enough? Must we put on the prothesis and carry on like nothing happened? Must we hide behind a body image standard that is no longer possible as a result of this disease? Is it because breasts make us female, womanly, feminine and without breasts we are…inadequate?
Recently I have begin to think that perhaps I am gender queer. I do not think similarly to the mainstream, I do not think you are either male or female. Gender is not a two way street. I don’t think this is a discussion about gender at all, but rather one of being human, open, compassionate, willing to accept difference and if need be to celebrate that difference. What makes this a discussion of gender is that mainstream society, and even the breast cancer community does not question the ‘breasts make us female idea’ often or thoroughly enough.
Are my scars, gotten through battle with breast cancer just too scary to contemplate? Is it freightening to know, to see, to understand that women get scarred from breast cancer?
Please watch this video:
I really like and appreciate the work David Jay has done with The Scar Project. He has opened the door for a more thorough discussion of breast cancer, reconstruction and opting out of reconstruction. The above video rubbed me wrong when I first watched it. Now that I have had some time to think it through, I understand that what rubbed me wrong. David Jay was shocked to see the removal of a breast. Women’s breasts are sacrosanct, revered, used (and abused). David Jay made me realize that society is not acclimated to seeing women have scars, get scarred, or be scarred. As more women like myself begin to talk about our experience, and embrace the choice of Going Flat, as I like to call it, this body image will gain greater acceptance. And hallelujah! (When one of the plastic surgeons I interviewed said that ‘reconstructed breasts looked good in clothing’, he meant it, and to me, the amount of time spent on creating the look of breasts without the sensation or function is not worth the risks).
All of this is to say, my feminist head had been reared and I don’t feel like holding back anymore! Breast cancer is not going away any time soon, unfortunately. If I can be a voice for a simple, noninvasive and really quite beautiful result-bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, I will and gladly. (In fact, I am actively doing this, the breast cancer support forum I use has no pages on what to expect when opting out of reconstruction, no pages on what to discuss with your surgeon, if you need a plastic surgeon, or what testing proceedures to expect after having bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. I asked why this is and now they are creating content that says more than, “Some women decide not to have reconstruction and opt for a prosthesis instead.” And I got myself invited to a luncheon presented by City of Hope where I hope to make connections and to network on behalf of women who opt out. Doctors and nurses fall prey to societal expectations of the female form too! And I have the energy to speak out.)
And last but not least, goodness gracious, have I been having fun lifting weights! I have never been into exercise, but when I was diagnosed, I knew it was the one thing that might help me fight disease, it is an action that I can accomplish to help my body function as well as it possibly can for as long as possible. This space will not become a fitness blog, not by any means, but I will discuss my gains, how it makes me feel and I may well show my ‘guns‘ every now and again.
I am tired of not being fully present to myself. Not voicing my thoughts, needs, concerns. I have faced my mortality and do not want to live by half. So, thank you Stephanie. Thanks for speaking up on your own behalf and helping me do the same. And hey, if you, dear reader, don’t agree with me? Speak up! Minds are made for changing and my opinions and thoughts are no more important than yours.