Sunday, August 26, 2012


Contributed by a guest blogger who prefers to remain anonymous

1993. I lived in a small town in New England. It was an afternoon in late May. I sat on the toilet in the corner of my tiny bathroom, a yellow tunnel of translucent dust shooting out of the window. The pink and red Victorian wallpaper undulated in waves around me. I sat there, my heart in my throat, half panic-stricken, half disbelieving, at the white plastic stick perched on the edge of the pedestal sink. The blurry blue hieroglyphics slowly made symbols that would be the rest of my life. Either it would float along (my life, mine), this moment like a tiny crack in the sidewalk, or it would stop. I was twenty-one years old. It was positive.

At seventeen I had fled a claustrophobic Southern town with my feet pressing all the way down on the gas. I went flying, naively and idiotically, into a small liberal arts college. It was a place of unshaven legs and Birkenstocks. I came armed with makeup and hot rollers. I may as well have gone to Mars. It took about eight months for all the coils to unravel. I woke up in the middle of the night because my metal twin bed seemed to be banging against the wall, my heart was beating so hard. This happened over and over. I remember a dark-haired doctor looking me square in the eye and telling me my EEG was normal. Telling me to see a counselor. I remember a counselor looking me square in the eye and telling me to see a psychologist.

So I did. I learned how to talk in that shrink’s office. Months of silence became baby steps of words, became a torrent of fucked up shit. Once I started I had no more control over it than I did over the rotation of the earth. As I learned how to speak, all the pieces started breaking apart. Whatever fantasy I had about escaping the South and going to college was over. Major Depression crashed the party, held hands with Panic Disorder and then made out with Agoraphobia. (My diagnostic hydra.) I was a goddamn mess. I tried to go back to school sophomore year but after three more trips to the infirmary I was politely but firmly instructed to take a “medical leave.” This is administration-speak for “We don’t want you offing yourself in a campus bathtub.” It goes on like this for four more years.

Back to 1993. I have a serious mental illness. Somehow that year I’d managed to graduate. I had no idea what the hell I was going to do next. My degree, back then, probably cost $100,000, but I was only qualified to wait tables. And I was really sick. In a few short months I would have no health insurance. Now I was pregnant.

The vitriol and hatred aimed squarely at women right now knocks the wind out of me, takes me off guard like a sucker-punch. I don’t understand it. Freud, that bastard, named it best. The white men who hate gays with a fucking fervor they only otherwise reserve for homosexual trysts at a roadside Holiday Inn? Reaction formation. Those wackos outside of abortion clinics screaming about baby killers? Projection. But why women? Why now? Why this particular moment in time? Why the frantic, finger-pointing, bible-thumping, sweaty-browed rants? I mean, they’ve been there for a long time but now they seem to be swelling into some kind of misogynistic tsunami. It’s fucking nuts.

What gets lost in all that noise are the personal stories. Some politicians have acquiesced to allow women to make decisions about their own bodies “in the case of rape or incest.” Or, perhaps, if the pregnancy “threatens the woman’s life.” But what does that mean? I was fucking positive I could not survive a pregnancy. Pregnancy meant going off my meds meant getting sick meant slicing my wrists open. Does that “count?” Do I count?

I had an abortion. I chose it. Me. Twenty-one. Mentally ill. No health insurance.
I remember quietly telling my shrink it was the first decision I had ever, truly made for myself. Just. Myself. I could not have survived a pregnancy. So I did choose life. I chose mine. And I don’t regret it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Where are the Women in ART?

By Courtney McDermott
Can you name three female visual artists? Artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson posed this challenge in her documentary !WomenArtRevolution, which relays the feminist art movement of the 1960s and 70s. I happened to come across this documentary on Netflix, when I was, naturally, procrastinating from my own art—writing. One of the most compelling, albeit horrifying, clips in the film was the opening clip when Leeson interviewed people coming in and out of the MET on the above question. Other than the notorious Frida Kahlo, people were at a loss.
            I felt smug. What about Mary Cassatt? Or Georgia O’Keeffe? Or Diane Arbus? I thought, but I acknowledge I have an unfair advantage—my mother was an art teacher, and I’ve been frequenting art museums since I was a baby. Even with that fortunate upbringing, I was still hard pressed to name many more than three artists.
            The documentary highlighted such fascinating works by Judy Chicago, Nancy Spero, and Hannah Wilke. As a writer, other artists intrigue me, so I became concerned that maybe the female artist is still threatened, still overlooked and unheard. Even in the literary world, the most oft-cited females these days are Stephanie Meyers and E.L. James (and don’t even get me started on them). The other day, a friend of mine (a smart, educated, witty woman my age) posted on her Facebook wall a link to the 25 best quotes on writing. Most of them were pretty fantastic. Only two of them were by women.
            Obviously, this is just one webpage, and it doesn’t mean that women don’t have great things to say about their art. They just aren’t being quoted or cited, or even taught.
            Last year, I taught English in the most hellatious prep school imaginable. I left mid-year for a number of reasons, but one (and not an insignificant one) was that I felt at odds with the curriculum being taught. In freshman English, only one poem on the entire curriculum was written by a woman. Nothing else. In American literature, in order to adapt to the new trimester system, a number of books had been cut from the curriculum. They axed Toni Morrison and Kate Chopin; Emily Dickinson was the one remaining female voice. We all need an Awakening! I tried to protest, but my indignation was met with silence.
            Silence has been the enemy of the female artists, so I was more than delighted to read the myriad news articles recently on Pussy Riot and their artistic reaction to the Putin regime. A number of YouTube comments derided the type of music, declaring that these women weren’t making music or art. I disagree; they have a point of view, they use an art medium, and they are reaching people. They’re artists. And they just happen to be women.
            The Pussy Riot incident (and no one was more gleeful than I to hear the words Pussy Riot uttered from the mouths of congressmen and women) propelled me to search out other female artists. Like Lena Denham and her hit HBO series Girls. I like this series so much Dunham gives voice to an array of 20-something women, without glamorizing their lifestyle. I get the distinct sense that I would be friends with Dunham if I ever met her.
            Then there is the Living Walls project in Atlanta (a project that encourages street art to enliven dilapidated neighborhoods), which only commissioned female artists this year. The fact that an art show must intentionally create a female-only show highlights how much women have been overlooked in the art world.  
             In my daily life, I write. But I decided to turn towards my childhood roots and create visual art. After watching !WomenArtRevolution, I scribbled down half a dozen ideas for drawings. I first completed the drawing, “Alone in this Duet,” and upon completion, I pulled out more art supplies, and I finished “Mutilation.”

            Don’t worry, I won’t quit my day job, but the very act of creating something, giving a physical body to the feelings and frustrations and delights I keep inside, is pretty liberating. Writing is my personal trick card that I need to pull out more often, because it lets me state what I think is important. I have decided to turn to my Twitter page (which has been underused and ignored) and devote its contents to the expression, support and acknowledgement of female artists (@courtmcdermott). Because women are out there making art, and as a woman, I find it not only important, but necessary to our very survival to acknowledge and teach about these artists, so that when someone else asks the question, “Can you name three female artists?” the answers will come readily.
            Hand over the crayons and the pencils, the violin bows and the paint cans, and let all girls, all women, create some art. In fact, I think I might go create some art now.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Be My Guest

I am taking a break from blogging.  I have too much on my plate right now with teaching, writing, and parenting.  Yes, that is almost always the case but right now I am especially aware of it.  But I do not want the conversation to die.  (Most of the conversation takes place in Facebook.  Nobody ever posts here.  But there is usually some chat after each blog post.)  Anyway, I would like any of you who read this to consider doing a guest blog post.  My mother-in-law tells me that the blog is popular among the over 60s she knows.  I would love a post on senior-feminism or grand-mothering or aging or any other topics you like. Or blogs from any of the childless gals out there or single moms or stay at home moms, or whomever has anything they want to say that has to do with being a feminist or quasi feminist these days.

Just send me an email with your post -- you can send it as an attachment or type it in the email.  I will do the rest.