Artists: Sarah McEwan and Julie Montgarrett Performed by Lauren Smith as a part of Correspondence of Imaginary Places in New York City.
Every day, comments are made to women which shape their identity, behaviours, social groups and self worth. Most of these are said with such frequency that we hardly acknowledge them. The phrases run the gamut, addressing behaviour and appearance along with directing our aspirations and goals. Some remind us of the womanly condition we are subjected to (“are you on your period?” ) or label us as weak (“Are you sure you can carry that?”), incapable (“little girl”) objects (“Be a doll and….”) who should aspire to be conservatively poised (“that’s not ladylike”), attractive (“could you put some make-up on?”) homemakers (“When are you going to get married and have kids?”).
Ten women came together on International Women’s Day in New York City to speak up by participating in the Daily Diminish textile artwork. Creating 20 signs, these textile pieces gave a platform to women’s voices allowing them to unveil the comments and feelings which have been swept-under-the-rug for years. I met with these women in small groups to listen to their stories and experiences. It was interesting to hear how casually flippant insulting comments were passed off from male suitors (“Whatever, you’re ugly anyways.” “Part of you would love it if I raped you”) and which comments we have heard most frequently (“You should smile more”).
I had several months leading up to this project to consider which phrases I would write. Through this time, I witnessed the contentious 2016 United States Presidential Election, attended the Women’s March and faced my own social status as one of many single NYC female artist grinning their way through years of customer service. I pondered the ways women are passively and directly reminded of their position in society and revisited the instructions and warnings people had given me in my youth.
Many of them were well-intentioned, aiming to relieve me of a burden (“sit there and look pretty” “let your brother do that”) or keep me away from harm (“girls who party pay”). Although it was disheartening to acknowledge the plethora of consistently delivered sexist comments I have learned to live with, I found solace and camaraderie through the creation of this artwork and sharing these common experiences. Unexpectedly, as the ten women wrote and photographed their textile pieces discussions sparked among the people surrounding us.
Whether it was a by-standing roommate, a passing car full of young men, coworkers, or local folks standing near us at the bar, different members of the community listened to our experiences, shared their own stories and showed their support. Publicly acknowledging this oppressive rhetoric created a pathway for conversation and support; letting women know that they are not alone in these experiences and there are many people within their community who actively want to change how women are viewed and spoken to.
As we continue to defend our rights on a legislative level, it was refreshing to find compassion and encouragement in through this grassroots textile artwork. The Daily Diminish offered an opportunity to connect fellow New Yorkers of various backgrounds and identities to combat the long-fought battle of sexism. On International Women’s Day 2017, I am more grateful than ever to have found this support.