Responses to questions posed by Radhika Subramaniam What’s your Baby? The Presence of Their Absence: The Prejudice Against Women Without Children.
How does society view childless women? -- is much too broad. but I think
it would help to find something absolutely concrete from which to explore the questions that drive you:
I agree. The subject of society’s view of childless women is much too broad.
However, I don’t think that’s what I proposed nor do I have I any intention of or desire to compare Park Slope to Prenzlauer Berg or the U.S. to Georgia. If my
proposal reads that way, perhaps it was inadequately stated.
What I am exploring, and hope my art expresses, is the idea, the thesis, that societies view childless women pejoratively and often discriminate against them. I present this as a thesis because I don’t believe this proposition is either widely recognized or anywhere accepted. It is rarely, if ever, raised as an issue in the feminist or cultural readings I’ve encountered. When it has been suggested, the writings often devolved into complaints by women who dearly wished they could have had children. The idea of childlessness by choice seems simply anathema, and the concept that such women face ostracism in a variety of modes seems to be on the radar of none but a very small number of academics. I have experienced the glancing blow of our cultural hostility toward childlessness myself, albeit in the mild form of dismissive and negative remarks. And my research to date has uncovered hostile attitudes and actions directed at childless women among many cultures, especially the most traditional, as well as many historical examples. This attitude prevails even in the art world. Scores of male artists have abandoned their children and families without earning more than passing references in their biographies. Many are romanticized as needing to flee the constrains of conventional domestic life to pursue their art. Women following the same path, like Louise Nevelson and ceramicist Reiko Cohen, are often vilified. I also agree with, and appreciate, your recommendation to find one or more “concrete” examples to use as a lens to focus my work. I would not want my final project to amount to no little than an editorial largely supported by personal opinions so I am looking for appropriate examples.
Artistically, I have been thinking about the idea of the missing child in contemporary art, and how it is portrayed. What, if anything, do childless women and men use as stand-ins? What, actually, is a family? In traditional cultures, families are mostly about children. Western or advanced cultures are more inclusive and less doctrinaire yet also heavily biased toward the centrality of children. My art work, I hope, will be an intuitive, emotional reaction to this reality.
This isn't new so what has got under your skin now?
Childless women are more and more in the news or I am paying more attention to them. It also bothers me that discussions of childlessness are almost always by or about women, rarely men. Even Time magazine’s recent, relatively sympathetic Aug. 12 cover story, “The Childfree Life,” suggests that those who don’t contribute to society biologically don’t contribute at all. The article generated a tremendous level of conversation.
What got you going? What gets you going about women without
children? Is it the presumption that motherhood is considered the absolute pinnacle of female completion?
My mother was a maternity nurse, and my childhood was filled with stories of her work life before she married and had four children of her own. I always assumed I would have a child, but also knew, by the time I was a little older, that there might be problems. So-called stomach aches plagued me as a kid, but my parents ignored my complaints as our household was chaotic and filled with the rough and tumble of childish interactions and altercations. I was 14, away at summer camp, far from home, when the old, familiar pain returned. This time, I was sent to a hospital as it was thought I might have appendicitis. To the shock of the surgeon in Bracebridge, Ontario, 500 miles north of Toronto, in the middle of nowhere, he found an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit. Caught by surprise, he excised the cyst through an incision made for the presumed appendicitis, and assured my mother the procedure would not impact my fertility. Six months later, back at home in suburban Buffalo, the pain returned, searing and spasmodic, but fading away by the time my parents returned from as weekend trip. One month later, the pain came to stay. My mother’s maternity training finally kicked in and she helped me manage the pain by feeding me ice chips and having me practice relaxation techniques. The family (so-called)
doctor, thinking my pain was a misguided cry for attention, prescribed some drug costing $17 per dose in 1971 dollars. The drug only made me vomit. After a week at home trying to manage the pain, I saw in the mirror an unknown person looking back. I looked like a Biafra baby, I thought. My eyes seemed enormous and my stomach was distended from my inability to keep down any food or even water. My mother called my father (a doctor!) and instructed him to meet us at Sister’s Hospital Emergency Room. As it turned out, i had been walking around for seven months with more than a foot of gangrenous bowel inside which an obstruction had formed. The obstruction, along with a portion of my colon, were surgically excised. Adhesions from the Bracebridge and Buffalo procedures, along with polycystic ovarian syndrome, contributed to my later inability to become pregnant. Two rounds of Clomid and Perganol in the late 1980’s proved ineffective. My husband and I had bought an apartment in Park Slope when, on the cusp of renovation, he lost his job. We decided to continue with the renovation. “Maybe we should just focus on us,” he said. We did. “Make a decision: have children or not,” a gynecologist at the time said to me. “If you can’t have them biologically, consider other options. But if you are not going to have children, live a life you can’t if you do have children.” His words were like a gift. I realized I had other options. We moved on. Teaching entered my life, and I began to focus more strongly on my art. There are many ways to contribute to the world. The tyranny of maternity is an idea almost as controversial today as when it was suggested by Shulamith Firestone in 1970’s The Dialectic of Sex. Women will not be fully emancipated, Firestone wrote, until they are free from the demands of biology. Back then, emancipation’s tools referred to concepts like artificial insemination and surrogacy that were little better than science fiction. Today, these and other alternative maternities are widespread. Yet, rather than release women from maternity’s grip, they have added new pressures to women in pursuit of biological childbearing, often at great cost to their health and finances. The most radical notion of motherhood, one might argue, is not to have children in the first place. After we moved to Park Slope, known in part for its helicopter parents, I was surprised at the response I got when I said I had no children. One woman,
visually repulsed by my declaration, moved to a different corner of the room in which we were both exercising. At a memorial event for an art school friend who died from a rare cancer, I was chastised for not having children. My late friend was a very observant Jew, and mother of five. While she was non-judgmental, her orthodox community was not. The community believed every Jewish couple should have at least three children, two to replace themselves, and one to replace those lost in the Holocaust. Given that both my husband and I are Jews, our childlessness was horrifying, even disgusting, to some at this event. I realize am blessed in my relatively privileged middle-class American world with support from friends and family. Such hostility as does come my way from women often follows my declaration that my decision not to have children was the best I ever made. Once I was clear I would never “have it all,” the occasional scorn I’ve since experienced became the blowback. But it was a backlash in a Western sense, intended to leave me with hurt feelings more than a damaged life. Still, it was enough to make me wonder about the costs of childlessness — both in my own world, and in more rigid, more strictly traditional societies explicitly structured for marriages with children. I felt flooded with questions. Are childless women actively discriminated against? Who takes up the slack for working women when they take maternity leaves? Are there tax penalties for childless couples? In parts of Africa, India and Asia, motherhood is the only or principal way in which women are valued. The consequences for childless women are correspondingly more dire and include social and communal exclusion, shame, divorce, the denial of benefits, even suicide. Even here, the religion-driven right wing relentlessly threatens to make at least one form of childlessness a crime through its decades-long war against abortions. It has murdered abortion doctors, threatened women’s health clinics throughout the country, scoured 87 percent of all counties of their abortion-capable facilities, and imposed politically driven, medically unnecessary requirements in those abortion clinics still remaining, including 24-hour waiting periods, needless ultrasound tests, even vaginal probes. Is domestic terrorism part of the price of deciding to not have a child?
I believe a research question or a written program should propel your work
forward and even when not related to a studio practice, should be an open-‐ended question that really gnaws at one.
Again, I agree. I need to focus better and explore more sources that resonate with my studio work. I must admit I have found it difficult to find other artists, filmmakers and writers who deal with the issues surrounding a woman’s decision or inability to not have children. The empty garments of Mary Kelly’s son in Post-Partum Document, printed with the minutia of his care, are antecedents to the embroidered dresses of my own Baby (Not) On Board, but the dresses in my series had not been and were not intended to be worn. However, when I used them to clothe realistic dolls, their already surreal quality was only enhanced. A related issue is the way in which women are discredited as soon as they become pregnant from many of their other accomplishments. Often, the absence of support systems make it difficult or impossible for pregnant women to keep working unless they are in senior positions or relatively wealthy. Childcare, housekeeping, cooking all take time, energy and money to sustain. The costs of raising and educating children are enormous, and conservative political and religious elements seem always among the first to cut services, such as food stamps and Headstart, badly needed by families for their children. Recently, I showed my 88-year old mother the photos I have been making and noticed she really responded to the dolls. So I bought her one. It was transformative. She responded to the doll as if it were a real baby. I have started to photograph her with the doll, as well as the two of us with the doll. The results are poignant, and may suggest an unexpected further direction for my work. Laura Gonzalez has suggested my project may not be so much about what it does or does not mean to be a mother as about what it means to have a mother. I expect I will also take a closer look at motherhood through this window as well.
Here are some ideas, artists and books I have been thinking about as a result of research and my conversation with Laura during our studio visit: Ideas/References/Resources
Double bind: the confl;icting demands on mothers as artists
Kiki Smith, sculptor who often uses bodies and other organic shapes
Senzeni Marasela, Black Dolls project
Caitlin Berrigan and Anya Liftig, Adoring Appetites
obsessive desire to be pregnant by a very orthodox Jewish woman www.jacquelinenicholls.com/maybe-this-month.html
Industry of the Ordinary, Chicago-based interactive group www.industryoftheordinary.com/html/projects-baby.html
Gender Trouble, Judith Butler
Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Robbie E. Davis-Floyed
Tariq Yasin September 21, 1964 Date of Joining PAEC March 12, 1989 Ph.D. (Polymer Chemistry) Professor/Deputy Chief Scientist Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering, Pakistan Institute of Engineering & Applied Sciences, Nilore, Islamabad, PAKISTAN. Phone No.: (051)9248610, 2207380-82 Ext: 3667 (0ff), (051) 5493016 (Res), 0333-9854775 Fax N
The Press Archives of the Herder-Institut: Potential, Problems and Prospects Karl von Delhaes1 Formation and structure of the collections The Herder-Institut started collecting newspapers from East Central Europe in 1952. At the same time, clippings were filed systematically according to an index of (currently) 450topics. At first, these rapidly growing archives mainly served the sta