The Public Eye On Women
I wish I knew the original inspiration behind this piece, "A Cinderella Story." Like much of my artwork though, there's not always one single inspiring "Ah-Ha!" moment but rather fragments which begin to piece themselves together. These fragments come from childhood stories or nursery rhymes, articles or books I've studied, experiences I've either had or heard about, all rattling around until they begin to form the links of an idea for a collage.
If I was going to make up a beginning, I'd say that this collage came from the idea of the manipulation of women, both by men and by other women. I might also say that it came from the idea that what is shown to the public (by ourselves or others) is not always the full story. A beautiful woman who seems perfectly put together, may inwardly feel something very different, hiding behind the scrim of what she shows to those around her. I might also say it came from my long-standing interest in puppets, the art of puppetry but also the idea of the puppetmaster. The beautiful woman's actions then, may not be her own volition but may be heavily influenced by one or many other people, knowingly exerting their influence upon her. This collage might also have stemmed from my very very long work in and love for the theatre arts, where nothing is what it seems and in most theatre experiences, how the experience is created is hidden from the audience.
All of these backgrounds came together to form the idea for "A Cinderella Story." At the very heart of it however, I believe this is a story about how women present themselves. A friend told me one time that any time she had a success or failure, it was not simply chalked up to her own ability or inability - but there was an implied idea that being a woman either helped or hindered her. Another friend has told me that she will never leave the house without high heels or makeup on because she doesn't want to be viewed as one of those "sloppy women who doesn't care." Another friend has told me how she and her group of girl friends will talk to each other one way when they are alone, but completely different when there is the possibility of male attention around them. Whether we are fully conscious of these shifts or not, women behave a certain way when they present themselves to the public Because they are women. Even if that presentation is a denial of femininity or is "anti-woman," that in itself is a result of being a woman and being conscious on some level of what that means in the public eye. If I choose to go to the market with or without eyeliner, I am making that decision knowing how it will be perceived one way versus the other and I decide to wear eyeliner based on which perception I want to encourage. There has never been once that I've put on eyeliner because I just absolutely love the experience of poking my eyelids with a fine pencil.
The collage then is a beautiful woman onstage, beautifully dressed, impeccably styled, perfectly composed, all the things expected of women once we walk out our doors. Upon looking closer though, barely seen and mostly concealed in the background, there is a greying image of a depressed woman in her background. Women are more fortunate than men in that we're given more latitude in expressing emotion but there is still a stigma against any other than the temporary upset - postpartum depression is one example that comes to mind of a disorder so many women suffer from but that is only beginning to be talked about. The woman herself, when investigated, is not as composed as she seemed at first glance but rather composed in pieces, each being manipulated and controlled by the female puppet masters. Here, I'd like to pause and note that for as often as I hear women complain about the judgements and standards men put upon them, I hear as many if not more about the judgements we face from other women, often though Much more subtle. Every kind of comment from what a woman is wearing, to her hair, to her weight, to her voice or laugh, to her behaviour is enough to shame any woman into presenting herself in a certain way to her harshest critics - other women. As a female, I know I don't often think of my influence on other woman, but anyone who has heard the snide remark under breath, or viewed the raised eyebrows when they've walked in, or heard the laugh and seen the quickly turned head, knows that influence is there and it can be powerful.
In this collage however, I present the idea that the two women manipulators are themselves the victims of a male puppet master. Even though their hands control the strings of the stage woman, their heads are controlled by a barefoot, sloppily dressed, casual looking male who isn't looking down or away from the audience but straight at them. Although, there have probably been numerous books and articles and studies on why women choose to bring each other down rather than build each other up, I present through this piece that consciously or not, they are heavily influenced by the standards and expectations which are set by men. These standards and expectations end up driving competition between women rather than cooperation.
The title "A Cinderella Story," came from the small magazine snippet I found bearing the same words which applied so rightfully to this piece that even though I rarely use words in my work, I had to include this one. The story of Cinderella can not only be viewed as so deeply layered, especially when reading it from a feminist perspective, but each of the layers seemed to fit with this piece. The transforming of Cinderella from who she is at home (dreadfully sad and dreadfully hardworking) to the woman she presents at the ball (perfectly beautiful and perfectly quiet), the influence of the stepsisters on her through the shaming of her at home and the hatred of her at the ball, and finally the influence the prince has on all of them - even though not an intentionally manipulative or "bad" man in the story, all of the actions of the women derive from gaining his favor and/or attention.
The collage itself took about three months to put together and create, but the inspiration behind the collage has been part of a long process of discovery of not only what it means to be a women but where do the influences truly originate from that determine how I, as a woman, behave or present myself to the public.