Tag Archives: feminism

Supporting and Nurturing the Mother-Artist

Nurturing the Mother-Artist

When I was pregnant with my eldest daughter, I was a textile artist creating large-scale, multi-fiber installations. By the time my second daughter was born, my experiments with color and texture had expanded to include light, which led me to incorporate stained glass into my work, and later to abandon the textiles. For the next few years, I constructed lamps and panels in a variety of studios, including a storefront beside a motorcycle shop, a kiosk in a field that was part of a crafts village, an artisans’ co-op in a former fishing shanty, and later, our townhouse kitchen. None were ideal for a young mother with toddlers, especially since my chosen medium involved glass shards and soldering lead! What had I been thinking?

I began to realize that I was being called a crafter rather than the artist I aspired to be, and that some aspects of the art world were unfriendly to someone who was a mother-artist. And the logistics of shows and material-buying trips were getting complicated, even with my husband’s support. Even though he and I were equally sharing the parenting role and he was prepared to support my art in terms of income generation, I began to think a change was required, especially since our daughters would be learning without school. So, somewhat reluctantly, I opted for a safer and more flexible life of writing and editing. (And I do realize how privileged I was/am – at least I had a supportive partner and wasn’t a single mother trying to juggle everything by myself.)

I have never gone back to doing art. (At this stage, I’m struggling to re-learn how to knit!) And I can’t say I’ve ever really regretted the choice to switch my creative focus. My mothering has most definitely enhanced – even defined – my writing over the years. I also doubt I would have made any more money as an artisan than I have as a writer; artists and writers – like mothers and other caregivers, male or female – are marginalized in a capitalist world.

The decision, which turned into a home-based family publishing business, seems to have been a good choice for our life learning family too. We integrated the business into our family life fairly well, although we didn’t grow it as quickly as our ambitions wanted, in order to spend time nurturing our school-free daughters. (I don’t use the term “balance” because I don’t think there was any….) I loved working alongside our daughters. They learned a great deal about life and business – and creativity – from participating in our work. And our employees were hired with the understanding that pausing to help a child spell a word or play catch was part of their job description. So life has been good.

However, when the light shines through one of the very few smaller pieces of my work that have survived four decades and many moves, I find myself wishing that I’d been able to find a way to continue developing as a glass artist. On other days, I wonder if I would have been a more prolific and creative writer if I’d had at least some time to myself when my daughters were small…and been able to find a community of fellow writers. I wonder if father-artists change careers when children came along, or if people wonder if fatherhood has changed their work. And would my work (and, yes, my work as an unschooling advocate too) have been more accepted if I weren’t classified as a “mother-artist?”

Now, there is more support for the mother-artist. I recently came across this wonderful Artist Residency in Motherhood designed by Pittsburgh-based mother-artist Lenka Clayton to empower artists who are also mothers. I’ve often thought about how wonderful it would have been if one of those artisans’ markets or co-ops in which I was involved forty years ago had been dedicated to mother-artists so that we could have worked together to assist, support, and inspire each other. And this experimental creative space for mother-artists and their children in London, England seems like just that thing. The model is too late for me, but I hope it inspires other solutions for nurturing the mother-artist.

And, in the end, mothering is an art too, isn’t it?

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When Activist Icons Undermine Their Causes

When activist icons undermine their causes.

Many problems arise when working on issues that aren’t solved quickly; one is that the issues can outlive those who have been publicly working on them for a long time. And sometimes, those veterans of the cause who become activist icons can undermine their own work if they hang around too long.

Feminism is one of those causes. We’ve come a long way baby…but we have a long way to go.

For instance, I’m disturbed by recent comments made by two prominent feminists of my generation speaking in favor of their preferred candidate in the nomination process for the U.S. presidential election (in which I have no say and will voice no opinion).

Here’s 81-year-old feminist icon Gloria Steinem the other day: “Women tend to get more radical…because they lose power as they age,” she told broadcaster Bill Maher while discussing why a large number of young women are supporting Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton, who is Steinem’s favorite. “They’re going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you’re younger, you think, ‘where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

And here is 78-year-old Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, scolding those same young women who favor the man in the race and telling them, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

I think these comments are not only condescending, but dangerously sexist and ageist. They are undermining the work Steinem and Albright and their colleagues have accomplished for women’s rights. And they are dismissing the opinions of a generation of energetic, thoughtful young women who have finally found something/someone political to get excited about. Methinks these feminist activist icons didn’t need to do quite so much damage as they campaigned in favor of the woman president that would nicely cap off their feminist careers!

I know a bit about this.

One the issues I’ve worked on for most of my adult life – promoting learner-directed, school-free education – is another of those big elephants that is taking a few generations to turn around.

As I age (I’m 65), and as the ground shifts, my role in that turnaround is changing. I’m actually wondering if my role has run its course. I find myself thinking maybe it’s time to leave the next round to all those younger women (and a few men) who are so capably articulating the issues and supporting the cause…and each other. But for now, some people still listen to what bits of wisdom I have to share. So I stick around, although I’ve largely stepped out of the fray. Mostly, I observe from the sidelines. I marvel at how far we’ve come and how much things have changed, even if the problem still isn’t solved. I turn down speaking engagements and media requests. And I come to terms with the fact that things might not have unfolded completely in line with my personal, original vision.

So, to Steinem and Albright and probably others of my generation (including myself, for whom this is a good reminder), I say this:

Separate yourself and your ego from your work so that your present words and actions don’t undermine your legacy. Be on guard for the day that your opinion on the topic you’ve loved for so long has become so unhelpful or even irrelevant to the current situation that it has become harmful.

On one hand, I admire Steinem’s stance of not giving up the torch; of course, age does not necessarily diminish our ability to be effective.

On the other hand, when we babble counterproductive nonsense, we not only set back the cause we’re engaged in, we stop younger people from respecting us (and others) as elders, and from accepting the torches we’re passing to them.

If I get to that stage and am still hanging around the school-free scene, please just put me on an ice flow (if there are any left) and give it a shove – figuratively, if course. 😉