This article in the Chicago art journal/blog Proximity, titled “This Isn’t Country Time: Stephanie Weiner’s Revolutionary Lemonade Stand,” showed up in my RSS feed this morning, and I skimmed it over with interest because, really, who wouldn’t want to know exactly what a makes a lemonade stand “Revolutionary”?
The piece I read wound up making me all kinds of pissed. It starts out like this:
“At a workers’ rights fundraiser, under a tent, in the pouring rain, artist and activist Stephanie Weiner told a story that cracked me up and gave her a wealth of artistic credibility, at least in my personal opinion. She told me how she was driving around and noticed a kid sporting one of her designs. Stephanie stopped to talk, and much to this teen’s horror, she mentioned that she’d designed the item. The kid was dismayed to find out that his revolutionary accessories were created by a lady who looks like your average “soccer mom.”
Stephanie may be a mom, but she’s certainly not the run of the mill suburban hausfrau. She’s the one-woman force behind Revolutionary Lemonade Stand, a DIY operation that offers clothing, art, accessories, housewares, and other items with powerful, progressive political messages.”
Okay so for the purposes of this rant let’s just bracket the whole problematic notion of a “revolutionary accessory” because that warrants an entirely separate post altogether and I don’t have time this morning, I’ve got loads of housework to do. So, I’ve thoughtfully bolded the sentences in the above paragraphs that I found particularly offensive to make them easier to identify. First off, the writer’s use of the terms “average soccer mom” — wait a sec, please unpack this for me: what qualities in particular relegate women to the status of “looking like” your “average” “soccer mom”, I really want the writer or someone else to spell this out for me in explicit terms; and secondly the phrase “run of the mill suburban hausfrau,” ditto on that one. To the writer of this article, what qualities do you think “run of the mill suburban hausfraus” possess?
The implicit assumption framing this piece is that, if a woman has a kid and lives in a house, that pretty much relegates her to “run of the mill” or “average,” status, unless, of course, she does something openly “revolutionary” to counteract that. Apparently Stephanie Weiner, the subject of this profile, does not fall into the categories of “average” “suburban” “hausfrau” because she is an “activist” and an “artist,” she owns “a few parakeets” (see? she’s kinda kooky and has some imagination—not like your average dull dumpy housewife at all!), and, most importantly, she runs a store called Revolutionary Lemonade Stand which sells a range of unique handcrafted items relating to “Palestinian liberation, worker’s rights, and other people’s struggles.”
Because, you know, your “average suburban housewife” doesn’t give a shit about “other people’s struggles” or anything remotely political. Their brains were sucked out when they popped out their kid(s) and replaced with Jell-o pudding. Right?
Um, wrong. Your “Average” “Suburban” “Hausfrau” is just as likely to be engaged in “other people’s struggles” as an artist like Weiner is, but “ladies who look like your average ‘soccer mom’” generally don’t get profiled in indie art journals.
Don’t get me wrong. The artist profiled in this piece sounds like a perfectly cool person to me, whatever, this isn’t about her. What I don’t like, at all, is the ease with which we all tend to fall back on false categories like “average suburban housewife” and ESPECIALLY crypto-sexist terms like “soccer moms” to denigrate huge groups of people—women, specifically—who are, let’s face it, just people, but who certainly have no better or worse potential than “revolutionary” “artists” do at trying to make the world a more habitable place for everyone. In other words, what a person, a woman, “looks” like (to you) doesn’t tell you, or us, shit about who she is and what she is capable of.
So I call upon all you AVERAGE SUBURBAN HAUSFRAUS to UNITE!! Let’s start our own “Revolution”!!
(Oh wait, didn’t Betty Friedan and Bella Abzug and countless other housewives already do this thirty years ago??).
A few weeks ago on Bad at Sports, I wrote a post about portraiture in the age of Facebook. At the conclusion of the piece, I said this:
“To whatever extent our online selves reflect our offline selves, Haugsjaa and Moore’s portraits make it harrowingly clear that our online profiles and virtual personas have, in a very real sense, escaped us. They/We are up for grabs, ready to be data-mined, added, followed, memed, and retweeted. The opportunity to have one’s portrait painted was once available only to a select few: typically, the very rich or the very poor. Social recognition used to be a privilege. So why does it now seem more like a punishment?”
After writing that paragraph, I kind of laughed at myself for being so hyperbolic with my prose, but for some reason I still didn’t want to change it. Over the weekend, I read an article in the business section of the Chicago Tribune that was pretty horrifying, and I felt that it kind of confirmed my suspicions that nowadays, having one’s photo taken might be more of a punishment than it is a privilege.
I can’t help but think that vile websites like People of Public Transit exist partly as an offshoot of virtual hangouts like Facebook, My Space, and Flickr. I find it more than a little disturbing to think that not only are our images up for grabs in a social media sense; a lot of people now apparently think it’s totally okay, and not at all morally problematic, to snap a stranger’s picture on the subway train and post it Facebook style for their own and others’ amusement.
Read the Trib’s article about what happened to CTA commuter Jennifer Fastwolf and tell me you don’t agree with me just a teeny bit. (It’s okay if you don’t).