Tag Archives: melissa washburn

The September Vogue

24 Aug


Last week, coming into our bedroom to fold laundry, my husband picked up the hefty issue of Vogue I’d left on the bed and scornfully tossed it aside. “Why did you buy a magazine with Kate Moss on the cover?” He made no effort to hide his disapproval. Why should he? Every good feminist knows fashion magazines are evil.

“Because I wanted to.”

Apparently this was not the answer he was looking for. He scowled at me. I scowled right back. I mocked his derision. He told me to… well, you get the idea. In the end, we avoided a scuffle, but as he pointed out, I can do whatever I want, but I can’t make him like it.

Indeed.

Every August I face the same dilemma: to buy or not to buy the September Vogue. It’s everywhere, taunting me. It calls to me like free samples of Godiva, like Paul Konerko in tight pants, like an open bar with top-shelf margaritas. I know I shouldn’t and yet… Every August I lose my shit to the fall Vogue.

It’s just so big! So beautiful! So over-the-top glamorous! (The magazine, people.) With cover models swathed in richly hued fabrics, shiny like high-end lip gloss, the September Vogue promises luxury and excess few of us can dream of. That’s the whole point. The September Vogue is all about dreaming. Flipping through its pages, one loses the reality that she has just dropped $4 for a collection of ads, and gains the pretense that she too could spend her days shopping, sipping cocktails with celebrities, and attending charity galas with socialites who are talented and strikingly attractive, but not quite as talented or striking as she.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with fashion magazines, which is why Mr. Irises snarls about them. He’s really just looking out for me. (He’s honestly a very sweet, supportive guy.) But again, it’s my magpie problem – I like shiny, pretty things, and that’s all fashion magazines are. Pretty fluff. Few people read Vogue for the articles (although, at least in Vogue you can expect quality articles, unlike its more salacious counterparts.) Nonetheless, I am aware that when I buy Vogue I’m looking at a magazine which is 90% advertising, promoting products which are at best impractical for most women, and at worst degrading. We all know Vogue offers a very limited vision of what a ‘woman’ can be. I am not thin enough to fit into one single piece of clothing advertised in Vogue, but then, few people are. (Perhaps I could throw one of the photoshoots’ velvet backdrops around my shoulders.) I wear very little makeup. I have never been to Cabo St. Lucas. I’d break my ankles in a pair of Jimmy Choos. But looking at a Vogue, I can pretend, just for a few minutes, that I could stride along the Cabo beach in my Jimmy Choos and Alexander McQueen gown with perfect grace, if I only chose to. (As though I live in small town Indiana because I like cows and corn, not out of necessity.)

For years, knowing Mr. Irises disapproves of such an indulgent, limiting and frankly sexist form of entertainment, I snuck the September Vogue into my house like contraband and looked at it only behind the closed door of my office room. I didn’t like having to defend my interest. Now and then, at other times during the year, I’d have the urge to look through women’s fashion magazines, but I rarely bought them. I could just flip through them in the bookstore. The September Vogue, however, must be purchased. It’s 750+ pages, for heaven’s sake. I can hardly lift it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw an old issue of Vogue at my awesome friend Melissa Washburn’s home. (She is responsible for the lovely redesign of my blog. Have a look at her beautiful site featuring her art and design work.) I told her about Mr. Irises’ position, how I never brought women’s fashion magazines home because I didn’t want to debate my odd, decidedly non-feminist affection for them, how I felt guilty for even looking at them. I subscribe to Bitch and Bust. How could I explain the Vogue? She offered up the following point: as long as I am reading with a critical eye, how feminist is it to limit my own enthusiasms based on my husband’s approval?

Indeed.

So this year I carried my 4 lb. September Vogue to the Barnes & Noble counter with pride – not hidden beneath a stack of car magazines like a guy buying a Penthouse. I didn’t even try to hide it from my daughter. (If it’s okay for her to like imaginary dragons, it’s okay for me to like impossible dresses.) And I left it right out in the open, on my bed, where I’d been reading it when the dryer buzzed. And I prepped myself with my non-answer, because I knew he’d ask. Why did I buy it? Because I wanted to. That is feminist enough.

Speaking of Bitch and Bust, I offer Vag Magazine.

A funny, biting send up of pop culture feminist magazines. Produced by The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, this web series gently mocks those magazines’ sometimes vague, strident, crafty, celebrity-heavy, pop-culture feminism. *Hides knitting behind back* Think Portlandia for feminist mags. “Horses are tools of the patriarchy.”

Indeed.

Advertisements

The Creative Life: (M)others

24 Feb

2000irises: (m)others — art and poetry exhibit

In the interest of crass self-promotion, I’d like to discuss my current project. It’s a unique art exhibit at the South Shore Arts Center in Crown Point, IN titled (M)others. The reception is tomorrow night (Friday, Feb. 25th) from 6 – 9 pm, and it features artwork by Melissa Washburn and Patti Tobin Davis, as well as poetry by moi. (I’ll be doing a reading circa 7pm.)

First, this show is unique because art exhibits and poetry don’t often intersect. There is great sympathy among artists and writers, but our products are very different. Writing and art have always inspired one another, but the work itself does not often appear side by side in art galleries. I was straight-up surprised when Melissa asked me if I wanted to participate in this exhibit by contributing poetry (terribly flattered as well, as you can imagine.)

This exhibit also uniquely focuses specifically on the experiences of artists as mothers, and of mothers as artists. Many women find that once they take on the challenge of raising children, their creative work changes permanently.

Naturally, time to create all but disappears, and then when there is time, there is the problem of “mommy brain.” (Digression warning: Mommy brain may improve my ability to multi-task, but there is a reason for the conventional wisdom about mommy brain. Ask any momma on the planet. Yes, I can efficiently remember schedules and household maintenance, but creative thought requires Herculean effort. And if mommy brain were an anti-depressant, then post-partum depression wouldn’t really be a problem, now would it?) Anyway, my point is that by the time my daughter goes to bed at night, my brain is absolutely Jell-O, and switching from mommy mode to writer mode is like throwing a speeding car abruptly into reverse.

Motherhood is one of the most universal experiences, and yet it can be terrifically lonely and shrouded in mystery. None of the What to Expect… books can prepare you for the actual experience of having and raising a child, and while parenting itself is hardly original, the details are. Everyone knows a mother, and yet no one really knows what child-rearing is like until they do it.

This paradox offers all the more reason for women to resolutely find ways of combining the challenges and joys of parenthood with creative work. There is an obvious metaphorical connection between creating life and creating art (although one hurts more,) and the passions of parenting provide plenty of inspiration for art. By making time and space for creativity, and by finding ways of connecting with other mothers through sharing work, artists and writers find community, and mothers in general feel that their emotions and experiences are validated in a way they rarely are in popular culture. The loneliness abates. That’s what we’re trying to do with this exhibit: give space and recognition to the creative efforts of mothers, while examining how motherhood has influenced our work.

In addition to displaying our work, on March 6th at 2pm we’re also screening an independent film titled Who Does She Think She Is. The film’s website introduces its central concerns: “In a half-changed world, women often think they need to choose: mothering or working? Your children’s well-being, or your own? [This] documentary by Academy Award winning filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll, features five fierce women who refuse to choose. Through their lives, we explore some of the most problematic intersections of our time: mothering and creativity, partnering and independence, economics and art.”

Let me finish by saying that while passionate about exploring motherhood, I am leery of enshrining mothers. Just the other week I heard an otherwise intelligent man describing his mother as “pure and angelic.” Gag. (You do know how you got here, right? Nothing pure about it.) The myth of the “angelic mommy” is just one more way that women feel pressured to be perfect. (Let the Mommy Wars ensue.) I don’t want my daughter to have any illusion about my perfection – fiercely devoted, loving, involved, and silly, definitely – but for heaven’s sake, not perfect. I want her to think of me as a woman who took care of herself as well as her family, so she can do the same when (and if) her momma time comes. I want to be a woman who makes room for creative work amid the chaos of daily life. Perhaps continuing honest conversation about the reality and variety of mothers’ lives will help dispel the myth of the “angelic” mommy, freeing mothers to be real people, and at last give value to the experiences of all people who answer those incessant calls for “Mommy.”

%d bloggers like this: