Late Night Thoughts on Art + Feminism

I consider myself wholeheartedly feminist — more so recently than ever before — and my recent works have been very much a reflection of this development. Honestly, I used to be shy about admitting my support, for essentially exactly the reasons that Emma Watson outlined in her viral UN speech last month. It is extremely damaging to every aspect of society that women are ashamed to declare that they are part of a movement that stands for their own equality in the modern world because it is considered aggressive, unattractive, or that it somehow simultaneously acknowledges and overcompensates for a deficiency in female power.

As damaging and essentially illogical these reasons for shaming the feminist are, there is an aspect of modern feminism that is still uncomfortably aggressive to me — which I think is why I felt it so difficult to align myself. Of course, there’s the aggression of the angry feminist — largely uneducated, largely vocal on social media — who blames the entire male population for a larger societal perpetuation of patriarchal values… while their positions aren’t entirely baseless (they must be reactionary to something wrong), their voices are extremely counterproductive for reasons I don’t think I need to lay out.

But that’s not even the aggression that has made me uncomfortable. I’m talking about a sort of aggression that’s driven Apple and Facebook to cover women’s egg-freezing in their health insurance plans, and that has dealt my family an interesting hand of cards with which to put up our defenses.

For background’s sake: I grew up in a highly atypical family. My father has always been an academic, earning his PhD right after his Master’s degree right after his Bachelor’s, which was immediately followed by university-level teaching residencies. Because of the highly researched-based nature of his work, he was (and is) constantly traveling. Right now I think he’s on a plane from Beijing to Manila.

My mother is extremely educated as well. Following a similar path as my father, my mother obtained her Master’s degree at Cornell and was accepted to complete her PhD here as well — which ended up taking about four times longer to complete than expected, since my brother and I came along. And that’s where the flack started: the judgment from her peers, my father’s peers, and my peers on why she took so long, why she didn’t get a job after achieving her doctorate, and why she still doesn’t have a job. I distinctly remember one of my best friends in high school telling me she thought my mom “did it all wrong,” and that she “wasted her education just to be a mother.”

And that’s what makes me uncomfortable about modern feminism: the subliminal aggression that doesn’t just encourage women to achieve the societal and monetary status that men traditionally have had, but that expects it, and accepts no less. This is a stance that is widely accepted particularly because it is so encouraging and has birthed incredible female leaders in many fields, but it subverts what I consider to be the powerful yet subtle maternal and nurturing capacity of the female that is simply part of our nature, and something that is simply characteristically different about the female role in society.

This ties in to several aspects of what I’ve read in my studies in psychology about cross-cultural differences in gender roles and ideal affect and personality, as well — studies that inspect the divergence of values within these cultures as far down to the derivatives of the physical distance between a mother and a child in Asian versus Western cultures. Not only do cross-cultural differences account for discrepancies in maternity and child-rearing attitudes, but they indicate the extremely strong preference and idealization in Western culture of the Type A extrovert, regardless of gender — essentially perpetuating the message that the highest regard of an individual can only be attributed to the classic “workaholic” leader whose personal life is secondary to their professional or academic life. This preference is misleading because A. culturally speaking, these individuals are simply more frequently occurring in Western culture and B. it automatically defaults the introvert to a lower societal position. So what of the female introvert in Western society (as I am)…? Have I just been dealt the most unlucky of hands, since I neither can nor want to fit into the idyllic “strong female” role?

Not to mention in the case of my mother, it is a stance that completely derogates the face value of education as a means for personal intellectual development rather than a means for professional opportunities — the former of which I have always considered to be essential to my educational experience. (I mean, I didn’t exactly choose a BFA program for the vast and prosperous career opportunities.) And personally, I thank God that my mother “wasted her education” on motherhood; with my father constantly in motion, my brother and I would have wanted it no other way.

In essence, just as much as feminism should support equal treatment among the sexes, it should embrace and celebrate our differences. We should be fighting for a feminism that supports our beauty, our sexuality, and our maternity as much as it supports our intellect and capacity for leadership. It isn’t even a matter of traditional versus modern, nor passive versus active (how could anyone consider something as weighty as motherhood to be passive, anyways?!); it’s simply a matter of respecting the female’s life goals and acknowledging her exceptional, unmatched power within her multiplicity of roles. To me, that is the pinnacle of what’s progressive about feminism.