Artist Rachelle Beaudoin on Kathleen Hanna's "Slut" proclamation and co-opted sexuality
I read that a few years back, an exhibition of your running piece, "Cheer Shorts!," had to be censored - or put behind a curtain at a gallery show.
It was actually at a state college where I taught in New Hampshire. People basically said it would be okay for a faculty show, and then later someone on staff came in before the show opened and said he found them offensive. It ended up being really interesting hearing what his actual complaint was. But the solution was to cover them up, so you had to actively pull open this curtain to look at them -- which, of course, just made it more interesting to the audience. In a way, it just made the piece blow up more for me. I think it worked out fine.
In the end, his complaint actually had a lot to do with academic structure; he was sort of treating the gallery as just another place on campus. (A place) where he as a staff person couldn't use the language that was on the shorts, so how come, because I'm a professor, I could use that language?
It was an interesting issue, when looking at people who all work together at the same institution. It turned out to be really fascinating - even though I felt he was in the wrong for being so upset about it. But when it was all said and done, I can appreciate his position, even if I disagree with it.
The "Cheer Shorts" are such an interesting piece because we see little girls in mass-produced apparel with similar things written on them, except they are under this view of what is supposed to be socially acceptable and "cute," versus literal.
Yeah, you know I first started thinking about this when I was teaching middle and high school art. This girl had a Playboy Bunny shirt on and she was in seventh grade -- I thought, oh, this is going to be a weird conversation where I have to send her home. But before I tried to talk to her about it or asked her to change, I asked her, what do you think this means?
She said, "It means cute! Cute and fun." I said, do you know that it means more than that? Do you know that there are other associations? It was this weird thing where I was trying to get her to say it, and she wouldn't say it - but maybe to her, it's all it did mean.
That got me thinking about all of these shorts that were so popular: "Juicy" and "Pink." I thought, those are implicit; what if you made them explicit? What if you made it kind of, it is what it is. The first time, to my surprise, there was very little reaction to it, in public. And I almost think the same man who complained about them in the gallery wouldn't complain about them in public. They would be under that veil of, "oh those are cute," or, "oh, it's not my place to (say anything.)" Because no one says anything in public, even though the language was the same.
I started to really think about this line of how something can start out as being empowering and then become self-sexualizing and self-objectifying and the weird line between those two things. That research kind of lead me to maybe the first time Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill wrote "slut" on her stomach -- it was super empowering. She asked all of the boys to leave the room.
But so quickly, within two years, it was then pushed over into some form of "girl power." And then, to some form of these like Abercrombie-style T-shirts that said "Pink" and "Juicy" and even worse, like "who needs brains when you have these?"
We know how easily things get co-opted 0- it may be that people feel empowered to a certain point, but then when does it switch over? It's the same with like, stripper workouts, or something. It's a funny place, and I'm very interested in it.
Me, too. I'm fascinated by what gets appropriated or co-opted - especially when women start to own these super bizarre labels.
It was so pervasive when I was doing that piece -- I just saw article after article about these shirts getting banned. JC Penney even had a shirt for girls that said, "Math is hard" or "I hate math" or something. Even around Christmas, I remember seeing this like, sexy Christmas shirt that said "Vixen" and it had a reindeer on it. Like, really? This is where we're at right now? I'd rather wear an ugly sweater.
Especially when it's marketed toward little girls - who don't really have an understanding of how detrimental these labels are.
I think a lot of it is, I don't want to be against women showing their sexuality. But I think the type of sexuality is very one-sided. So these shorts or shirts are all one expression. I think there's a lot of other ways women can express their sexuality that don't go back towards this more porn-inspired version.
Saturday's performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at Counterpath, 613 22nd Street; the event is free. For more information, visit Counterpath's website.