For March 8 (and beyond)
In what way and where, by whom and with what effects do we construct the image of what a woman is? Better yet, in what way are the limits of what is considered – at a given moment in a particular society – possible for a woman to be and to project?
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
A friend of mine posts on her Facebook wall a comment in which she regrets what she considers to be an example of insufficient diversity in the images that, on the television screen, were used to present (and represent) Cuban women in the celebration of March 8. My friend is black, with a deeply dark skin tone.
Here’s a topic, I say to myself, and then I remember that years ago I wrote an article for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde about the transformations that -in terms of beauty standards- had taken place in the country since the years of my childhood.
The article focused on the perceptions and meanings of black people’s hair and hairstyle and, on this basis, proposed assessments in which racism and freedom, the hidden mechanisms of domination and the battles of the subjects in search of their real emancipation were confronted.
After that I wrote two other articles, which were not published at the time:. The first aimed to analyze the connections between obesity, beauty and social control; the other took as its motif the case of a woman in England who had announced on her personal website that she would stop shaving her legs and who – from then on – began to receive dozens (eventually hundreds) of denigrating messages, some of which contained threats to her physical integrity.
How and where, by whom and with what effects do we construct the image of what a woman is? Better yet, in what way are the limits of what is considered – at a given moment in a particular society – possible for a woman to be and project? What participation do we have, even those of us who are willing to swear that we are not part of the process, in the infinite number of actions through which this “ideal” of what is supposedly feminine is molded?
This inevitably leads us to understand (and propose for debate) not only the responsibility in the production, distribution, control and consumption of images, but to lead us to a point where we are forced to ask ourselves: What have we done or do? What role do we play in the various forms and scenarios in which actions of micro-oppression of women are manifested?
Another friend tells me about the time when, at the exact moment of wearing a new dress for a night out she was looking forward to, she discovered -just as she arrived at the place- that the rush had made her mix up the ornaments and that she had put on two different earrings. She doesn’t know how much she taught me and I learned from her response when, contemplating her face in the mirror of a bathroom on-site, she said to herself: “it doesn’t matter: you are the fashion”.
I admire that way of not obeying the dictates of a codified norm, which pretends to define what you are in a perverse game, where visuality is supposed to make transparent the moral condition of the person and even her history itself. I admire that inner strength and will to self-affirmation.
A third friend uses her menstrual emissions, exactly that which, in a more evident way, transmits the “weakness” or “flaw” of the woman, to create -with that intimately personal matter- works of art. As in the previous example, the logic that presides over the action is that of the search for and expression of the most absolute freedom.
What is a woman, where is she, what are her limits, how is she represented/presented?
The face perfectly aligned with the Hellenic beauty patterns or the very dark skin accompanied by thick lips and a wide and flattened nose; the youthful figure that communicates agility and the other that moves with effort due to age; the straight hair, the implants, the straightening under the effect of keratin, the hair in the form of “afro”, in the so-called “carreritas” or in long and powerful “drelos”; the thin or overabundant, obese contour; the gesture of a dapper style or with a wider arc in the movement of the hands; the image of a “traditional” femininity (in which ideals of “fragility”, “delicacy” and “sensuality” prevail) or the reverse of the “masculinized” female, which is usually attributed to the lesbian; with tattoos, “piercings”, hair dyed in unusual colors (green, blue, orange): it’s all women.
Peasant women, highly skilled professionals, housewives, workers in an industry or construction site, we need images of the most extraordinary diversity possible to “refresh” our images and approach women, ask questions, get closer to their struggles, offer them solidarity and push together with them the limits of presence, representation and participation in new worlds.
And that is what a Revolution is: a new world.
I end with a personal story. A few years ago my children Kenneth, Karen and I got tattoos. On that occasion the one that my wife dreams of for herself was left pending: the Elvish word for FREE.