THE POWER OF HER
The Power of Her was created to promote and prompt conversation around the subject of gender inequality within contemporary society.
Gender inequality is a global and multicultural issue within modern-day society as well as historically, therefore this was a sizeable subject to approach. It was imperative that I honed in on a specific area of this subject as it would be difficult, if not impossible, to devise a collection of pieces, which could embody such a vast amount of information and with so many opinions and stances. Therefore, so as to have a more impactful collection I considered several different areas of gender inequality. I looked at gender inequality from a historical perspective starting with the women’s Suffrage movement, moving on to the 1968 Dagenham machinists strike and the more recent 1975 Icelandic ‘Women’s Day Off’ and finally the present day conflict of Malala Yousafzai.
After much research and consideration I chose to focus on historical, political feminist movements that took place in striving for gender equality, events which inspired my own feminist journey.
With this in mind my intention became to design and produce a six-piece collection of ‘trophies’ which commemorate, physically embody, award and recognise four political, historical events of individuals who inspired me to evaluate my position in society as a woman and which also empowered me to question socially conditioned gender role norms in modern culture.
Each weight of ‘Francesca’ is illustrated with a different experience of gender inequality I have personally encountered. On the reverse side of each weight are verses of spoken word transcribed in my own handwriting. These verses are intended to be read aloud, so as to spread the perception of gender inequality among other audience members to prompt conversation between individuals, so they may educate one another of their personal feelings towards gender inequality. The spoken word is not specific to any gender or myself therefore it can be read by and related to all.
The dumbbells are also fully functional. The weights are interchangeable symbolising how the weight of conversation can be made lighter or heavier just as the dumbbell can be.
Every ‘I’ when used as a word e.g. “I am...” has been hand cut from the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai, this is to represent the Taliban attempting to silence her voice. The ‘I’s have been placed inside the accompanying pen to symbolise Malala redirecting her voice into education.
The belt wrapped around the book represents the restriction of female education globally, historically and presently as well as the restriction on Malala’s education in Pakistan. The belt prevents the viewer from opening the book, the book being a symbol of education itself. The belt also echoes the restrictive nature of the ‘Suffragette’ piece, reminiscent of a chastity belt, restricting girl’s experiences. The surface of the belt is etched with the full speech Malala famously spoke at a UN summit regarding the power of education (Yousafzai, 2013). Like the pen, the speech inscribed on the belt surface symbolises her defiance to conform and the use of her voice to educate others.
The surface of this piece is embroidered with the names of actual suffragettes. This banner depicts the names of scores of women incarcerated for their activism: “over the course of the militant campaign, around 1000 suffragettes served prison sentences.” (D’Cruze 2009, p.96). This use of embroidery is also reflective of their propaganda banners. The plugged arrows intersecting the names represent the government and the misogynistic society of the time attempting to silence the women by imprisoning them. The use of an arrow is reflective of the arrows emblazoned on their prison uniforms as well as the arrow of the male gender symbol (♂). The overcoming of this hardship is reflected within the wooden chain links. Each link symbolises an individual woman, her unique personality and her needlework handwriting when crafting protest banners. The links all-together as a chain suggests how by supporting one another the feminists were able to carry the weight of adversity, the weight being the padlock.
The collar and lower pockets of ‘Dagenham’ are reflective of the car seat covers the women crafted within the Ford factory. Padded with wadding to give the effect of a car seat, they are machine stitched to pay tribute to the skill of the women.
During this strike movement the women famously protested outside of parliament for the recognition of equal skill and pay. A key banner wielded read “We want sex” but was not correctly displayed “Well, you hadn’t unfurled the banner properly had you?” she says. The full banner read: “We want sex equality.” (Goodley, 2013). The underside of the collar pays homage to this. When laid flat it reads completely but when approached from different angles when worn you are only able to read part of the message. I chose to write ‘sexual’ rather than ‘sex’ during my re- appropriation, as I wanted to make this piece my own while paying tribute.
The embroidered illustration on the tails of the jacket is of the women striking, as is the laser etched plywood breast pocket , embodying the event and the women themselves. Both elements are embroidered echoing the suffrage banners. The original buttons of the jacket have been replaced with plywood buttons featuring etched illustrative stitch lines, again honouring the women’s skill as machinists.
Made to the same dimensions as a 1970’s wage envelope, the exterior of the wallet simply displays “PLEASE CHECK CONTENTS IMMEDIATELY” as it did on the original envelope, this is not only to reflect the re-appropriation of the original envelope but to also prompt the viewer to open the piece. This piece also doubles as a wallet, a secondary affirmation of the subject of wage equality.
Upon opening the wallet the viewer is immediately presented with a cohort of laser etched women protesting, embodying the event itself in an almost photographic manner through means of illustration. To further educate audiences the only existing English abstract of Aðalheiður Bjarnfreðsdóttir’s speech at the rally is laser etched inside the note compartment. Said to be the most powerful speech spoken on the day I felt this speech essential to include so as to inspire audiences now as she did then.