Week 1A--Getting Started: Welcome to the dinner party

Anne Dalke's picture
Welcome to the course forum area for Critical Feminist Studies , a course at Bryn Mawr. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to, but I hope you'll come to value it as much as students in other courses have.

The first thing to keep in mind is that its not a place for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts". It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're not worrying about "writing" but instead that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking, so you can help them think and they can help you think. The idea is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

So who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course, both the undergrads who are taking it on campus and the alums who are joining us on-line. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. That's the second thing to keep in mind here. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about.

I'm glad to have you along, and hope you value/enjoy sharing an exploration of critical feminist studies.To get started, what do you make of the picture on the cover of our course pack? It's copied below. Post some of your thoughts. Looking forward to seeing where we go with this and ...

 

kgbrown's picture

The Dinner Party

When we were asked to write about the image of Sojourner Truth's plate from The Dinner Party, I was unsure of the purpose of the assignment and where it would lead. I found myself describing the three faces, their different aspects, but not really commenting on the way that the three faces related to each other. After finding out that these three faces were all representative of one woman, Sojourner Truth, I started to consider the way that the three faces relate and how they come together to form one image, which I had not really considered as a whole until then. In class, I also learned that the image of the three faces was in fact part of a series of plates with laibia as their subject and that the plate that represented Sojourner Truth was the only one that did not take this form. I began to think about the choice that Judy Chicago had made in not representing Truth's image as parallel to that of the other women at the table. Growing up in the era of third wave feminism, it seems to me that choosing to represent women by their more distinctive qualities, like their face, or by attempting to represent the different sides of a woman's character, Judy Chicago perhaps did more for Truth than she did for the other women at the table. I find that I can see more of Truth in her plate than I can see of the other women with their plates. I certainly think that Judy Chicago was able to show much more emotion and really capture more of Truth's personality because she used faces instead of laibia. However, I do find the lack of similairity between Truth's plate and that of the other women to be puzzling. The non-congruency seems to make Truth's plate stand out even more. I am curious to explore the racial implications that were suggested in class as a possible reason as to the difference in Truth's plate, though I am not sure how to discuss this issue on my own.
Gail's picture

The Dinner Party - Sojourner Truth

Thank you for letting me join you ( albeit late). I am an alum, like Barbara,who worked during the 60's and 70's for ERA passage. I was an activist. ( I call it my strident feminist period.) It was all action- hauling my preschooler to put up political yard signs- taking bus trips to rally outside state capitols of neighboring states, etc. We ,like Judy Chicago, excluded most women of minorities and color ( Sojourner Truth being the only African American represented). We did not know we were doing it. The picture gave me a visceral response- it hit me in the gut. We are all still crying and angry...and...we live in one of the most progressive places in the world for women! Rage Rage

I look forward to reading and sharing with you all. Thank you for being open to us alums

Anonymous's picture

The Dinner Party

As someone who has only just joined the course and has not yet attended a class, please forgive me any cluelessness.
My first, split-second reaction to the Judy Chicago piece was that it is a progression. The weeping woman on the left is bare and exposed, completely shown to the viewer. The face on the far right is masked, it seems, and appears to be furious. The middle face, to me, appears to be mediating. It doesn't seem to be connected, as the left and right faces are (by the breast-like shapes at the bottom of the plate). However, the middle face still retains some humanity and resemblance to the face on the left, in the crown shape on its forehead, whose color matches the skin tone of the left face. Alternatively, the face on the right has taken on a sickly yellow tone. However, I see the arm and fist that extend below the right face as belonging to the left face, as perhaps the true (angry? proactive?) result of her sorrow, which perhaps can only be displayed by an angry face. Shot in the dark: perhaps this is a metaphor for the rise of the feminist movement.

Emily's picture

Faces/Emotions

Upon first seeing the picture, the first thought I had was that the faces to the far left and right resembled the happy and sad masks that are used to represent drama. Yet these masks take the emotions even further because the mask that is sad is actually weeping instead of frowning, and the mask that is happy appears to be wiping a tear away from laughing so hard. I assume that the face is laughing and not also crying because its mouth is open as if in the middle of laughing. The face in the center, which also appears to be futher back than the faces to the left and right, appears neutral and doesn't show any emotion.

The face in the center is just a face, while the other two faces have chests, which differentiates between the crying and laughing face. The crying face appears to be the man while the laughing face is the woman. Yet I feel as if I should keep in mind that the face on the right is not necessarily laughing, but could very well be crying even harder than the one of the left. This could serve to portray the thought that while men's lives in Africa are difficult, the women's lives are even harder.

Perhaps the art represents the emotions that men and women feel inside, while on the outside they must portray the face in the center. The struggle and hardship they must endure is both the reason for the emotions felt inside and the reason they must keep their masks of the face in the center. Also the emotions on the inside could have been given a chest to show that they are the true, real people while the emotionless mask in the middle is not real, but simply a mask.

rmeyer's picture

I couldn't help but see how

I couldn't help but see how much beauty this piece of artwork holds...it's really incredible.

I guess what first hit me was that the three obvious emotions that this piece of work depicts are, undoubtedly, apart of us all. I feel like the idea that these three emotions are all represented as 'one' is even more powerful. I am still sort of figuring out my thoughts and feelings on this piece, so don't mind my collection of unorganized thoughts...

I am thinking that the order of the faces is particularly important in the development of feelings. For me, I looked directly towards the face with the mask--and perhaps this idea of looking straight on has some importance. The mask represents, to me, being stoic and strong, while the two faces on the sides represents fear and anger and saddness, perhaps--which is so real. These three emotional representations uncover the reality behind the center mask.

Elizabeth319's picture

Delayed Response to Sojourner Truth's Plate

There is so much pressure to be one of the last to respond to a topic that has already been discussed in such great detail. I studied the plate prior to reading any other reactions so that what stood out to me would not be swayed.

The immense depiction of suffering and pain hit me the hardest. This plate does not celebrate the feminine beauty yet emphasizes the hardships and agony that women go through whether it is political suffering or an internal anguish.

There appears to be a sense of hidden pain and secrecy of such anguish. There are silent tears. The woman's mouth is not open and her eyes are closed. The face to the right appears to be waving for attention, waving for rights and justice yet no sound escapes her mouth. The face in the center depicts a controlled exterior with little emotion. The face in the center is what the world sees of the same woman who is drowning in suffering and not being heard when she asks for help. Why  bother expressing the emotion if no one is going to reach out and respond?

Mary Leue's picture

Sojourner Truth

Looking at the image of the three feminine "faces" created a very complex reaction in me. Reading the comments about it online made my own response even more complex. I "saw" myself in all three of them, but that fact didn't elicit in me the kind of reactions I read online about them.

My own way of living my feminism is not as dramatic as the various reactions to the online image suggests, but perhaps that is because my personal experience as a female is not primarily related to "not being" something or other, and more toward what I wish and hope my life as a woman is about. My efforts are primarily oriented toward achieving as much or many of those goals as I can, in the face of oppositionon on a number of grounds - only one of them being a reaction to my femaleness as I have chosen to live it out inside and in the world. I expect this fact has been less significant to me than it seems to be to some other women who have enjoyed the same privileged status I do, judging by some of the comments.

Mary Macomber Leue '40.

Beatrice Nava (1943)'s picture

dinner party

Like Mary, I can see myself in these three representations, but unlike her, my identification with the Sojourner Truth dinner plate does largely involve my feminist evolution. After willingly falling into what presumably was expected of me, despite my BMC degree, about a year and a half after that acquisition, I left a promising career in journalism that I’d craved, got married, rapidly reproduced (four children in four and a half years), and subsequently experienced those three phenomena.

I never ceased to love and take pride in my children, but I definitely came to feel trapped in an increasingly incompatible marriage. For many years I wore the mask of suburban wife and mother, held back tears that grew into rage, before determining that I had to make my own life, albeit within the strictures the mask imposed. I went “back to school,” preparing myself to reenter the workforce as a teacher so that my hours would largely coincide with those of my children. It was only when my children were either away or about to be away in college—and the death of my very family-oriented father, that I filed for divorce and started the new chapter in what I've sometimes called my bifurcated life.

However, though I see my parallel with the graphic in my feminist evolution, even as I emphasized my right as a woman to break from the stranglehold of my era's expectation of even a first-generation college-educated “bourgeois gentlewoman,” I have always thought that men were similarly and perhaps even more forcefully entrapped behind masks. I’m reminded of that as I get into the first reading assignment--and the search for peace in our present time of war: What indeed has been expected of the educated man (and not just the sister who seeks to emulate him)?

Beatrice Nava's picture

dinner party

I don't know whether I'm entitled to crash the party, having just skimmed through the "prospectus" and reactions.

I'm essentially literal-minded, I suppose. Is that a characteristic of my age and stage (class of '43!)?

I look at the title and lock myself in to Sojourner Truth: In the middle she wears the mask demanded of her at her different ages and stages: the original and ongoing grief and rage at the indignities she suffers because of being a slave and being a woman. Her first reaction is probably pain, hence the weeping, which emerges as rage and the determination to fight. Through it all she frequently has to mask her feelings in order to pursue her fight and flight, but she can never forget either her color or her sex.

Mary Clurman's picture

Well, this is all a rush to

Well, this is all a rush to judgment for me, as today is the first day of "class" and I only got the assignment this morning. But I've never been short on opnions, and I do think before I speak, but tact is not my forte!

As for the plate, I have to say that I don't find it easy to relate to, in fact I find it annoying in its rendering of an apparent judgment w/ regard to women. Anger was, however, basic to women's issues in the '70's, so Chicago was probably expressing the feelings of her generation, identifying w/ them and giving them 2-dimensional form, coming up with "art," as would any professional artist earning her living. I cannot fault her except to say that the image does not reach me. (But I note that the middle face, the one with the crown, has a mouth like a keyhole, or a vagina.…)

I, too, paint, am an independent woman (retired, divorced & widowed) with strong feelings on gender differences, which I want to explore more explicitly. Woolf is certainly right about the need for a different kind of education -- schools at all levels foster competition and now we have enough of it, it's time for cooperation instead.

And I have realized lately that I, at least, and other women I know, prefer discussion to argument because we prefer resolution to winning. Winning is what men seem to want, so often, or at least the men I've known. It is also what our culture encourages, pushes. Al Gore, in his Assault of Reason, quotes the Bush-Cheney Administration as seeking "dominance" in the world. What a bore!

I know women who seem to believe that playing the dominance game is the only way to go, but that just confirms Woolf's impression that teaching women to see the world thru men's eyes will never prevent war.

It us extraordinarily difficult to oppose any person who believes that fighting is, perhaps even in itself, winning. Turning the other cheek is not enough, it takes wit and very quick thinking, the skills of debate plus the forbearance of Christ, I guess. No wonder our political campaigns descend so quickly into mud.

phebe314's picture

Three Guineas

From the first guinea: 

"the daughters of educated men have always done their thinking from hand to mouth; not under green lamps at study tables in the cloisters of secluded colleges."

As you and I recall, Barbara, that was not true of women at Bryn Mawr. We did have the green lamps and the cloister. [:-)

Woolf says that women must be educated and earn an independent living in the professions before they can expect to prevent war. If they are not independent, they will mimic the opinions of the men they are dependent on.

 

However, her letter-to-the-editor antagonist Mr. Joad is unimpressed. He says,

“Before the war money poured into the coffers of the W.S.P.U. in order that women might win the vote which, it was hoped, would enable them to make war a thing of the past. The vote is won,” Mr Joad continues, “but war is very far from being a thing of the past.”

 

My sympathies are with Mr. Joad: he was, after all, correct. It has been 70 years since the Three Guineas, and though we have the vote, there is more war than ever.

 

Woolf assumes if women have power we will want to and be able to stop war: I doubt both those assumptions. It seems clear where she went wrong -- she assumes war is simply a bad habit men adopt:

 

"For though many instincts are held more or less in common by both sexes, to fight has always been the man’s habit, not the woman’s. Law and practice have developed that difference, whether innate or accidental. Scarcely a human being in the course of history has fallen to a woman’s rifle..."

 

There are other ways of viewing the matter: war is instinctive, hard-wired, sex-linked. War is perhaps the male contribution to the Malthusian Dilemma. Ours is productive: we reproduce until we hit the limits, like all life forms on earth do. Theirs is to transform those limits into a genetic competition with other humans -- which genes take over the new resource area, and which die?

 

Clever of Woolf, however, to change such an over-disputed and hopeless topic such as "preventing war" into what she is actually interested in, education and independence of women.

 

Barbara's picture

Feminism

First let me say that I thoroughly enjoy reading all your postings. What a great opportunity for someone in her 70's to witness the thoughts of bright young people! I want to respond particularly to the messages from Rhapsodica, Stephanie, and Tbarryfigu. To do this I will have to speak in generalizations but that can't be avoided.

In my early involvement in the feminist movement of the 50's and early 60's I was struck by the fact that despite efforts at outreaching, we were unable to enlist women of color in our struggle. Over time I came to realize that our concerns were not their primary concerns, and that feminism, at least at that time, was a white women's movement. Perhaps that is why Judy Chicago differentiates Sojourner Truth from the rest of the dinner plates.

Through my professional work, I came to know many black women, women who, for the most part, were heads of households. Their concerns were mostly for their children, being able to provide for them and keep them safe. Many of them had the powerful inner strength that we were seeking, but they didn't think of themselves as feminists. In our view, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman were feminists, but they were just doing what came naturally to them. They didn't need help getting into carriages; they were capable of creating their own railroad!

Barbara '57

Calderon's picture

Sojourner Truth

Calderon

The fist thing that came to my mind as I saw Sojourner Truth was the difference in expressions of the left and right faces.  I saw a huge face to the left with more realistic features, yet unable to be heard or seen.  On the other hand, the face on the right hand side is full of rage and even though it has its eyes closed the mouth is open as if her anger is letting be noticed.  As for the face on the middle, it seems to be neutral and so indifferent that at first I didn’t noticed that it was there.  The face on the left could represent a race of women and the one on the left another one.  Both suffering and dealing with the oppression in different ways, but still suffering. Perhaps the face in the middle could represent men, and how indifferent they were towards women’s suffering. 
tbarryfigu's picture

Sojourner Truth & Virginia Woolf

I was really struck by the difference in form represented by the Sojourner Truth plate featured at The Dinner Party. Whereas all 38 of the surrounding plates, honoring white women, featured representations of the female vagina, that of Sojourner Truth, the only woman of color, remained naturalistic though non-explicit and one dimensional. We speculated in class that white feminists of the time had not yet become accustomed to the thought of black women with vaginas just like theirs, something that seems a bit ridiculous now. In a time where most protests are spurred on and fueled by a united front of diverse supporters, it is difficult to understand the mind set of Chicago during the conception of The Dinner Party. Surely she must have struggled with this break of pattern, but why? Though the goals of this course do not necessarily include race, I would be interested to explore the link between race relations and the struggle for recognition among the feminist community.

 On a similar note, is a feminist only one who fights for women’s rights and equality? Or one who breaks the gender stereotypes of their era? When discussing women of color, it is an interesting question to consider. For instance (though not the best example) let’s consider Harriet Tubman. In a time where gender roles were squandered by slavery (i.e. men and women of color were subject to the same harsh conditions, regardless of sex) it is interesting that a woman took the lead in organizing the Underground Railroad. I can only assume that the gender roles of men and women in ethnic families were similar to those of white families, with men assuming power over women. Thus, I am curious as to where Harriet Tubman gained her inspiration to take on her leadership role, one that may have typically been obtained by a man. This is not to say that women of color did not have the courage necessary to do as she did, but a comment on the impenetrable quality of gender roles assumed of this era. If, even in times of slavery, the man was valued more than the woman, it is unlikely that Harriet’s actions were the result of training (i.e. another woman or man would not have supported her rebellion, as it shattered the accepted gender roles of her time). Is she, then, a feminist? I, for one, believe so.
albolton's picture

Sojourner Truth

The plate presents a very powerful image, but it's hard to separate what it tells us about Sojourner Truth from what it tells us about Judy Chicago. 

To me, Sojourner Truth's salient characteristic was the extraordinary dignity and self-possession she seemed to have "despite" her status as woman and slave, and which comes out so strongly in the Ain't I a Woman" speech.  I think the middle face could portray that serene self-posssession.  It is the one facing the viewer which may be significant.  Behind that dignity (supporting it?) Chicago shows powerful grief and anger (the faces on either side), which we assume Sojourner must have experienced.  But as Anonymous posted, maybe the emphasis is skewed, and I think possibly by Judy Chicago's world view.

 Wish I had time to think or write more about this, but I seem to be already way  behind on the reading and work is kind of crazy this week.  Looking forward to learning with you all.

 --Alex '65

 

dnedelman's picture

Sojourner Truth Plate

Someone has mentioned that this does not appear to be a 'vagina plate' like the others in Judy Chicago's Dinner Party.  I would like to suggest that it is, indeed, a vagina plate - representing, perhaps, a mutilated vagina with the center 'face' symbolizing the unspoken darkness of that pain and the intricate convolutions required to disguise it.
Anonymous's picture

Sojourner Truth

The first time I saw the dinner plate what immediately stood out was the suffering depicted on the two faces. They both appear upset, though the one on the left is sorrowful and the one on the right seems more angry. I didn't know what to make of the face in the center and I'm still not sure what it represents. The general sentiment though that the picture conveys is the pain of these African American women. However I would not have immediately guessed that this was Sojourner Truth. Personally I see quite a contrast between the portrait and my thoughts about her character from reading her speeches. Her speeches (the first more so than the second) are full of fire and wit. I'm aware that we can't be sure of the language in either version but history tells us that she was a great orator, which requires a certain charisma. So basically I think that dinner plate doesn't do her full justice. Yes, she did suffer a terrible fate in working as a slave but she managed to rise out of her misery and fight for a cause. I imagine her to be immensely strong, both physically and mentally. One could argue that the mask in the middle of the plate represents inner strength, but I don't see the passion in the picture that I read in her speech.
-Nora

Anonymous's picture

Switching to Virginia Woolf...

Further complicating that issue of passivity, in Three Guineas Woolf maintains a firm distinction between the ways in which women can passively or actively influence society on questions such as war. Virginia Woolf points out that through the course of history, women have been contributing quietly, influencing large matters passively, by swaying their husbands this way or that. Passive influence could also mean dashing off to serve as nurses in a war created by the patriarchal society. This kind of influence has always been real, and it has always been able to make some small difference. Living passively might be living a succeful life within a given framework, but passivity can never bring about change in societal systems. A passive being can only feed herself into the machine and wait as a conveyor belt carries her to the only possible destination. Woolf mentioned, "the weapon of independent opinion based upon independent income." Neither component has any value without the other, at least not if they are weapons to be used for social change. Woolf also expresses her reticence with regards to sending women into that procession of educated men, suggesting that perhaps it might do the world more good to start a new procession. Again, this requires action, the hard work of blazing a new trail, rather than following the well-worn one. Perhaps this notion of the "gentler sex" is one of the most dangerous for women to embrace, not only because it encourages passivity, but because it seems to suggest that passivity can produce its own silently effective results, that passivity may be a sneaky alternative when in fact buying into such an idea would only lead one into a terrible trap.

stephanie's picture

For me, the most interesting

For me, the most interesting thing about the image is the fact that, unlike all the others in Judy Chicago's "The Dinner Party," Sojourner Truth, the only black woman out of 1039 women featured, does not get a "vagina plate." When I've thought about feminism in the past, I just assumed a feminist would think of all women equally, regardless of skin color or wealth or any other socially divisive factor, so I was strange for me to realize that that's not necessarily the case. It would be silly and naive to say that anyone is without prejudice entirely, but I still feel awkward when prejudices are revealed. It's sad to me that even within a movement as strong (I feel) as feminism, prejudices still manage to weasel their way in.

Rhapsodica's picture

The Dinner Party

When I first walked into this class, I was a little thrown off. As a freshman, this was literally the third Bryn Mawr class I'd set foot in, and it was by far the most disorienting (though now, I realize that it was disorienting in a good way). I didn't really say anything in class since I was a little nervous and sniffly (getting a cold the first week of school is not an experience I recommend), so I'm glad that we have this forum as a secondary place to share our thoughts.

When I first looked at Sojourner Truth's dinner plate, I was struck by how trapped the faces seem to be. As someone else in the class observed, I saw the mask-like face in the center as a sort of head-scarf, rather than another image simply behind or in front of the other two faces. Perhaps while Sojourner Truth (or any African American woman of the time period) seemed to portray a sort of resigned sadness about her status to the outside world (the sort of feeling I get from the face on the left), her inner feelings were more like those expressed by the face on the right... angry and warrior-like. Yet because of the discrimination & oppression during that time, she had to figuratively hide that side of herself under the head-scarf... which, to me, is perhaps representative of the black-and-white images that others perceived when they saw her. Well, that's just my interpretation of it, anyway.

Another thing that I thought about is how Judy Chicago's Dinner Party is supposed to be this representation of the second wave of feminism (which we talked about in class as the era concerned with the female body/sexuality... so its connection with the piece of art itself is pretty obvious), yet this one plate seems to be a little behind in terms of the issues it addresses. I think it definitely reflects inequality between the representation of races & how, perhaps, views about women of color were not quite up to speed with views about white women... or maybe, that some other constraint (overt or implicit) was preventing her equal representation in The Dinner Party. Like.. hmm... I'm not sure how to word this, but... perhaps there is perceived to be a certain duty to remember & represent the struggles that women of color have been through, so progress, at least in the realm of feminist views, was almost impeded because the issue of racial equality & representation calls for so much emphasis. So instead of showing a vagina at Sojourner Truth's place setting, there is an image that more strongly represents her inner struggles as a woman of color, rather than just as a woman in general.

... hopefully that makes at least a little bit of sense. I look forward to seeing where discussion leads us in class tomorrow!

Jill '66's picture

Thoughts on the Sojourner Truth Plate

Between the outward face of powerful rage and the inward face of unspeakable personal knowledge, there is a tribal face, more conventional, less individual,than the others and harder to interpret. That image stands for her place in human history,from which she has taken, regardless of whether she was man or woman, a large and perhaps mostly unconscious sense of place, identity, and character. None of the images is less authentic than another and all are essential. To me, that mask is compelling and mysterious. It's exactly what I can't share with Sojourner Truth.

haslavitt's picture

Nature of Womanhood

I found a strikingly forward thinking concept in the Sojourner Truth speech. She is discussing the nature of femininity in a manner that is highly relevant to our generation as issues of gender identity become increasingly prominent. What makes a woman a woman? Is it the need to be helped over mud-puddles and escorted into carriages? Is it giving birth to children and being a mother? Is a woman who eats and works "like a man" not a woman? Sojourner Truth presents her statements in such a way as to allow her experiences and truths of her life to demonstrate that these characteristics are not mutually exclusive. She was one of the first to acknowledge the simple fact the a woman can be a strong worker and should not, because of that, have her womanhood revoked or ignored.

matos's picture

I'm going to start off with

I'm going to start off with my thoughts when we first saw this image in class (which is also the first time I ever saw this image).

At first I only saw the faces on the left and right, then the middle one didn't jump out at me at first, it just snuck up on me. The side images have such bold colors and emotions that the middle face or mask gets unnoticed or becomes secondary. Which connects with the thought of a woman's forced passivity. Historically, and occaisonally contemporarily, gender rules dictated that women not be aggressive or hostile, but that they act their role as the "gentler sex" and sort of fade into the background. If the middle face is indeed a mask that a woman puts on when playing her role then, to me, it succeeded.

 

Pemwrez2009's picture

it's always really complicated isn't it?

So, firstly, I wanted to just write about my basic initial reactions to the image above. I noticed the clentched fist (where the coloring matches the most realistic of the three faces), then the overwhelming notion of struggle, the artwork which is most representitive of African culture and the eyes being closed. As female bodied individuals in this class (for the most part) there is such a strong sense of female pain. I guess what I mean by that, is the struggle that females experience in times where we are subjugated based soley on our sex, this is made even more powerful by Sojourner Truth's struggle as a woman of color.

Secondly, I wanted to write a response to the comment left by Deborah Jones Farquhar. It really struck me:




Like any human, institution, history, culture we are bound and limited by our contexts. When reading both versions of "Am (or Ain't?) I A Woman" I was really struck by intensity of the first speech and what I interpreted as a more manipulative tone of the second. Who cares if Truth had three or thirteen children? Does that have any significance in disputing the validity of any of what she recited that day in Akron? It seems that there is no group (especially a group that has been marginalized throughout history) can avoid creating fictions which can enable us to gain control of our subjugation.

Sometimes these public fictions are not as important as the reasons they are made in the first place. As female sexed/gendered and most importantly feminist individuals, I feel as though the area owed the most emphasis and agency is in dismissing the views that hinder our abilities. However, I understand that we do not live in a euphoric society where the opinions of others do not matter!

I feel like women have been forever forced/pressured to subjugate our "innermost desires and needs". These desires and needs have never mattered in a male dominated and masculinized society, and there is evidence of that in all mediums (literary, film, radio, television). It seems that women always have to admit to a desire or need. For that reason, our ways of expressing these feelings have to take on different shapes. Whether they are in the shape of a fabricated story or action, we are not at the point where just anything will get the message across and help us toward our ultimate goals.

On a last note, and probably the cheesiest note anyone will ever read, one of my favorite movies is the movie, Big Fish. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s about this man who basically fabricated his entire life and when he is diagnosed as being terminally ill, his estranged son comes to take care of his father and get the “real” story of his father’s life. In his pursuit of the truth, the son finally realizes that sometimes the most important part of an individual is in what they tell you. I just wanted to add two quotes from the movie that made me think of our discussion...if I am totally crazy, feel free to let me know!

Quote 1: (conversation between the dying father’s doctor and the son)

“Senior Dr. Bennett: Did your father ever tell you about the day you were born?
Will Bloom: A thousand times. He caught an uncatchable fish.
Senior Dr. Bennett: Not that one. The real story. Did he ever tell you that?
Will Bloom: No.
Senior Dr. Bennett: Your mother came in about three in the afternoon. Her neighbor drove her, on account of your father was on business in Wichita. You were born a week early, but there were no complications. It was a perfect delivery. Now, your father was sorry to miss it, but it wasn't the custom for the men to be in the room for deliveries then, so I can't see as it would have been much different had he been there. And that's the real story of how you were born. Not very exciting, is it? And I suppose if I had to choose between the true version and an elaborate one involving a fish and a wedding ring, I might choose the fancy version. But that's just me.
Will Bloom: I kind of liked your version.”


Quote 2: (the son)

“Will Bloom(the son): A man tells so many stories, that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal.”

thanks guys!

-Alexander

Barbara's picture

Dinner Party

I think that race is not simply an addition but is the focus of Sojourner Truth's lifework and the plate that is meant to represent her in this exhibit. In her famous speech, "Aint' I A Woman", she speaks as a black woman, a former slave. White women are helped into carriages, but not her. The figures on the plate are reminiscent of African masks, and except for the breasts, could be male as well as female. The grief and outrage of the black slave are palpable.

I am delighted that Judy Chicago's Dinner Party serves as the introduction to this course. I have always wanted to view it in person and now I'm inspired to visit the Brooklyn Museum with my granddaughter when I visit her in NYC next month.

I look forward to learning from the younger generation in this forum.

Barbara '57

Deborah Jones Farquhar '68's picture

Picture--Critical Feminist Studies, Prof. Anne Dalke

The picture can be interpreted three ways: in Jungian terms (archetypal images), In Freudian terms (ego and alter ego, as they relate to hysteria), or purely symbolically. Purely symbolically will enable the viewer to engage with the representation of emotion, to create a story. As women, do we create myths about ourselves, to satisfy our innemost desires and needs? Do we see ourselves as others do? I personally believe that we need to integrate the mythical side with the perception, within the sometimes unfortunate restrictions that society imposes on us.

Deborah Nedelman's picture

Welcome to the Dinner Party -

Sojourner Truth - here is her rage, her grief, and the complex face of woman that she presented to the world. This is the woman who bared her breasts at a public forum in Indiana in 1858 to prove that she was a woman. In this depiction she has only one arm/hand - her left and it is in a closed fist, as Liza points out. Is her other tied behind her back? There is both strength and solidity in this picture but the over arching emotion that it evokes in me is the grief of anonymity.

I appreciate being included in this class,

Deborah '69

Phebe Knox Intihar's picture

"Welcome to the Dinner Party"

Liza's comments seem sophisticated to me.

I would add that the right-side figure is perhaps knocking: As my maiden name at Bryn Mawr was Phebe Knox, I am sensitive to that issue: "Knock and it shall be opened unto you." Maybe, or maybe not in this case: this figurine represents not only an issue of gender, race is added in as well, as the figure is colored. And someone is keeping something closed and gatekeeping, so she has to knock and hope to be let in.

Phebe '66

Elizabeth F. Stabler (Liza)'s picture

The picture -- welcome to the dinner party

There are 3 faces, all with their eyes closed. The middle and the right hand faces are masks. The right hand face represents the feminine self in response to the world,with a hard substance covering the eyes and circling the mouth, disguising featuresand eradicating the individual. The closed fist with palm facing out evokes a number of emotions such as anger at not being heard or seen as well as utter frustration at not having the freedom to perceive and communicate (as indicated by the eye and mouth white matter).

The stylized mask in the middle represents the public face, both presented and perceived, of the women in most cultures. It's in grayscale and decorated with what looks like some (mythical?) culture's idea of the ideal feminine. In other words, imposed cultural norms and expectations have disguised the real person beneath the mask.

On the left, sinister side, often culturally assigned to women, is the inner, private woman. She is represented weeping and depressed, the psychological obverse of her opposite's anger.

The lower part of the picture evokes the disembodied female, whose body is not real to her.

Thank you for allowing me to participate in this class.

Liza '69