Women And Artistic Expression Essay, Research Paper
Many conditions of women s lives shape their voices and their artistic expression. The perception a woman artist has of who she is as an artist and what she intends her art to convey are affected by these conditions. Her race, presence of family in her life, and society s expectations all pose as obstacles she must deal with in order to fully understand her place as an artist.
Family plays an important role in shaping a woman s voice. How she is treated for speaking out at an early age will affect the way she feels speaking in public when she is older. Often times it is very hard for women artists to find their voice as they are growing up. This is due to the family structure which has prevailed for over a century. Women have typically been seen as taking on the responsibilities around the house and only speaking when spoken to. Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be out in the public sphere and even young men are encouraged to voice out their opinions at an early age. Young women, however, are typically reprimanded for speaking their mind. If a woman is to speak her mind or choose to do something other than raise children and clean the house, she becomes looked down upon. This standard makes it especially hard for women artists. Working on their art, whatever it may be, means taking time away from work around the house, and this goes against what society sees as how a woman should act.
Even when young girls are aloud to speak out, there is still an imposed silence. Bell hooks verifies this claim in Talking Back . She explains that what she experienced growing up in a black community is very different than what a white person experiences. Bell hooks claims that in black communities women have not been silent..their voices can be heard (hooks, 207). However, she goes on to say that although women were aloud to speak their mind, she felt as a child that this speech was suppressed speech (hooks, 209). Well, what is the use of being able to speak if what you say must fall within certain guidelines of what is right speech for women?
Women artists of color are faced with a number of burdening obstacles. Not only does a woman artist of color have to deal with being a woman in a male-dominated society of writers, but she also has to come to grips with being a woman of color in this same group that is constituted mainly of white males. She is faced with many dilemmas as a writer. One of these is deciding what the purpose of her writing should be. If she chooses to write for the sole purpose of enjoyment and self-gratification, she can not help but feel guilty in doing so. This guilt is a direct result of the outside pressures of her peers, women of color in particular. Supposedly she is privileged to have the ability to write. However, other women of color feel that she must use this privilege wisely and be thinking of how it will affect others. In other words, she should be writing for political reasons. Since she is a woman of color, her writing should serve to fulfill a social function of educating and informing. For if she does not do this and instead chooses to write merely for the fun of writing, then society says she has failed to do her job and she is in a sense letting her people down. This issue is explored in Trinh T. Minh-ha s Commitment from the Mirror-Writing Box . Minh talks about Jacques Rabemananjara who criticized..poets for spending their existence indulging in aesthetic refinements.. (Minh, 252). Rabemananjara goes on to say that the poet has to play the difficult role of being simultaneously the torch lighting the way for his fellow men and their loyal interpreter (Minh, 252).
The woman writer of color must decide who she will be loyal to. She must essentially choose between herself and her people, for they are separate and if she picks one she in a sense negates the other. She must also deal with prejudices of publishers, who are not quick to stamp seals of approval on works of women, let alone works of women of color.
Language poses another problem for women artists of color. Many argue that in this society where the rulers are mostly white, upper-class males, the language that these men speak becomes what is thought of as the correct form of language or grammar . Adrienne Rich points out that Sexist grammar burns into the brains of little girls and young women a message that the male is the norm . This essentially takes away credibility of women s words and in a way this accounts for the silencing of their thoughts.
For the woman of color, the language barrier is even greater because the language that they were brought up with and feel comfortable with is frowned upon not only in the literary world but also in society as a whole. In The Girl Who Wouldn t Sing , Kit Yuen Quan expresses her problems with the language of our society when she says I get frustrated because I constantly feel I m being put down for what I m saying or how I talk . She has struggles with voicing herself and feels that whenever she speaks she is put in the spotlight. Her native language is what connected her to her roots and when this language was discredited through years of mental torture she in a sense began to lose her sense of self-identity.
Another dilemma women artists face is weighing the importance of family versus the importance of their art. If the woman artist is to wholly devote all of her time to her art, then she must be at the same time neglecting her pre-determined role as housewife and/or mother. The woman s sphere was supposed to be a domestic one, taking care of the house and raising children. In Kate Chopin s The Awakening, the main character Edna is an artist who must face this dilemma. The following quote illustrates how torn she feels between her family and her work:
She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them Their absence was sort of a relief It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her.
She essentially wants both worlds on her own terms. She wants to be a mother to her children but at the same time she wants privacy to work on her art. Edna has to eventually decide whether to rebel, give up her family and throw herself into her art. And when she eventually does this she goes against every norm in the society in which she lived.
The family life of a woman artist shapes who she is as a person and where she sees herself in relation to society. She must in most instances go against societal expectations and break the mold of the stereotypical woman. Women of color have even a greater challenge in becoming artists. They must take into account how much of an impact their work will have on the generations of women of color to follow. Often times the woman artist feels that she must set aside her own aspirations to conform to what is expected of her as a woman artist of color. In doing so, she may lose the inspiration which may have once led her to speak her voice in the first place.