Interview with Artist Carol Rossetti

Carol Rossetti is a designer and illustrator from Brazil, who has been making waves in feminist spaces lately with her series of illustrations entitled simply “Women“. The illustrations generally depict a woman dealing with some societal attitude towards her choices, appearance or identity, and include a positive message of support and solidarity.

Carol_Lorena

It took Lorena a long time to find her sensuality because she has never seen herself represented as beauty, only as tragedy…
But you are so much more than the way the media portrays you, aren’t you, Lorena? Your wheelchair is freedom and it can run over anyone who reduces you to stereotypes.

When Carol first started sharing translations of her work in English, they were widely shared, and suddenly feminists around the world wanted them in their own languages – the Tel Aviv based feminist collective Sholefet first translated them into Hebrew, and then they were translated into Spanish, and now they are being translated into such various languages as Arabic, Russian, Italian, Czech, Lithuanian, Hindi, Norwegian, Romanian, Japanese, Malayalam, Tamil, Bahasa Melayu & Bahasa Indonesia…. It’s fair to say Carol has sparked something of a movement! Carol was kind enough to answer Femina Invicta’s questions about her work, and why she thinks its appeal is so universal.


Q: What does feminism mean to you? Can you tell us something about how your feminist consciousness has developed over time?

That’s a really interesting question. Some people see me nowadays and think I’ve always been like that, and that’s not true. I grew up and changed a lot. I was born in a country full of prejudice and oppression despite the whole diversity we have. Even though my parents are wonderful people, everybody is affected by their culture, and I grew up believing in some nasty stereotypes. If you asked me ten years ago, I’d probably say something silly like “I’m neither feminist or sexist, I’m humanist!” Common attitudes got me to believe that feminism was something unnecessary for these times, that the fight was over, women already got equality and now feminism is just a bunch of man-hating unloved women. There was a long process of deconstruction of my own concepts and prejudices. It took a lot of research, a lot of listening, learning and thinking. Reviewing our privileges is not something easy to do, but it’s necessary.

Q: What place does art fill in your life? Are there any particular artists that you are inspired by?

I think that illustration has always been a way of expressing myself. I usually don’t talk much about myself. I’m an only child, and maybe because of that I have always felt comfortable alone. Solitude has never been a problem to me; I’m actually really fond of having some moments for myself. My way of expressing my feelings and my identity was always through drawing. I tried acting and playing the guitar, but it didn’t really work out. There are many artists that have inspired me in different ways, in different moments of my life. Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, Will Eisner, Marjani Strapi, Criag Thompson, Quino, Crepax…

Q: What do you think the connection is between art and feminism?

I think feminism is something very important and very complex. It needs to be spread, to be talked about; it needs to get out of this bubble of young, white, European women. In so many parts of the world, feminism is still very misunderstood and unknown. And I truly believe that art and design can do a lot to make it easier to understand. When it comes to information, design can do a wonderful job. And when it comes to emotion, I think art is always a great answer.

Carol_Mariana

Q: Do you see art as a form of activism? How do you see feminist art fitting in with, or contributing to, other forms of activism?

Art is expression. It expresses ideas, feelings, and identities. And none of those is detached from politics. We need to deconstruct this idea that politics is something for politicians. Politics is everybody’s business, and it’s not a synonym to bureaucracy. It’s pretty much in everything: our culture, our routines, our jobs… The only people who can really afford to think that politics is not their business are the ones that are very privileged. People who have never had anything denied to them because of their gender, sexuality, race, nationality, ethnicity and beliefs. The rest of us can’t afford this luxury, we need to fight every day to be respected and accepted. Some need to fight more, some need to fight less. But it’s really important to understand that art is not detached from politics because art IS politics in so many ways. Whenever we make a statement, whenever we say that something needs to change, whenever we realize there’s a fight to be fought… Well, that’s politics, and art is a tool that we have to express ideas and change the world. And feminist art is so very important! Now that we have so many people accessing the internet, I see a huge potential of reaching people, and that’s amazing!

Q: Your “Women” series has become quite successful! How did the series begin? Did you expect it to make such waves? What are the most exceptional and/or exciting responses you’ve received?

I’ve never really expected such visibility. I wanted to practice my technique with colored pencils on kraft paper and I thought I might as well do it while sending a positive message to my friends who already followed my page. I think what led me to it was a day when I saw this friend of mine sharing a photo on Facebook of a fat woman wearing yoga pants, and the caption was “ouch my eyes”. Well, I was really intrigued by how and unknown person’s dressing choice could be so annoying to someone that would get this person to say something so disrespectful about it on Facebook – which I believe is not that different from shouting it to a whole neighborhood. So my first drawing was about a fat girl wearing a horizontal stripes dress. But she had a name. She was called Marina. And she had a friendly face. And there was a text saying she loved that dress, and a friendly advice at the end to wear it and be happy. I guess it worked, because my friend shared this illustration and I’ve never seen her saying anything mean to other women ever since. On the contrary, she actually started sharing some feminist content that I never expected to see on her timeline!

Now, the responses were very diverse. Most of them are very positive, people thanking me and telling me never to stop with it. A few of them were aggressive and/or disrespectful, but at the end I managed to handle it well. I was very shocked to see people thanking me and saying that my work really got them through a very difficult time in their lives. I didn’t see that coming. It’s amazing, but it feels weird, because I don’t really feel like I’m doing something amazing. My work feels really simple, actually. It’s good; I think so, but not genius. It’s really just about respect in the end.

Q: Where do you get the ideas for the illustrations in the series? Are they based on real women?

The characters are not real, but the situations are. Some of them I observed in my friends, my relatives or even myself. But I usually change names and features. Except for Whitney (which is Whitney Thore, the Fat Girl Dancing) and Aline (Aline Lemos, a fellow artist and friend).

Q: The series has been very well received all around the world – what do you think makes women from such different locations and backgrounds identify with your work?

I think gender oppression is something real all around, but in different ways. In this group we have on Facebook with all the translators, it was clear that there were differences, both in women’s rights and in cultural aspects. But still there is a common feeling that feminism is still necessary – in some places more than others, of course, but there’s still a lot to fight for. For example, maybe abortion is already legal in Japan, but on the other hand there’s an enormous pressure for women to get married there, as if they were not complete without a husband. So, there are many different aspects to be discussed.

Q: What artists do you recommend?

When it comes to illustrations and comics, I think there are many people worth getting to know. In Brazil I see many women with a fantastic work, like Aline Lemos, Samie Carvalho (who is actually in Japan, but she’s Brazilian too), Lu Cafaggi, Cris Peter, Bi Anca… There are the eternal great ones like Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, Craig Thompson, Marjani Strapi, Melind Gebbie… Oh, recently I read one from Israel that I really liked. It’s called “Farm 54”, from Galit and Gilad Seliktar.

Carol_AlineCarol_ElisaCarol_Susan

Q: And a sort of unfair question to end with – do you have a favorite from among your “Women” illustrations?

Hahaha! That’s evil! Like asking a mother which is her favorite child, right? Well, I really liked the colors in Susan and Elisa… :)

Thanks!!

Thank YOU!

Carol_Amanda

Amanda decided that shaving just isn’t her thing…
Amanda, it’s your body, and you do whatever you want with it. No social convention should have a say in your identity.


>> Visit Carol’s Facebook Page

Men and Rape Culture

Generally, men are willing to admit that women are raped. They are able to admit that nearly every woman and girl experience, have experienced, or will experience harassment, assault, or other violence, and in a more-than-singular or exceptional way. The moment it becomes something to stubbornly deny is when the person committing the violence is named. Because men can identify with a guy who has a name. What is apparently so difficult for them is the idea that *they* can be part of the problem. Not that they really fear a false accusation – because in any case very few complaints are taken seriously, and even fewer ever make it to court, and fewer yet result in any significant punishment to the accused. It’s simply – if they admit that their friend, their brother, even their neighbor harassed or assaulted someone, it projects upon them. Even if they do not see themselves as violent, they identify more with the accused than the accuser, viscerally, instinctively, because they know that they live in this environment, they see what goes on around them, they laugh at certain types of jokes, or maybe they slept with someone who didn’t really want to and required “persuasion”, or a friend of theirs did. They label women as sluts or cheap or easy, and think that therefore they are less entitled to sovereignty over their own bodies. They don’t want to be held responsible, and therefore – even though just a moment ago they had no issue with the generic story (“When I was 20 years old, I was raped.” “Oh, how awful!”), now, when the story is more real and immediate (“Your friend, Bill, raped me.”) they suddenly insist on the involvement of courts, and police, and evidentiary systems they don’t begin to comprehend unless they studied law.

And so, in every discussion about rape or sexual violence, no matter how horrifying the story, or how overwhelming the statistics, of millions and millions of cases… Their first reaction will be something about false accusations, or they’ll find some way to blame the victim, or they’ll entrench themselves behind some legal concept they don’t understand (presumption of innocence).

And so I say – men – check yourselves. The day is coming where you will no longer have the privilege of remaining indifferent. You don’t need to be a rapist to be part of rape culture, and this is a culture that will not stand.

A Short Rant

I’m pretty tired of always being expected to be apologetic to hegemonic persons who automatically get riled up at the merest hint that they may be in collusion with an oppressive system – whether men, white people, cis-people, straight people… Seriously, no matter how good you THINK your intentions are, you benefit as a member of that group from the oppression of others. You have a responsibility to proactively act against all the attitudes and behaviors that perpetuate the existing structure. You don’t get off by saying “I don’t see color” or “we’re all human” or “everyone is equally deserving of respect”, or “Just be nice to everybody!” (“nice” really isn’t the issue). By doing that, you are erasing and ignoring and minimizing the actual lived experiences of marginalized people – THEY never say they don’t see color or that everyone should love each other equally, because their ENTIRE LIFE EXPERIENCE is based on the fact that people DO see color (or gender, or ethnicity, or weight, or age… and they DON’T LIKE IT). You don’t get to say “generalizing about men is equally sexist to what men do to women”, because guess what: it isn’t. If that was all we were dealing with, we wouldn’t be here, doing this feminism thing. And getting no end of crap for it. We get to be mad, because we’re the ones getting raped, murdered, beaten, paid less, judged, disowned, legislated against, maligned, harassed, and more. You don’t get to act as if there is parity between us. If I hate you – nothing happens to you except you feel I was unpleasant to you. I live in a state of fear and violence, whether or not you even recognize my existence. I get to say “I hate straights/cis-people/men”, even if that isn’t “nice”. I don’t owe you my niceness. You don’t get to hate women/people of color/trans* people – because when you do, you are supporting an entire system of oppression and violence. Someday, when the playing field is even, you will have a right to claim that this attitude might lead to oppression. Someday, on that day that will only arrive if TODAY YOU RECOGNIZE YOUR PRIVILEGES AND THE OPPRESSIONS OF OTHERS. But for now – you don’t get to take away our anger. Their anger. The anger that comes from being stomped on and marginalized. YOU JUST DON’T.

Palestinian women: Trapped between occupation and patriarchy

Reblogged from Random Shelling
Post: Palestinian Women: Trapped Between Occupation and Patriarchy
by 

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On a warm and bright Sunday morning, three-year-old Saqer was cuddling with his mother when she was shot several times in the head and chest. Dishevelled, tremulous, and smirched with his mother’s blood, Saqer was spotted by a neighbour pleading for help, but was unable to give utterance to what had just befallen his household. Saqer’s mother, Mona Mahajneh, had just been murdered in cold blood in front of his own eyes; the only suspect so far is his maternal uncle, whose detention has been extended in order to allow the investigation of the murder to progress.

Mahajneh, a 30-year-old mother of three from Umm al-Fahm in the Northern Triangle, is the latest martyr of domestic violence against Palestinian women in the Palestinian territories occupied by Zionist militias in 1948 (hereinafter referred to as the Green Line, Israel’s internationally-recognised armistice border). She tried to start a new life after her divorce, despite being separated from her other two children. However, in a patriarchal society, where divorced women are often dehumanised and treated like scourges and onerous burdens, Mona paid with her life for seeking independence and the freedom to choose.

Tragic Irony

Ironically, Mona was murdered only two days after a protest against killings of women under the cloak of “family honour.” On Friday, 26 April, the Committee Against Women Killings, a coalition of 20 Palestinian feminist groups, toured Palestinian villages and cities in the Green Line in two separate motorized processions. Dubbed “The Procession of Life,” the protest called for an end to the phenomenon of “honour” crimes. Two motorcades, one that took off from the Naqab in the South, and another from Kafr Manda in the lower Galilee, eventually converged for a joint protest in Kafr Qare’ near Umm al-Fahm. The processions passed through Palestinian villages in the South and the North, sending a vociferous message against violence throughout Palestine. Names of women killed by their family members, as well as placards and signs that read “No honour in honour crimes,” and “She was killed for being a woman” were raised on the cars. The impressive turnout for the protest and the media attention it attracted, however, could not prevent Mona’s murder.

This is not the first time that a Palestinian woman had been murdered shortly after a protest against gender-based violence. On 10 March of this year, Alaa Shami, 21, was stabbed to death by her brother in the northern town of Ibilline, just two days after International Women’s Day. On 7 February, 2010, Bassel Sallam fatally shot his wife, Hala Faysal, and left her to bleed in her bedroom. Hours before the murder, his father Ali Sallam, deputy mayor of Nazareth, participated in a demonstration against violence on women and gave a speech denouncing it.

Shocking Spike

Six Palestinian women have been killed in the Green Line so far this year, two more than those killed in all of 2012. Statistics provided by the Nazareth-based organisation Women Against Violence show an even more distressing picture: Since Israel ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1991, 162 Palestinian women in the Green Line have been killed by their husbands or other family members. Since 1986, 35 Palestinian women have been murdered in the towns of al-Lydd and Ramleh alone. Numbers provided by “Women Against Violence” also show that an overwhelming majority of the women killed in the Green Line are Palestinians. In 2011, for instance, 14 women were killed in the Green Line, nine of whom were Palestinians. Of the 15 women killed in 2010, ten were Palestinians. A total of eleven women were killed in 2009 and nine of them were Palestinian women. In that same year, 13 Palestinian women were killed across Gaza and the West Bank. Accurate figures about women killings in Gaza and the West Bank are harder to obtain, and not all cases are documented or covered by the Palestinian media, but by no means is the situation less disturbing than that in the Green Line.

De-Politicising Violence

A recent high-profile initiative targeting violence against women and challenging the concept of “honour” killings was the music video “If I could Go Back in Time,” released in November 2012 by the Palestinian hip hop group DAM. The moving music video, co-directed by Jackie Salloum and funded by UN Women, has drawn over 200,000 views and received positive feedback in Palestine and beyond. A major drawback of the video, though, was that it de-politicised violence against women and traded depth and intersectionality for populist drama and reductionism. As Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi wrote in their critique of the video, “it operates in a total political, legal, and historical vacuum.”

When it comes to violence against women in the Middle East in general, and in Palestine in particular, there are two dominant and completely opposing paradigms: The first blames the violence on a backward tradition and an inherently misogynistic society, choosing to focus solely on the category of “honour” crimes, as if they represent the only form of domestic violence women are subjected to. The other paradigm, meanwhile, holds Israeli colonialism and its institutionalised discrimination responsible, claiming that one cannot expect women to be free when Palestine is under occupation. Both paradigms are obviously too simplistic and unrepresentative. They avoid asking the tough questions and ignore both the multi-layered reality and the politics of daily life that Palestinian women on the ground face.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Arab bourgeois feminist movements, including the feminist movement in the West Bank, shot themselves in the foot and chose to ally with tyrannical Arab regimes in order to promote their social rights through legislation. By standing with the authorities and power structures, they operated as a fig leaf for so-called “secular” dictatorships. Moreover, by opting for an elitist and apolitical “feminist” struggle, bourgeois feminists ignored that real social change cannot be brought about in the absence of political freedom, nor can it be achieved by groveling before a repressive system. Feminism is not just about fighting for gender equality; it is about shaking the hegemonic dynamics of power and domination. Gender subordination is a fundamental factor in this matrix of power, but it intersects with political oppression and exploitation on the basis of class, religion, ethnicity, physical ability, and related aspects of personal identity.

Despite its many structural problems and shortcomings, the feminist movement inside the Green Line, to its credit, understood early on that the personal cannot be separated from the political, precisely because the state of Israel plays an active role in marginalising Palestinian women and strengthening local patriarchal elements such as clan leaders and religious courts that oppress women. Most Palestinian feminists also never had the illusion that advancing the rights of Palestinian women can come from the Knesset, the Zionist parliament.

No Protection

It is naïve to believe that the police, a violent, militaristic, and intrinsically patriarchal organ of the state, could be genuinely committed to eradicating violence against women. It is even more naïve to think that Israeli police, a law-enforcement tool for the occupation, would be determined to abolish violence against indigenous Palestinian women unless it is under immense pressure to do so. The stories of Palestinian women who complained to the Israeli police about threats by their family members – only to be turned down by the police and later killed by their family members – are too many to recount. For instance, few months ago in Rahat, the largest Palestinian city in the Naqab, A young woman approached the social service office and reportedly informed the police that she feared for her life. Police officers reportedly told her to go back home, assuring her that she would be safe. Almost 24 hours later, she was found dead.

The latest incident occurred on 21 May, 2013: Two girls, aged three and five, were strangled to death in their home in Fura’a, an unrecognised Palestinian village in the Naqab. The girls’ mother had approached the police station in the nearby Jewish colony of Arad and said that her husband threatened to kill the girls, but her plea was ignored. These horrific events demonstrate marriage between the state – a patriarchal, masculinist entity – and the conservative patriarchal elements in the community.

The Israeli police treat domestic violence among the Palestinian minority as a “private affair” that should be left for the clan and its leaders to solve. It is much more comfortable for the police to link domestic violence against Palestinian women to “family honour” and thus absolve themselves of the responsibility to intervene under the pretext of respecting “cultural sensitivity.” Using this pretext to justify lack of enforcement of women rights stems from Israel’s racist presumption that the abuse and oppression of women are intrinsically tied to Palestinian culture and tradition. It also stems from Israel’s double standards in respecting and protecting multiculturalism.

On the one hand, Israel claims to respect the principle of multiculturalism to buttress and sustain the oppression of women. On the other hand, Israel shows little respect to multiculturalism when it comes to the recognition of minority rights: The ostensible status of Arabic as an official language is solely ink on paper; Palestinian culture, history, narrative, and political literature are intentionally snuffed out of school curricula; and collective memory is targeted through constant attempts of Israelification. In addition, the same Israeli police that evades its duty to protect women from domestic violence because it is a “family” affair is, in the end, has no such concern for “Palestinian family affairs” when its forces demolish homes and displace entire families on a regular basis in the Naqab.

Not only is protection desperately scarce in all of this, but so is accountability. The majority of cases involving violence against women are closed either for lack of evidence or lack of public interest. Although Israel, unlike many Arab states, does not have a provision in its criminal law that mitigates punishment for so-called “honor crimes,” women’s rights organisations repeatedly accuse the police of not investing enough effort in the attempts to find the killers and hold them accountable. Some of the worst cases of violence against women occur in Lydd, Ramleh and the Naqab. Those places also happen to boast some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates; they are also subjected to a targeted Israeli policy of extreme discrimination, denial of basic rights and services, and constant threats of eviction and home demolitions. Add to that the inaccessibility of the Israeli justice system for Palestinian and under-privileged women, and the social retribution that women face for approaching the police and complaining about their family members, and it should be no surprise, then, that Palestinian women do not trust the state to protect them.

Tacit Justifications

It all begins with the huge difference between the way Palestinian media covers the killing of a man and the killing of a woman: the first is often referred to as a “tragedy” while the latter is referred to as an “ambiguous incident”. When Palestinian politicians, religious leaders, and public figures are asked to speak out against women killings, they begin by blaming the police and then reiterate that violence against women is part and parcel of mounting violence in the Palestinian society in general. Indeed, hardly a day passes by without hearing of shooting or stabbing incidents involving Palestinian men in different Palestinian towns. So pervasive has violence been that almost 10,000 demonstrators flocked to the streets of Haifa – one of the largest protests in Haifa’s history – on 7 May to say enough is enough. People who conflate gender-based violence with violence in general ignore the reality that women are murdered simply for being women; they are also killed in places that are supposed to be the most secure, and by people who are supposed to be the closest and most intimate to them. It is trendy to voice condemnations and call for respecting women’s rights immediately after a woman is killed… and then to completely and utterly forget about it two days later and wait until the next killing. Women killings, under whatever euphemism, are only one manifestation of patriarchy. The root problem is much more entrenched and less spoken about.

The seasonal and rhetorical condemnation of physical violence against women by those who promote or remain silent over less visible forms of patriarchy helps explain the failure of the society as a whole to take a firm position on crimes against women, let alone prevent them. The Northen Branch of the Islamic movement, for instance, condemns physical violence against women while it rejects participation in mixed-gender political protests and segregates women in their public events. How can Talab Arar, a Knesset member for the Unified Arab List, have a moral ground to denounce violence against women when he is polygamous?

Misogyny and patriarchy are, by no means, exclusive to religious and conservative Palestinians. Many left-wing activists and politicians do not hesitate to use sexist language, give tacit justifications for sexual harassment, or claim that fighting for women rights is not a priority as long as we are under occupation. How can we ever be free, as women and Palestinians, when a protest leader and a poster boy of Palestinian popular resistance is implicated in sexual harassment and everything is done to cover-up for him? As long as Palestinian women are expected to push their demands for gender liberation to the fringe, and as long as a large chuck of the population cannot concede that women are structurally oppressed, women will continue to be killed with social and legal impunity.

A first step towards challenging the hegemonic lexicon of the local and colonial patriarchs would be to quit using the term “honour crimes,” even with quotation marks. Its very use legitimises the concept and gives the false pretence that “honour” is the real motive for the crime, when it is really only a guise to strip women of their autonomy and dignity. The second step is to speak out, for silence is complicity. Sweeping the ugly truth under the rug will not hide it; it will only make its force more brutal and intensify the cycle of violence that has literally destroyed the lives of large numbers of women over time. The third, and most important step, is not to wait for the police to protect us. Women should take up arms to protect themselves and organise street militias to combat sexual harassment.

Cliteracy

I love when I discover new *stuff*. I certainly spend enough time just jumping from tab to new tab in my browser… If I spent this much time actually working my career might be in a different condition… (-;

But back on point: CLITERACY. How did we live without it till now????

Sophia Wallace is an American conceptual artist whose topics include queer representations and the of gendering of aesthetics. I really love her work and recommend spending an inordinate amount of time on her beautiful website.

But this post is all about Cliteracy, which can be found on her Tumblr:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Cliteracy Eye Chart

Rocking the Tel Aviv SlutWalk!

Oh. My. Holy. Crap.

On Friday, April 5th, the Tel Aviv SlutWalk took place and we totally rocked this city! I am so proud of all the hundreds of women who showed up and marched, of the organizers who put their hearts and souls into making it a success, of those who got up on stage and spoke to the crowds about their experiences with rape culture and victim blaming.

I was hoping for the best, but was cautiously optimistic. Rain was expected. There was another organization trying to appropriate the SlutWalk while basing their activities on blatant slut-shaming. Historically, anti-sexual violence marches do not attract huge crowds here. As a matter of fact… This was the largest march I’ve seen! We got good coverage on TV, radio, newspapers, news sites and blogs… So surprising, so gratifying! I’m really just brimming over :)

Photos and videos are still being assembled – here is one from YouTube:

Photo gallery – credits to Claudia Levin, Lihi Barnoy, Aviv Aharon, Shimon Hashanki