You are here

Introduction: M(other)hood's Moms, Activists, Artists, and Betty Ford

This issue provides insights into many political, social, and cultural aspects of women's lives.

Tamara Watkins and Mike Mosher

When it comes to women's lives, the personal truly is political. Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann stated in 2011 that women must be "submissive" to their husbands, bringing attention to Evangelical Christian gender dynamics and their potential influence on politicians' views on "social issues." Bachmann and her ilk have declared war on abortion rights. Although abortion and reproductive health services have always been polemical topics, women's access to adequate health care is under fire at unprecedented levels in America. Republicans, the party of keeping the government out of health care, ironically advocate increased governmental interference and restrictions on women's access to it. Despite federal funding for abstinence-only education, America has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.

These points focus only on the negative, and that perspective does a disservice to the women who have expanded boundaries and made contributions to their respective fields. Women have served as the face of U.S. diplomacy for the better part of the last fifteen years. In 2008, Iceland elected Johanna Sigurdardottir Prime Minister, making her the world's first openly gay leader. Women are making strides in entertainment, too. Oprah Winfrey and J.K. Rowling are immensely influential. Bridesmaids showed that a female-centered comedy can be raunchy and successful at the box office. While these gains don't mean that gender inequality has been abolished, they are significant.

Bad Subjects originally (twenty years ago!) called for papers, and then came up with a title when the issue editors had perused the final table of contents. In the mid-1990s we switched to theme issues, and then contributors—including the issue editors—provided writing addressing that theme. This issue was originally conceived as centered on women's embattled reproduction rights, and the social and political factors endangering the process of raising children in our time. As time went on, we realized that this narrow focus does not fully address women's experience. We initially received contributions that celebrate women's activity in politics and daily life, and their diverse self-representation in artworks.
Of course, that's not to say that our contributors aren't outraged by the myriad forces working to oppress women. One symbol of patriarchal forces attempting to silence women comes from Egypt, "The Girl in the Blue Bra." In the US, fed-up seniors called the Wild Old Women let the banks know their days of consumer abuse are over.

Meanwhile the Grand Old Party of resentment chugs on, whose propaganda machines like FOX "News" and Clear Channel's Sneer, uh, Talk Radio make working stiffs incomprehensibly identify with the interests of CEOs making 400 times what they do. Much of their message is implied restoration of white privilege, resolving to smack down the soft-spoken black President.

A generation ago, it was Republicans who supported Planned Parenthood, before Ronald Reagan's election machine made the devil's bargain with radical Christianists, the evangelical right. One wonders if the current anti-choice/anti-contraceptive movement is rooted in the pathological need to punish the sexually active young woman in high school who wouldn't sleep with them (and assert control over the geometry teachers who would). This part of the electorate is titillated by fantasies of gay wantonness, sex without consequence, independent females. And one certainly cannot help but see the psychology behind that.

Similarly, it's easy to suspect the traditionalists' opposition to women and gays in the military was to proscribe those who wouldn't enjoy the soldier's age-old prerogative of rape (much less peeing on enemy corpses). They'd be spoilsports at the party, what with their (perceived) feminine compassion and empathy. Yet US Army Specialist Lynndie England, guard at Abu Ghraib prison, proved women can torture as abusively as men, though it's also argued she's just the patsy so the investigation doesn't find abusers of higher rank.

This issue kicks off Bad Subjects' twenty-first year, and we continue in the tradition of former editors and contributors Annalee Newitz, Jillian Sandell, Megan Prelinger, Cynthia Hoffman and many others. When you finish reading this issue, please go to the archive to appreciate their work.

In Bad Subjects #82: M(other)hood, San Francisco-based Otherzine editor and lecturer Molly Hankwitz interrogates an activity that, despite men's best intentions, usually falls to the lot of women.

We have a report from Glenda Drew on Occupy University of California, Davis, the California campus where pepper spray was casually administered on peaceful, seated protesters, that tells of the satisfaction of creating activist graphics, especially by hand.

Retired educator, author, and long-time marcher for peace (who so often has put her body on the line), Rosalie Riegle recounts some important activists that inspired her.

Alison Ross writes about sexism in Hollywood and the challenges female directors face.

Pregnancy, motherhood, and women's post-partum bodies are expored in Becky Cooper's A Happy Childhood: Identity and Anxiety During Pregnancy, Margaret Jamieson 3 PM, and Kelly Argyle's The Morning.

Johanna Hibbard's The Lading presents a snapsot of a woman's life, including her interior monologue.

Jennifer Flynn, Amanda Waterman, and Nate Garrelts analyze the Dove soap advertising campaign that captured that nation's attention and caused us to consider the connection between the female body and commercialism.

S.L. Weitmare examines American culture, which is filled with individuals who tell women that they do, in fact, want to have children, and will not be successful until they do...even when women themselves disagree.

Mike Mosher takes a look at nearly four decades of performances, paintings, and persona created by the Michigan artist Niagara.

Tamara Watkins offers a literary analysis of the popular Twlight books, with attention paid to the series' paternalistic and sexist content.

These articles are followed by portfolios from several women and one man whose work explore family, gender, and violence.

Andrea Ondish, whose "American Graffiti" portfolio appeared in BS #67: Family ≠ Nation, depicts women as tools, those functional, unheralded objects in garage or basement workshop that get the job done.

Francesca Palazzola, a painter and illustrator in New Jersey, contributes resonant imagery of children and family.

Mail art activist Sarah Jo Pender sends us artwork, both critical and optimistic, from solitary confinement in Indiana Women's Prison.

Several-time Bad Subject Myrrh returns with some recent political cartoons, and Geoff Schindler comments visually on gun violence, a disturbing threat to human often abused term in our land.

As we read these essays and art that help us explore the world(s) women create and live in, we can't help but think about how the American woman's experience has changed over the last several decades.

On January 22, 2012, sincere but misguided Michigan citizens assembled in public events to commemorate the 30th Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, to protest the Supreme Court's wise and thoughtful 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed women's right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Groups met in Sanilac and Tuscola County, and State Senator Mike Green addressed a service on the Huron County courthouse steps in Bad Axe. A bus left Lapeer before dawn, heading to the evening rally in Washington, D.C.

But we'd rather remember a pro-choice mid-American mom of the past, albeit nearer the political middle or right of the mainstream than our own left wing.

Betty (Mrs. Gerald) Ford, wife of the United States' 38th President died in July, 2011. Cokie Roberts [link to NPR Morning Edition July, 11, 2011] asked Mrs. Ford five years before her death what she'd like said at her funeral, whenever that would take place. Mrs. Ford was saddened by the partisan rancor of contemporary Washington DC. Perhaps it was an old boys' club, albeit more smoothly functioning. Some of that rancor is due to the revenue-slashing intransigence of a Republican Party much radicalized since Jerry Ford's day. Yet some of that rancor today is over abortion and same-sex marriage rights.

Susan Collins, Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, where President Ford was a student and football player in the 1930s, lauded Betty Ford's fundraising ability in the service of the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and for her compassion and capacity to empower others. Betty Ford was given an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the university in 1996, and returned for the dedication of Weill Hall in 2004.

Collins noted "For all of the things she has done in the rights of women...She was an active supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, and that was quite controversial at that time, as were a number of the positions she took."

In the 1970s Betty Ford told People Magazine that if her daughter Susan Ford was pregnant she would counsel her, but respectfully allow Susan to make her own choice. She broke the taboo on speaking publicly about breast cancer, prescription drug addiction and alcohol abuse, her own arenas of struggle. In 1982 she founded the Betty Ford Center for recovery in Rancho Mirage, CA, then the Ford's home town. One of this issue's editors remembers the Fords dancing the hustle to the chirpy hit tune at the 1976 Republican Convention that nominated then-President Gerald Ford to run for re-election against Jimmy Carter. And as noted in Bad Subjects' eulogy upon President Ford's death [link], the White House released several photos of the Fords kissing or embracing following the Nixon resignation, as if to signal an end to Nixon's grim, sexless years, that happiness and normalcy had returned.

In Betty Ford's memory, America's progressives, its Democrats and any remaining sane Republicans should, all together, revive the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment, to force an end to persistent workplace inequality between male and female. And the Amendment should be updated and revised as necessary to constitutionally cement the abortion rights afforded by Roe v. Wade as federal law. And also to establish same-sex marriage across the nation, and GLBT equal employment rights, the last legal omissions of liberty and justice for all.

That way, we could honor the mothers, the not-the-time-to-be-mothers, and all the Others. Because it's the right thing to do in 2012.

Mike Mosher is Professor, Art/Communication & Digital Media at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, and a Bad Subject since 1995.

Tamara Watkins teaches at Northern Virginia Community College's American Culture and Language Institute.

Copyright © Tamara Watkins & Mike Mosher 2012. Graphic © Myrrh 2012. All rights reserved.