The following is PAP ART curator Nancy Mizuno Elliott’s statement about this exhibition to begin March 16. You are urged to put in your two cents by submitting comments. We look forward to a lively discussion
– I was part of an army of recent college graduates that served in Planned Parenthood. It felt like the army, but without all the guys and guns: We were determined, focused, very idealistic, and paid shit: We wanted to do our part for the feminist cause. And now, as a veteran and old lady of 40, I ask myself why was reproductive health so politicized? Why do adults duck-and-cover at the mere mention of menstruation blood? I mean, my mother and countless friends’ mothers didn’t say peep about periods. Peep! And if they did, their only advice was how to dispose of your sanitary napkin—wrap it in toilet paper and put it on the bottom of the waste paper basket.
I remember, when I was 18, I felt like a mini-Che (or more apt a mini-Emma Goldman) when I decided that I wasn’t going to hide my tampon in my pocket while walking to the dorm’s bathroom. I thought, “I’ll just carry it in my hand. But, should I carry it defiantly or nonchalantly? Hmmm. It’s so ordinary. I mean every guy on this floor has a mother and girlfriend. They know women menstruate, don’t they? In fact a quarter of the women on this floor are bleeding. Make the ordinary extraordinary, act natural.”
I have always equated feminism with reproductive rights, so it makes sense that I marched straight into the clinic and signed up to volunteer as a pregnancy counselor. But, there were also personal familial reasons why I wanted to talk about STDs all day to strangers. My parents were shame mongers. They judged. They had secrets. And, I needed to work at Planned Parenthood in order to cleanse my soul.
Bring on the not-in-mixed-company-don’t-let-the-neighbors-hear taboos. Bring on sex, abortion, birth control, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, delta dams, and mint-flavored condoms. Let me blow up the condoms (you do know ribs don’t do anything, right?) into balloons, make you laugh, and have you realize that you and your body are cool. I quickly learned about perception and how you frame things. More importantly, I leaned it’s all about politics and power.
Now, let me get serious for a moment, because respect is serious business. As an elder, I realize that knowing (let alone simply acknowledging) my body, especially my menstruating parts, was about loving me. This I owe to my nurse practitioner at U.C. Berkeley. By being frank and funny, she made lying flat on my back with my butt hanging over an examining table and my feet high in stirrups seem, well, normal.
That semester I was going through a fedora phase and she immediately snatched it off my head and wore it throughout the entire exam. I found that highly amusing and a bit… naughty. I also liked her planetary mobile. All GYNs, at least the good ones, have mobiles for you to look at when you’re being fitted with a speculum. Anyways, I was thinking about how small Earth is in comparison to Jupiter, when she asked me, “Do you want to see your cervix?” Yours has a smiley face, she beamed. This was news to me. She armed me with a mirror and, yes Virginia, your cervix can have a smiley face. I also was informed it could have a frown or look like a gaping fish mouth. But, I felt special because mine was happy.
I hope the artwork in Pap Art talks about women’s reproductive health the same way my practitioner did or that it at least gives a safe space for students to talk about their bodies and themselves. And that the discussion around the show, in a small yet lasting way, liberates the students of Truman, both women and men, from the b.s. known as misogyny and self-hatred. Because, if you are willing to embrace them, there is power in small gestures and everyday acts.
Maybe that’s a lot to ask for. But, it’s not a lot to hope for.