Feminism: Awareness + Action = Change Part 2

Day 90 of 100 days of Blogging

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When it was first available on video in 2004, I bought a copy of the film Mona Lisa Smile and watched it many times with my three daughters. I loved how the lead character, the teacher, challenged the students to think. I home schooled my daughters from 1996-2006 with the intention to learn and teach in an environment that would stimulate creativity, problem solving, personal responsibility and connection to community. My focus was to teach them how to find and use resources and make decisions that would stimulate life long learning. It is my passion to cultivate learning and leadership and I LOVE seeing a teacher who is doing the same.

When the film crossed my path again a few days ago, it showed me a picture of something I have been thinking about since my Aunt Ellen died in September 2015. The journey for women who are challenging conventionally defined gender roles or challenging expectations of how a woman is supposed to live her life.

 

My Aunt and my mother both graduated from college in 1954.  My mother married my Dad. Raised three kids. Supported my Dad in his 33 year career with Pillsbury and packed the house and moved 20 times.

My Aunt married my Uncle, started working at Liberty Mutual where a man mentored her and opened a door to advancement that was normally opened only for men. She had the education, the brains, and the ambition. During her 30 year career, she rose to the ranks of Assistant Vice President. My Aunt and my Uncle never had children during their 60 year marriage but they loved and nurtured many, many children of their family and friends.

Two women: One chose career. One chose homemaker and motherhood.

 

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After watching the film once, I watched it the next day to reflect on the dialogue and the subtle messages and the obvious messages.

Mona Lisa Smile, a description of the film from Wikipedia:

In 1953, Katherine Ann Watson, a 30-year-old graduate student in the department of Art History at Oakland State, takes a position teaching “History of Art” at Wellesley College, a conservative women’s private liberal arts college in Massachusetts, because she wants to make a difference and influence the next generation of women. At her first class, Katherine discovers that the women have already memorized the entire syllabus from the textbook, so she uses the classes to introduce them to Modern Art and encourages spirited classroom discussions about topics such as what makes good art and what the Mona Lisa’s smile means.

 

When the film begins, the faculty is inside the building and young women students are outside on the steps. The dialogue is between the President of the College (a woman) and the Student President (a woman).

 

President of College: Who knocks at the door of learning?

Student President: I am Every Woman

President of College: What do you seek?

Student President: To awaken my spirit through hard work and dedicate my life to knowledge.

President of College: Then, you are welcome. All women who seek to follow you can enter here. I now declare the academic year begun.

 

I could feel my heart skip a beat of excitement! I am Every Woman! Being asked what I seek. What I long for, desire. Being asked and then invited into the space. It stirs my heart. Women being acknowledged and seen as smart and valued!

 

In one of the early scenes, the teacher challenges them to look at art and tell her what they think:

 

Katherine Watson (Teacher): “Carcass”, by Soutine, 1925. Is it any good? C’mon, ladies, there’s no wrong answer. There’s also no textbook telling you what to think. It’s not that easy, is it?
Students:
Betty Warren: Alright, no. It’s not good. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it art. It’s grotesque.
Connie Baker: Is there a rule against art’s being grotesque?
Giselle Levy: I think there’s something aggressive about it. And erotic.
Betty Warren: To you, everything is erotic.
Giselle Levy: Everything *is* erotic.
Susan Delacorte: Aren’t there standards?
Betty Warren: Of course there are! Otherwise, a tacky velvet painting could be equated to a Rembrandt!
Connie Baker: Hey, my Uncle Ferdie has two tacky velvet paintings. He loves those clowns.
Betty Warren: There *are* standards! Technique, composition, color, even subject. So, if you’re suggesting that rotted side of meat is art, much less *good* art, then what are we going to learn?
Katherine Watson (Professor): Just that. You have outlined our new syllabus, Betty, thank you. What is art? What makes it good or bad, and who decides?

 

Contrast that scene to this comment from a teacher during the class called: Marriage Lectures:

“A few years from now, your sole responsibility will be taking care of your home, your children and your husband. You may all be in this class for an easy A. But the grade that matters the most is the one he gives you.”

 

After a student writes an editorial criticizing the teacher, she enters the classroom challenging them again:

 

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Katherine Watson: I give up, you win. The smartest women in the country, I didn’t realize that by demanding excellence I would be challenging… what did it say?

[Walks over to a student and picks up her copy of the editorial]
Katherine Watson: What did it say? Um… the roles you were born to fill. Is that right?[Looks up at Betty who wrote the editorial]
Katherine Watson: The roles you were born to fill? It’s, uh, it’s my mistake.
[Katherine drops the student’s paper back onto her desk]
Katherine Watson: Class dismissed.
[Katherine walks out of the classroom]

 

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 “The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.” – Susan B. Anthony

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I had a conversation with my mother this week while visiting her in Florida. I will be posting some of the things we discussed in Part 3 of this series.

What are your thoughts?

 

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Photo from Andrea Hylen

Andrea Hylen at Agape in Los Angeles

Andrea Hylen believes in the power of our voices to usher in a new world. She is the founder of Heal My Voice, an organization that inspires women and men to heal a story, reclaim personal power and step into greater leadership. Andrea discovered her unique gifts while parenting three daughters and learning to live life fully after the deaths of her brother, son and husband. In addition to serving as Heal My Voice’s Executive Director, Andrea is an Orgasmic Meditation Teacher and Sexuality Coach.

She is following her intuition as she collaborates with women and men in organizations and travels around the world speaking, teaching and leading workshops. Her passion is authentically living life and supporting others in doing the same. To connect with Andrea and learn about current projects go to: www.andreahylen.com and www.healmyvoice.org.

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