The Strong Women Project
Strong women are everywhere.
Listen to them. Respect them. Support them.
And they will change the world.
I started this series of paintings of strong women as a way to process and respond to our current political atmosphere. It is astonishing to me that our country has not even passed the Equal Rights Amendment, and the more I talk about it, the more I find that most people don’t know that. I’m not sure kids and 20-somethings even know what the ERA is. On January 21, 2017, my step daughter and I, my sister and her daughter, and a handful of close women friends marched with thousands of others in the Women’s March on Washington, DC to protest the inauguration of our misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist President. It was extremely inspirational, and I wanted to do more, but I let things slide, kept my head down and thought things couldn’t get worse. The rest of my life got in the way and maybe in the back of my mind I hoped that someone else would sort it out. But, it has gotten worse. The “Me Too Movement” of the past few years and more recently the bravery with which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford spoke about her experience with Brett Kavanaugh has been so inspiring. And I thought, there must be enough outrage now that something will change, yet, our country put him on the highest court and set us up to have rights we have fought for taken away. That was my tipping point. I couldn’t just watch anymore. The patriarchal society just isn’t working for the majority of this country. It never has. We are being led and manipulated by a minority. It’s time for a change and I truly believe that it will be women who will make it. I don’t know exactly where or how far the Strong Woman Project is going and right now it’s very much an act of processing, but I do believe that art can be a very strong form of protest and of inspiration. So, creating this work and honoring these strong women is not only helping me process my anger and frustration, it’s bringing me joy to focus on these every day heroes. Maybe it will also inspire and motivate people to support each other’s strength and speak up for our rights.
I will write about this strong woman and why I painted her in her room like this soon…
They Tried To Bury Us, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds
Like all the women I am painting, there are so many reasons that I admire her. The most recent and politically impactful is that while protesting the white nationalist, Nazi, descent upon our city of Charlottesville, VA, on August 12, 2017, she was almost run over when a man drove his car full-speed through a crowd of people killing, one and physically injuring over 20 to the point of needing medical care on site or transport to the hospital. She was lucky to not be physically hurt, but the emotional impact has been great and she has fought hard to regain her normal day-to-day. Her strength lead her down the path of self-care and seeking others who shared her experience. It also lead her to increase her activism and lean into the forces that hurt her. She continues to protest and fight for what she believes in. She walked hundreds of miles from Charlottesville to Washington, DC to protest white supremacy. She belongs to local organizations and regularly attends local political efforts to move our country forward, for example, to finally ratify the ERA. Before all of this happened, she volunteered for the Peace Corps and spend two years in Africa much later in life than most, learning not one but two languages to do so. She is a bee-keeper and believes in gardening and eating local food. And not least, when I moved to Charlottesville, knowing almost no one, she became my first friend and helped me find the calmer, more wholesome existence I was looking for after living in Washington, DC for 9 years.
The phrase “They Tried To Bury Us, They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds” has a long history going back to an Ancient Greek poem, but can be traced, more recently, to Mexican activists who used it in support of the Ayotzinapa 43 — 43 students who disappeared in Iguala, Mexico in 2013. The statement has also been used in the current protest of how the United States is handling immigration in the Trump era. I used these words in this work because they directly connect to Mexico and immigration and this strong woman comes from a family of immigrants on her father’s side from Mexico. In addition, the metaphor of seeds offers the idea that those who have suffered immensely might help bear the fruits of justice later on.
Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum, Bitches
This woman is smart as a whip and though she is endearingly, outwardly untidy, her ability to organize her thoughts, speak dynamically in front of a room of people, and remember facts and decisions is spot on. She is a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, a leader and teacher at the Academy, and she organizes and teaches self defense workshops to women in the community. Almost her entire backyard is a vegetable garden mostly started from seed, and she fully embraces the community of animals that have come to call her yard home and feed off her garden. She shops at the local farmers market, and does everything in her power to keep her carbon footprint small from the solar panels on her roof and biking to work to carrying her own containers and silverware so she doesn’t use plastic. None of this is even her job where she leads a large team of people who facilitate the communication of cutting-edge scientific research that helps save lives around the world. And finally, I admire my good friend whose fashion sense usually ranges from a fleece, jeans, and sneakers to her gi, because she wears her nails painted bright, candy-apple red!
“Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum, Bitches” comes from the recent TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Though the phrase is technically made-up Latin, it has taken on a life of its own, as a sort of feminist rallying cry. These words mean “don’t let the bastards grind you down” in the novel. The TV series adds a modern twist with “Bitches” directing the statement outwardly and globally instead of inwardly and singularly. It also adds confrontation and camaraderie, both of which I think is needed these days. Women are often considered bitches when they are aggressive, the exact opposite of how men are regarded when they push for what they want. These words represent both the personal battles of this woman and her unflinching leadership in the work-place, on the jujitsu mat, and in her lifestyle choices that better our environment. She is steadfast in all aspects of her life against varying voices that say she can’t or she’s waisting her time.
Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover
She has worked in the education field for 18 years, and though teaching children is by nature hard work, she always chooses the hardest of the teaching jobs. She taught in the inner city school system in Cleveland and Washington, DC. She was Principal of a small school offering children who did not fit into the traditional school system a place to learn and thrive. And now she teaches children with autism and their families how to lead full lives . She is passionate about teaching the next generation and bettering the world for it. She is also an amazing friend and caretaker of her family and mine. She helps me take care of my aging parents who both suffer from mental challenges as though they were her own parents. As anyone who has aging parents knows, it is often a major strain, but she loves them and helps me just by being there for us all.
Besides the obvious placement of this woman in the library of her family’s 150 year old house, “Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” represents how she lives her life. She sees people who aren’t seen by society or who others see but turn away from. And she nurtures them. She confidently wears a formal gown one day, and drives a tractor around her farm the next. She is a classic beauty who chooses her 80 pound pit-bull over the attention of any man who adores her less. She will do most anything for friends and family, but there is no one who can tell her how to live her life. That is her decision only, and we never know where it may lead her.