Embrace Your Sexy Menstrual Cycle!
By Stacy Davies
At first glance, the Girly Show flyer, which promotes Chaffey College’s new exhibit on “Pin-ups, Zines & the So-Called Third Wave,” looks like a page torn from a rockabilly calendar hung in a 1950’s mechanic’s garage. The exhibit’s promo photo—that of voluptuous IE burlesque starlet Charlotte La Belle Araignée—obviously made me think I would walk into a red-light hall decked out in feisty female photos of a similar sort. But Girly Show isn’t really about the history of burlesque—or its popular revival—it’s about how women see other women and how they see themselves. It’s not about how men see women—sorry oglers. Call it “feminism and its many forms,” even though the F word isn’t mentioned in the title—perchance because they can rope in a bigger crowd using “pin-up” instead. Smart!
That said, the Girly Show’s emphasis, in particular, is the “Third Wave” of feminism mentioned in their subtitle. To understand what that wave is you can read curator Denise Johnson’s lengthy dissertation on the subject (quite intriguing—but five pages long!), or I can just tell you what I think she wrote and hope I get it right: the third wave of feminism is the newest generation of young women who are reviled by older feminists for being overtly sexual bimbos; these bimbos in turn, revile the older feminists for making feminism schoolmarm serious and nonsexual. Johnson rejects both scenarios, however, and thus calls the show “So-Called” Third Wave, you see.
To make the point that young and old women do meet eye to eye, just with differing agendas and modes of expression (note an extensive catalogue of female-created zines in the Girly Reading Room), Johnson has combined works from both parties in order to show a sampling of feminism today. Barely addressed, however, is the fact that somehow feminism became a dirty word 20 years ago—even among women, many of whom think feminists are militant chicks with hairy legs who want to put men’s heads on pikes. Only some of us are into the pike thing, of course. These days, a feminist is really just a gal who doesn’t allow her gender to be used against her. You can still love men, and you don’t have to love your period. You just have to stop being embarrassed by it.
But enough about the intellectual side of the show.
If one knew nothing about feminism at all, there’s still plenty of interesting work in this exhibit, if no real unifying theme besides the woman angle. There’s also a lot of uninspired self-indulgence, but we’ll be nice and instead steer you toward the good stuff that you should see.
Nicole Cawlfield’s b/w photo series of white pin-up girls doing typical ‘50s housewife things such as weighing themselves, vacuuming with an Electrolux, or doing a little bondage in a pastry shop seem fairly forced, but she makes up for them with a perfectly glorious, gorgeous backside of a black French singer in a bubbly tub laughing at us through a reflection in a hand mirror. Brilliant. Cawlfield must also be handy with needled point, which she employs on her series of humorous pin-up dishtowels, each one with a sepia-toned pin-up image in the center and thematic embroidery. They’re appropriately titled: Ms. Chief for the cowgirl and her embroidered six-shooters; Miss Fit is a gal stretching toward an embroidered cupcake; and Miss Fire, pays homage to the Nuclear Age with a girly embracing a large artillery shell—requisite atomic symbol is embroidered above. Cawlfield even stained the towels to make them look authentic. Excellent. And we want some.
Peregrine Honig’s series of Father Gander pastel-colored lithographs diverge from the pin-up path slightly, instead, knocking the Mother Goose tales on their ear: the bestial-suggestive Bear Back has a drunk Goldie slung over the shoulder of Papa Bear, off to who knows where; Edible Complex finds Hansel and Gretel skipping in their skivvies through a forest with the line, “Watch your way on the forest floor—the house of vice has a gingerbread door,” and Snow sizzles in the forest in a red hot dress sans dwarves, with her tell-tale line, “to powder her nose, she peddled her ass.” Nice! And we can’t forget Red Ridging Hood, who’s pondering pregnant in the woods—discontent in her marriage to the once famous woodsman and now longing for her old wolf back. We’re crossing our kinky fingers that Honig puts these out in book form someday and finishes the tales. Please!
The exceptional work of Wanda Ewing was our most favorite of favorites, however—off-the-wall and filled with commentary. In her Wallflower series of linocuts, bodacious black women pose seductively on found wallpaper, reminiscent of blaxploitation art but without all the hating. Then there was Video Grizz, a series of graphite drawings in which voluptuous female bodies are forced by marionette strings to pose in barely comfortable positions. Oh, and each body has a punching bag for a head! Fabulous. They’re much more R. Crumb than “House of Ruth,” however, so don’t get overly emotional about it.
Lastly, we need to send out snickering kudos to Millie Wilson’s Daytona Death Angel—a four-foot-tall pile of blond beehive. Freakish. Fun.
The rest of the works range from mildly interesting to a complete bust. Skip the video shows in the alcove—they have zero to do with women, besides having some women in them, and completely lack artistic vision and originality. Damn, I said I was going to be nice! Ah well, since I’m not, let me ask you this one, dear reader, as I can’t seem to get my head around it: why oh why was there a video in this exhibit of an old, emaciated drag queen? WTF? Looks like we need a recap, so let me restate: gay men are not women. They’re not even close. It doesn’t matter if they like to shop or are attracted to men. They are men—and there is more to being a woman than what you wear and who you have sex with, a lot more. That menstrual cramping thing for one. So next time, let’s put drag queens in the drag queen exhibit, not in the feminism exhibit. Then, if you want to sit and watch an old guy cake on make-up and blurt out snarky quips about his daily doldrums, you can. I’ve seen that show, thanks.
Girly Show at Wignall Museum, Chaffey College (5885 Haven Ave., Rancho Cucamonga); (909) 652-6495; www.chaffey.edu/wignall; Free