I have just read an interview between Jessica Svendsen and Sheila Levrant de Bretteville for Broad Recognition, A feminist newspaper at Yale. I feel incredibly inspired by this interview, I find Bretteville's articulation of language empowering and her absolute belief and passion for her life's work, completely affirms her as one of my idols. I have posted some extracts and also my own opinions.
"When you look at the word democratic as a part of feminism, that equality and that ability to argue with each other, come into friction with each other or come into connection with each other, on an equal plane, that is inherent in the ideal of democracy. If you try to transfer that into a feminist perspective, it holds that same meaning that we can talk with each other, agree or disagree, and work it out, as a part of self-criticism, as well as a criticism of feminism, as well as a criticism of modernism, how a democratic and more equal society is created so that whatever kind of gender—there is as much difference within each gender as between the gender. You come from that perspective, it makes it very hard to talk about men and women all the time, around it. But I do think the word feminism is important because it carries with it an activist buzz. It really belongs to paying attention to how women are being treated, which, until we are treated absolutely equally, then I cannot let go of the word."
I often feel as though the word feminism carries with it certain negative or perhaps cliched connotations and it seems that most, male or female, have their opinion on what feminism means. For me, I feel that feminism is not a word that can be described with one sweeping definition as everyone's opinion differs depending on their experiences and their actions or involvement in feminism. I feel that almost all women are aware feminism in some way whether they proclaim this or not, simply by being a woman, involvement is unavoidable.(I can't imagine how any woman would want to avoid the topic)
JS: Many women designers acknowledge the glass ceiling and everything that surrounds them being a woman designer, but they are not necessarily feminist designer. Can you clarify the distinction between a female designer and a feminist designer?
I think to be feminist is to really care about women in general, not only designers, not only at privileged institutions like Yale. Thinking about women who don’t have anything, and what are the forces at work in our shared globalized culture that keep women from actualizing their potential. That is not what those women are talking about. They are talking about their potential and their actualizing. That is the difference between being just a woman designer or being a feminist designer. It doesn’t mean that you are always working on feminist content, it means you think about, more broadly, women as a category and how that category is used against women, wherever they are, on a socioeconomic level in a globalized world. That, to me, is feminism. It was never about me, whatever “me” or “I” is. It is about “we.”
There is one thing I would like to return to. You mentioned the Miami poster campaign, and many people associate feminist graphic design with more confrontational or aggressive tactics, like the Guerilla Girls or Barbara Kruger. What alternatives are there for feminist design?
SB: I am one of the alternatives. I chose to focus on what we don’t have and how to get it, not on what is oppressing me or oppressing us. Some people are filled with a tremendous amount of anger and the way to express it is through their work and through their work about what is oppressing them. I think that that is very important work. It just happens to not be my work.
Yes, because it is also how the notion of good design has changed. Both have changed. I just felt that Yale was known for good design, which was very much aligned with modernist design at that point. So I was trying to open up the design, trying to open up the feminist design. A statement, like that, out of context, requires a lot of unpacking. Both around what is “good” and what is “feminist.”
I had an interesting conversation with some students the other day. It wasn’t about feminism, but it is like this: two students were doing work that had images of like, kittens and sunsets and palm trees, but they came off of Google images—they were getting them off the net. I was trying to locate what it is that those images were serving. One of the other students, who was older than the two students who were doing it, said, “It’s generational. The response to that.” I said, “I don’t think that if that’s operative, it is not all that’s operating.” It turns out that one of the students was doing it as a reaction against good design, clean design. Here we are, 2009, and someone is choosing, what I call trashy, low, images to signify “sweetness” as a reaction. My comment was: “You are here at Yale to do your own work. You don’t have to react against something. Go for something.” Because to spend your time against that now, unless you do it from an extremely informed, thoughtful, broadly-researched base, is a very knee-jerk, against, kind of activity. It is not that you cannot use kitty kats and sunsets. It is more: Why are you using [these]? I want to here from you, why, something other than “I am against good design, clean design, all that design I learned at RISD.” I want more. I want to hear more. Talk about it more. Tell me more.