They Love Us When They Want To

[Exhibited in Open Your Eyes: Women in Society at the Drawing Room Café & Gallery - Observatory, WC, South Africa - June 2016]

     Ask any female-identifying person and she’ll tell you: it’s a lot of work to be a woman. The word ‘labour’ comes to mind. The coins in our pockets and the nations issuing our passports grant those of us reading this a level of privilege which surely exempts many of us from certain duties of physical labour which haunt many women worldwide. Yet none of us are ever free from the shackles of emotional labour. 

    Existing as a woman in a world primarily built by and for men requires a constant awareness of her surroundings, and a forced responsibility to prop up the wellbeing, the ego, the self-assuredness of others. A woman is given the role of the listener, the supporter, the caretaker, whether she wants that job or not, and men love her for it. She must be hard as nails but soft as silk, and men love her for it. Responsibilities are placed upon her shoulders, limitations placed on her identity, constraints on her behaviour. A woman’s soul is cropped to suit the frame of the patriarchy, and men love her for it. The male gaze is a penetrative force that she never asked to receive — but she is shamed when she tries to make the best of it and harness the power it gives her. She is not permitted to have her own desires, but she is told to be amenable to the desires of others.

    Then she grows old, and men stop loving her. Not overnight, but slowly. They stop looking at her, they stop expecting things from her. She is free but she is invisible. 

    And then she dies, and she is martyred, she is sainted, she is venerated. Finally, she is untouchable. Finally, from an uncrossable distance, a distance where they can’t hear her pleas for freedom or see her flaws or comprehend her human complexity — finally, when she is a marble statue in a cathedral or a faded photograph in a jacket pocket, they think she is perfect. 

    And then once again they choose to love her, and they pray to her, and when they pray they expect an answer.