Nag. Shrew. Hag. Witch. Cunt. Bitch. Language gets succinct when a woman puts her foot down. It's tempting then for women to embrace the insult to destroy its power, and many do, self-identifying in such terms to declare, "There is nothing wrong with me." And next comes the inevitable epiphany: The only way to get the other sex to recognize that, too, is not by diverting their attention – or looking away yourself, as so many women are naturally inclined to do – but instead, by changing how society looks at women.
"When you get down to it, feminism is pretty simple: equality of the sexes," says Samantha Stribling, co-organizer of Agencies, a feminist art show and zine that seeks to empower men and women to shift the patriarchal paradigm locally. "But there's a spectrum within the feminist community. There's radical feminism over here, and there's more conservative feminism over there, and then a broad space where everything in between exists. Then you get into intersectionality: 'I'm a black feminist,' 'I'm a trans feminist.' We all just want to be treated like humans. It's hard to explain to people the casual misogyny that goes on all the time, everywhere. The littlest comments. The police asking what you were wearing when you got sexually assaulted. How is this relevant?"
Agencies features visual and performance art alongside written works that illuminate how Orlando women have dealt with abuse and oppression, whether it happened in childhood or yesterday, whether they're 20-something singles or middle-aged mothers. Many of the works are collaborative pieces – collected texts from a variety of women presented visually by Vanessa Andrade; a dramatic reading by Lindsay Smith of another woman's personal account of abuse; and, perhaps most dramatic, a life-sized female doll created by Aruni Dharmakirthi – people at the show are encouraged to write their own stories anonymously and stuff the scrawled sobs into her orifices.
"In the cases of these works, authorship is pluralized so that viewers might more readily feel empowered to enter a realm of common interest and shared goals," says Agencies co-organizer Moriah Russo via email. She goes on: "Our goal, as with the artists of the feminist movement in the late '60s and '70s, is to empower individual participants with a sense of shared experience and an interest to combat oppressive cultures, while also encouraging the growth of a community that might advance social change and foster feminist cultures."
Housewifes, another feminist art show and zine, similarly aspires to break down sexist barriers by showcasing individual female perspectives that combat the belittling notion of being someone's "little woman." That show starts 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, at the Space, with a performance art piece scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 – "Consummate (or, Be Mine)" by local artist Betsy Johnson – that will bleed into the performance art pieces planned for Agencies on the Space's patio. Both shows ask viewers to consider how men and women can act individually in order to change the domineering social norm.
"It's about one's own capacity to act in the world," Stribling says. "[Agencies is] basically referencing your capacity to take up space in the world, and to take advantage of that how you see fit and not be limited by others' actions."
The Agencies zine will be available at the show for a suggested donation of $3. The idea for it was spawned after a collective of more than 150 primarily Orlando-based women started a private Facebook support group that ended up publicly outing local stories of abuse. Reactions to the outcry were mixed, but Stribling says ultimately, the raised awareness benefited women who had previously felt alone, a trend she and Russo hope Agencies will further.
"There was definitely a lot of shock, especially from men in the community," Stribling says." They were like, 'Holy shit. We have to do something about this.' And it's like, 'Well. Thank you.' That's why I felt the need to do this, because I needed everyone's eyes to be opened. I needed it to be condensed into one situation where you can say, 'Do you see that this is happening?'"