Feminism | Posted by Katherine C on 07/27/2011

A Feminist Image In The Eye Of The Beholder

"Beyond Betty"

"Beyond Betty"

I don’t remember how I set out to do this painting. What I do know is that it was the first non-commissioned artwork I’ve sold, and that is was my first explicitly feminist-based painting that got any attention.

Beyond Betty, named after Betty Freidan, author of the second-wave feminist classic The Feminine Mystique, was exhibied twice at a local retirement community gallery- once as part of a group show for high school seniors, and once as part of my International Baccalaureate candidate show. In the small town where I live, people who had seen it came up to me in the street and, even more frequently, at church. “What were you trying to say?” “Is it making fun of Christianity?” “Is it about eating disorders?” “Is it about world hunger?” “Why are you being so offensive?” “Are you trying to shock?” Most were simply interested, but a few were actually concerned about me and my mental/spiritual “well-being.” Some were even angry at what they interpreted as a blasphemous image, or one that cruelly demeaned contemporary houswives.

This is how I always responded: “Beyond Betty is meant to shock the viewer [though in the context of much of contemporary art, it’s really not that shocking] into a contemplation of the obscenity of the enforced martyrdom imposed upon women in our society.”

In all honesty, I came up with that little sound-byte in hindsight. It covers some of what I feel about my painting, but the truth is that I painted it to convey feelings and opinions for which I have no words. That’s why I so love to hear different interpretations of the image: it touches different nerves in different people. The man who eventually bought it, a doctor who lives far away from my hometown, interpreted it as a commentary on the body-image issues facing so many young women today. My pastor understood it as a meditation on world hunger, and my second-wave-feminist grandmother sees it as a narrative of the crucifixion of “the Goddess” and her enslavement in the home.

In the end, I’m proud of what my Betty accomplished: she made people reconsider the usage of symbols near to their hearts, and in that way develop their social feminist consciousness- at least, that’s what she did for me.

How do you interpret it?

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  • Garberdog @ at 1:45 pm, July 27th, 2011

    That is amazing! I think I see your grandmother’s interpretation, although I could be swayed to the doctor’s as well. Do you have other works like this?

  • Steph L @ at 4:47 pm, July 27th, 2011

    Wow, gorgeous painting! At first I saw the house-wife thing, then when I noticed the being on top of the icecream I thought it was more eating disorders. But whatever it is, fab piece!

  • Kate @ at 2:24 pm, July 28th, 2011

    I would love to hear more about the enforced martyrdom of women. I’m working on a paper on religious history that focuses on the martyrdom of women (metaphorically as their ‘role’ in good religious societies), but I haven’t seen too many bloggers address it from this perspective.

  • SPEEDbit @ at 6:41 pm, July 31st, 2011

    Imagery is all in the eye of the beholder. That’s what makes it so interesting. So many symbols out there. Most open for interpretation. Keeps ya thinking and on your toes. Great post! Thanks!

  • Jen @ at 1:50 am, August 28th, 2012

    Two interpretations came to mind. One was how we’re shamed about food automatically because we’re female, regardless of our size and whether we personally have an eating disorder. The other was how we’re treated as objects to be consumed.

  • Revisiting “Beyond Betty” | Sketchbook Radical @ at 7:31 pm, August 25th, 2013

    [...] I painted the above image three years ago, at the beginning of my senior year of high school.  I am now about to enter my junior year of college.  It was one of the first things I ever posted and wrote about on this blog, and on the blog for young feminists “The Fbomb.”  You can find the link to the original post here:  http://sketchbookradical.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/beyond-betty/  and here:http://thefbomb.org/2011/07/a-feminist-image-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/ [...]

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