The Secret Woman project

The Secret Woman has officially launched!
A new project revealing the hidden lives of remarkable women, it aims to give a voice to women who often feel invisible. 

It aims to allow older women to share their wisdom with a younger generation, and empower everyday women to share their stories. 

ACTIVELY SEEKING CONTRIBUTORS: email if you know a brilliant woman with a story to tell.

The project kicked off with Doreen’s story – a fiercely funny 80 year old woman whose house was bombed in the Second World War.

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Oppressed Majority tackles everyday sexism

French actress, writer, and director Eleonoré Pourriat made a short satirical film, Majorité Opprimée (Oppressed Majority), in 2010 about everyday sexism experienced by women in modern-day France. By cleverly twisting around stereotypical gender roles, it follows the life of a normal man as he moves through his day and becomes tormented by violent and dismissive women. The video exploded and went viral this week on Youtube, striking a chord with its gritty portrayal of urban life. Pourriat told The Independent this week, “Obviously, I have touched a nerve. Women in France, but not just in France, feel that everyday sexism has been allowed to go on for too long.”

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The Two of Us by Isabel Marler

The Two of Us
How was it that you had two sets of eyes?

First eyes saw me.

Second eyes, shifting, saw someone else.  A shadow in someone else’s bed.


And didn’t you have two pairs of ears?

First ears listened while I talked.  Heard my feminism as stranger but accepted it as friend.

Second ears heard privilege.  Got poured with poison and heard lies.


What I could never understand was your two mouths.

First mouth brushed mine.  Crackedlipsroughstubblewarmtongue.  And beamed and screamed I love you! First mouth made me come.

Second mouth spat syllables.  Called me whore.


So now I have two hearts.

First heart beats strong wrapped in clichés: itsforthebestbetteroffwithouthimonwardsandupwards

Second heart shrivels and drains.  Chamber walls collapse and stick together.

Second heart croaks for the blood that your pumping blood pumped into it when it was just the two of us.


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This Beast by Isabel Marler

This Beast: An Ode to Patriarchy


Coldness marks the success of this beast

Calculation and swiftness


Coldness is mathematics and is also knowing how to make them hot for your fruit

But dry bran and gelid cuts will not feed this beast

Sustenance is alive and moving

Sustenance is full of hot blood shining waves bright as magnesium

(No need at night for this beast’s lidless eyes)

Sustenance isn’t small but substantial and squirming

It squeals to stay on the forest floor

To dodge the gaping jaw

Sustenance is swallowed

Acid and time turn bones muscle blood and hair into neat chains of aminos

Absorbed, protein renews this beast who, replenished

Stalks again in colourful cold new skin

[I wrote this poem as a response to the recurring image of systems of power having crises and replenishing themselves. The starting point was thinking about the adoption ‘feminism’ by entities that otherwise uphold existing power relations, such as the UN security council, which reflect the global imbalance of wealth and power.  Transformative political movements can be taken in, broken up and absorbed by existing power structures in order to re-consolidate the latter.  It is when power masks itself that it is most effective.  Stagnation in the guise of transformation.]

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Il Corpo delle Donne- ‘Women’s Bodies’ but where are women’s voices? By Joanna Brown

The representation of women in Italian television has been widely discussed over the past thirty years; notably as part of the larger debate over women’s position within the media. The controversial power division within the Italian media, especially TV channels, forms the backdrop to the recent light shed on this subject.  Lorella Zanardo’s 2009 documentary “Il Corpo delle Donne” is said to confront the representation of women in the Italian media.  Zanardo stated that her motivation behind the project was to educate and change the younger generation.  To offer a different insight into perceiving women beyond the television screen.  However, could it be that as much as Zanardo’s documentary is true and eye-opening, it lacks room for exceptions and tends to generalize and make martyrs of women who may be very conscious, of what they are doing and actually enjoy their position and role within the media?

In Italy,  women’s presence in TV and how they are represented creates a great diversity of opinions. Sergio Rodrigez, group creative director at the advertising agency Leo Burnett Italy, referring to the excessive presence of women in advertisements, confirms that “in Italy when you don’t have to use women, you use women.”

Women have a tendency to be placed at the centre of media discourses. Yet, the representation of women has historically been noted as contradictory and double-standardised, emulated through virgin/whore binaries. Where have these perceptions stemmed from and why have they come about?  How have these factors influenced today’s representation of women and does Zanardo’s documentary take these into account whilst criticising Italian TV?

Through her documentary, Zanardo creates a montage of various Italian TV programmes which she analyses and critiques with the help of her own voice-over. One of the main issues that comes through her documentary are the talentless women who are used in television as decoration, simply to accompany men. By showing scenes of women sat at the feet of a table, and splashing around under a shower in a white dress, Zanardo wishes to highlight the objectification of women in such programmes.  It is essential to break this trend and re-educate the population through TV.

Another imposing issue which emerges from the documentary is the increase in plastic surgery which she claims replaces real women by masks.  Zanardo focuses on the need to constantly look younger, calling it a humiliation only imposed on women, not men.  A further concern of Zanardo’s which stimulated once more her wanting to create the project was the absence, if not the pollution, of female role models for younger women.

Zanardo stresses the impact of these images may have on girls who may “aspire to the role as a way to get rich quickly.” In reality, this fear of lack of role models can be reflected beyond the television screen. In an interview with Adrian Michaels (2007), 19-year-old student Caterina Preti compares young girls in Italy who “link beauty with success” and “still have the example of their mothers who don’t work” with their counterparts in the UK who are “much more determined, they are career-minded.” The idea of linking success with beauty which she very much disagrees with is at the centre of Zanardo’s argument.

As much as Zanardo’s documentary was a necessary cry for attention and has served many purposes, I wish to argue that it is insufficient in presenting the situation of women in TV in Italy, rather generalised and in somewhat one sided and suffering from ‘tunnel vision’. Zanardo passes over essential representations present in Italian TV and seems to ignore the fact that the roles women tend to be placed in may be a consequence of deeper meaning rooted within their culture. Furthermore, it could even be suggested that these women may enjoy their positions and representations, embracing their identity through their physical appearance and attributes.

Luciana Litizetto is a famous Italian comedian who does not fit into the categories of women Zanardo denounces. Her latest monologue at the San Remo Festival (14th February 2013) saw her giving an alternative vision into Italian women’s media discourse rather than objectified women under glass tables. Litizetto’s monologo sull’amore proclaimed her support for homosexual rights (SR 06’01), sarcastically listed reasons why women love men (SR 02’40) (thus confirming her position as a female comedienne), and demanded respect for all women (SR 06’45) as an act of support against violence against women: “un uomo che ci mena, non ci ama” (SR 07’22). Litizetto represents a free-spirited woman who is not afraid to publicly speak her mind “un uomo che ti picchia è uno stronzo” (SR 08’17). At the end of her speech, in which she is informally seated on the stage, Litizetto, wrinkles and all, stands up and joins a group of women who start dancing as part of a flashmob “contro la violenza contro le donne” (SR 08’30). In contrast to other comparable instances, for example in L’Eredità where women interrupt the show to dance around wearing barely any clothes, these women are dressed and are dancing for a cause.

In addition, some women enjoy their position of femininity. The patriarchal sexist media hierarchy that Zanardo depicts in her documentary, is not as one sided as she suggests. Zanardo seems to make a generalisation about how women are represented. Danielle Hipkins claims that “the argument that these young women do not know their own minds and need re-education is more than redolent of paternalistic, puritanical attitudes towards female sexuality”  Furthemore, the writer Lazar has explored and defined this phenomena as “’power femininity’” in which self-objectification is not an indicator of the power of cultural expectations about how women should look, but in fact a strategy of “empowerment.” In fact, Zanardo’s portrayal of women in TV, conforming to such aesthetical standards, could be seen as an attack.

Continuing with the causes of such representation, Adrian Michaels explores deeper cultural effects which may influence women’s positions within society. In his  2007 article, Michaels calls up upon many different powerful women’s opinions, notably Laura Frati Gucci, head of Aidda the Italian association of top women managers and entrepreneurs, “Women in Italy are held back not by chauvinism but by rules and customs that inhabit their participation in work.”” Gucci explains how mothers complain about the lack of nurseries. Mario Draghi, the governor of the bank of Italy, confirms that “better designed policies to support families would have raising female employment rates. ” Michaels even demonstrates how “one female criminal lawyer (who prefers not to be named) argues that the lack of recognition of a modern woman’s needs is even visible in hospital obstetrics units.” This same anonymous lawyer estimates “that 10 per cent of women in her profession dress sexily because it is a weapon and because they like it.” Graziella Parati, head of comparative literature at Dartmouth College, claims that “television is still in the hands of men” but also that “women have bought into male paradigms of what femininity is, so they pay particular attention to their appearance; but they have also grown up in a country full of art and beauty and their attention to aesthetics in general can come from that.” From the wide range of opinions expressed by these women, we can see that women’s position in society is ambiguously controlled by social structures and services. In this respect, it could be suggested that before TV representation can be changed, more structural work needs to be done in order to better encourage women to `fight back’.

It is indisputable that Zanardo’s work has been essential in drawing Italian media discourse to the attention of its viewers regarding women’s role and representation. However, Zanardo, lacking crucial feminist critical knowledge and neglecting other sociological aspects of Italian culture, generalises the effects and the causes of such images of Italy’s population.

Women do have a choice, and if they do not voice their discontent it is not a simple question of whether or not they are willing to do so.

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WOW – Women of the World festival 2014

Women of the World festival is back in March at the Southbank Centre.

Talks, debates, performance and activism celebrating women and girls.

They contacted Behind the Curtain to ask to share their upcoming events. If you are living in London, or can get there easily then we would highly recommend making a special effort to go along! 

Wed 5 – Sun 9 March
Join us for the fourth annual WOW – Women of the World festival and celebrate the formidable strength and inventiveness of women. Our three-day programme of events includes theatre, music and comedy as well as lively talks and debates; there’s also the chance to take part in mentoring, workshops and hear from celebrities, politicians, artists and activists speak on the topics that matter to women and girls worldwide.

Wed 5 – Wed 12 March 2014
Sat 8 January Matinee, 2pm

On the night of December 16 2012 a young woman and her male friend boarded a bus in urban New Delhi. What followed changed theirs and countless lives forever. Internationally acclaimed playwright and director Yael Farber (Miss Julie, Riverside Studios) brings to the stage a searing new performance that cracks open the silence around women whose lives have been shattered by gender-based violence.
Tickets: £22.50

Vincent Dance Theatre
Thurs 6 March, 7.30pm

Uncompromising yet utterly accessible, Motherland has a broad appeal for both sexes through its potent blend of theatre, live music and dance.
Tickets: £16, £10

Malala Yousafzai
Sat 8 March, 10am
We’re excited to announce a special appearance by the young activist at WOW. Malala Yousafzai is a young woman campaigning for education rights for all, who was shot in 2012 for her activist work.
Tickets: £20, £15, £10

Mirth Control
Saturday 8 March, 7.30pm

Mirth Control is an electrifying night of comedy and music inspired by great women hosted by Sandi Toksvig. Join us for an evening of fun for all men and women. Full line-up yet to be announced.
Tickets: £15, £20, £30, £40

Fri 7 – Sun 9 March

Our panellists at the Festival Weekend will cover topics including (but not limited to!) women and power, fat activismfashionpoliticsneuroscience and women in the military.  The full programme will shortly be announced; see it online at
Day pass £12
Three-day pass £30


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Reading magazines: A poem by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

I am in the kitchen, dressed all in black

My feet on fire and flailing; running up slippery staircases

Because a job is a job.

A single lingering fingertip; a tap, a knock, a pinch

Of my skin. Reminds me that you think me inferior.

“But cheer up, it might never happen.

Are you dirty enough between the sheets?”


I am walking down the street, being rained on

By a constant hiss- the pluck of thirsty lips

That hunts my own body for kicks.


“Clever little girl.

He’s a lad, it’s a laugh- we didn’t mean to cause any offence,

She’s a slut, she’s a wench- don’t take it personally.

Don’t be frigid.”


You don’t need to be a misogynist to be a man.


“But she’s a bitch, she was asking for it-

Did she drink too much, was she wearing a skirt?”

I cut my hair short regardless of my sexuality,

Maybe being a lesbian isn’t solely for your voyeuristic pleasure,

I am sick and tired of imaging if it were my sister, my daughter, my mother:


It is me.


“Lighten up, get over it.”


“I’d smash her back doors in, I’d pound her pussy.

Keep calm and rape on.

You wanted it because you didn’t explicitly say no.

If you’re happy and you know it show us your tits.

Make her a sex addict.

Very capable woman, if such a thing exists.

Women’s Running; lose weight, look good.

Men’s Running: get strong, run faster, be a better athlete.

She’s probs a dyke.”
Boobs are not news.


I am in the kitchen, dressed all in black.

My feet on fire and flailing; running up glass staircases

Because a job is a job.

Yet, we are so much more capable-


Than just being looked at.

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BTC’s film review of 2013 by Susie Taylor

So, it’s the time again for reviews of the year. Granted Buzzfeed most definitely has the monopoly on adorable puppies and twerking dogs but this year you shall also be greeted by my film review of  2013. Oh joy of joys for all you readers. When given the task I became completely flummoxed, the same way I do during pub quizzes when I know I know the answer, so I thought I’d try something a little different. Below is a list of my favourite films of the year (standard), my disappointments of the year (a ha a little bit different), the films I’m disappointed in myself for not having gone to seen and what to look out for end of December/beginning of 2014. Now this is not the ultimate, Empire approved, make everyone happy list so please don’t hate me if I’ve trashed your favourite or didn’t even watch the film that made your year….despite my nerdiness I have conceded that I am not a film Yoda and the ones I didn’t watch….I graduated and got a job in the last six months, sue me!


BEST (in no particular order)


Gravity- Oh Sandra, you wonderful woman. The acting was amazing, the music aggravated me but the visual effects blew my mind. Not a film to watch a second time but for sheer visual intensity, I don’t think anything can beat this film in 2013.

Mud- For years I have had a respect and love for Matthew McConaughey that was judged by all, Mud had such an epic performance from him that all those who judged before are now just loving him as I have for so long. The two young boys performance was indicative of the film, unsentimental yet moving.

Black Rock- a random little film written by Mark Duplass (who starred in Your Sister’s Sister that everyone should definitely check out) and directed by Katie Aselton who stars alongside Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell. It’s a good little thriller that stood out just for having damn good performances, keeping me on edge and for having practical solutions to problems.

In a world- Lake Bell’s second entry on the list was a comedy that she wrote, directed and starred in about a voice over artist that tries to fill her father’s shoes when she auditions for a new “in a world…” spot. It’s got great humour and says a lot about women trying to fit in to a previously man’s world. Also a great Geena Davis cameo at the end.

Bachelorette- A little bit of a controversial choice but I haven’t stopped watching this film since it came out in August. A film with Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher about how the people who know you best can sometimes be your worst enemies. It has the complexities of friendships, many hilarious moments and isn’t afraid to let its main characters be absolute b**** faces.

The Conjuring- Most horror movies are rubbish, it’s just fact. However this one by James Wan had subtlety right up until the end. The fact that a film that doesn’t have anything jumping out at you for at least an hour had me not sleeping for well over a week gives it a place on the list.

Prisoners- Fantastic performances for all involved and a good twist that I didn’t see coming. This one was a simple choice as it was just quality all round.

Stoker-This might be one of the creepiest films I have ever seen. It tells the story of a girl whose father has just passed away. Living with her cold, cruel mother, suddenly her long lost uncle comes out of the woodwork and people start disappearing. It’s a wonderful homage to Shadow of a doubt but adds an extra level through the young girl’s growing interest in how these people have disappeared. I haven’t explained it as good as the trailer will but this is a beautiful film. The sets and costumes lend it an air of old country house and the script reads like a wonderful 3 hand play. A must see.

The Heat- I’m sure this film has it’s issues however to me this is just fricking HILARIOUS. At a time when all me and my mother needed to do was laugh, this film provided that for two straight hours. It’s a wonderful double act and the two actresses just riff off each other with joy. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Philomena- This is in the top five. What sounds like a sentimental melodramatic British drama actually is a wonderfully written character piece with excellent performances. I was impressed with Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope’s script which finds the humour in a sad situation, but it always seems natural. In it’s discussion of religion among other subjects it is extremely nuanced and kept me thinking for days afterwards.

Blackfish- a documentary that certainly has it’s flaws (the chronology can sometimes be off) however it’s a shocking piece that deserves to be seen. I should dislike it as it put me off my happy place (aquariums) but the captivity of creatures like orcas needs to stop and I hope that like The Invisible War provokes change.

The Impossible- This is overly sentimental yes, but the performances, especially from Tom Holland are fantastic and so for that reason it goes on the list. Tom Holland is one to watch.

West of Memphis- another documentary that got made last year but released in 2013 this is the story of three men wrongly accused of killing young boys in Arkansas in the 1990’s. They were tried and convicted mainly on the basis that they were different and since then people such as Peter Jackson and Johnny Depp have been fighting hard to free them. Amy Berg makes a damn good documentary and this film is informative, passionate without constantly preaching and makes you extremely angry at the failure of the justice system in cases such as this.

Side Effects- This is put on the list not for being the best film ever but more for being a good thrilling film with good actors and good twists that kept me guessing.

Enough Said- this might be the sweetest film I’ve seen all year. Watching this made me a hopeless romantic all over again. James Gandolfini is such a gentle giant and watching him and Julia Louis-Dreyfus work out the ins and outs of relationships that happen once you’ve been through marriage and divorce, was a lovely experience and one that I’d gladly repeat. It’s also got crackling humour and the chemistry between the two leads is palpable. It’s sad we lost Gandolfini too soon.



Les Miserables- I’m sorry, I know so many people loved this. I thought I would love it. I love most of the songs and yet the film. I was bored. I was bored by Hugh Jackman. Therefore it goes on the list.

The Great Gatsby- Once again I’m sorry. However I felt like Baz Luhrman was just given free rein and although the book is about decadence, in no way did the film need to be that out there, most of all it did not need to be in 3D. The music was great, Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic but Carey Mulligan was miscast. However it’s not as bad as….

Drinking Buddies- this film sounded soooo good. Nick from New Girl, Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick (who I’m convinced that if we met we’d be best friends). Improvising a film about complex relationships. This should have been fantastic and yet made me want to sleep or just stop watching this awkward awkward film.

Only God Forgives- why was this film made? Drive was fantastic but like The Great Gatsby it seems like the director was given just enough rope to hang himself with. Even Kristin Scott Thomas couldn’t have saved this one.

Man of Steel- This film just took itself too seriously for a film about a man who dresses up in tights and a cape and can turn back time. Although for unintentional comedy it is the best film of the year. Henry Cavill looks the part, Michael Shannon is a great foe and Amy Adams was a damn good Lois Lane but the film was overlong and thought it was an epic rather than just enjoying the fact that it is a comic book film.



Upstream Colour

Spring Breakers

Short Term 12


Ain’t them bodies Saints

The East




12 Years a Slave


Life of Crime- no trailer as yet but it got good reviews at Toronto Film Festival and it’ll be nice to see Jennifer Aniston do something other than bad romantic comedies.


The F Word- no trailer either but sounds like a cute, slightly mumble core romantic film with Daniel Radcliffe about being placed in the friendzone.


The Double

The Congress

The Railway Man

A Case of You

Horns-the only clip that’s been released.

Very Good Girls- no trailer but it’s a coming of age story with two up and coming stars; Elizabeth Olsen and Dakota Fanning.


The Past

Gimme Shelter

We Are What We Are

The Dallas Buyer’s Club



Wolf of Wall Street

August: Osage County

Inside Llewyn Davis


And special mention to the worst named film of the year….drum roll please…..THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2. Erm, did the priest do it wrong, cancel, turn up on the wrong date?

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Ana Mendieta’s Traces: A feminist icon? By Ruth-Eloise Lewis

“The nature of her work was transitory; it either took place in time, or was destined to be reclaimed by the earth.”

“All that is solid melts into air.”

It’s been a week since Ana Mendieta’s first ever UK retrospective closed at the Haywood Gallery in London and I’ve spent every day of that week attempting to pin down my argument, to articulate the experience of the exhibition into a firm and reflective line of thought. But that seems precisely the point. Mendieta appears impossible to translate into words, a transitory trace in which memory and solidity are fragile.

Mendieta was born in Havana, Cuba and sent to the US when she was 12 in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. During the late sixties, she studied painting at the University of Iowa and developed strong and forceful performance pieces that utilized her own body. The full range of her practice- which incorporated performance, film and sculpture- has often been overshadowed by the tumultuous tale of her unsettling death in which she fell from the 34th floor of an apartment she shared with her husband, the minimalist artist Carl Andre.

Fortunately, the Haywood didn’t become entrenched in the dialogue of personal drama but focused instead on the life, power and themes of the art she produced. Moving through the exhibition, which was curated chronologically, felt like moving through a process of absorption with the artist in which her body blended increasingly with elemental materials of blood, fire, earth and water. And as her physical body seemingly faded, a sense of the transformative force of nature arose. Therefore, a focus on key three stages (body, outline and elements) can help to emphasize the culmination of an incredibly unique artistic perspective in relation to corporeality and its connection to the earth.

Stage One: The Body

Mendieta is often venerated as a feminist icon and bearing in mind the first three rooms of the exhibition, it is easy to understand why. The initiation into the visceral hits the viewer as they enter the space. Mendieta’s body appears in full view, squished up and distorted against panels of glass, altered and masqueraded under wigs and heavy make-up and covered in facial hair. These works explore concepts of corporeality, the politics of hair and the social and cultural implications of gender performativity. Projected video works Source (1973) and Sweating Blood (1973) focus closely on singular body parts, milk being pumped out of a breast uncomfortably and ox blood dribbling from Mendieta’s forehead and fixed gaze. Viewed in conjunction with other famous feminist works of the 1970s, for example Abramovic’s Rhythm series or Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, this exploration of the fluidity and form of the female body is deeply symbolic. The repetitive use of blood in the second room of the exhibition ties in closely with 1970s French theorists such as Kristeva exploring the concept of abjection and the subversion of the boundaries of the acceptable and presentable female body.  A clear commentary on violence against women can be seen in Untitled (Rape Scene, 1973) that focuses around the real-life rape and murder of a young student nurse. Mendieta re-created the scene, placing her bloodied and naked body over a table and inviting guests to her apartment to be shockingly confronted with the enactment. However, even in Body Tracks (1974) in which the artist dipped her arms in blood and dragged them down a wall in a ritualistic gesture, the movement and energy of Mendieta is still at the forefront. Mendieta’s blood works were also inspired by Afro-Cuban spiritual Santeria practices, installing them with a powerful aspect which she viewed as “a very magical thing.” Blood, for Mendieta, could be seen as a positive force in healing, sacrifice, initiation or exorcism. So, whilst she can be closely correlated to personal-is-political abject ideals, the pattern and rhythm of her body tracks connote the force of her presence and the organic energy of life.

Nonetheless, the artist is, very overtly, present.


Untitled (Glass on Body Imprints) 1972 

Stage Two: The Outline

The second stage of Mendieta’s work approaches the dynamic of the female body in relation to the landscape. She created her first ‘earth-body’ sculptures, named Siluetas, up until 1981. In these works, outlines of her body are marked into the earth with leaves, mud, ash and hair. She frames these contours with fire, flowers, fruit and candles. Mendieta recorded these performances through photography, carving the etchings into the soil and leaving them to the will of nature. The collective repetition of her silhouette against various backdrops evokes notions of space and belonging. As Mendieta was forced out of her homeland, she appears to be seeking a home in the earth. There are instances where the outline rises like a mound of the soil, grave-like, decorated with patterns or vertically planted sticks. Puddles of wet clay-like earth create a fluid boundary around the mounds, emphasizing the transitory nature of the piece. Soon the water will evaporate and the soil will shift away, just as the body of the artist has fallen slowly away before our eyes. We no longer see Mendieta’s body parts, displayed defiantly and forthrightly, and in fact we are denied them. We have an impression, we know, that Mendieta was once physically there yet the fragile impermanence of the silhouettes appear like a surrender to a more powerful force.

The artist is, becoming, absorbed.


Grass on Woman, 1972 mendieta3

Corazon, 1977



Silutetas, 1977

Stage Three: The Elements

We all want to leave a trace, to alter the minds and landscapes of those we love. Mendieta’s Siluetta’s engaged with her corporeality yet disengaged from it by focusing on more organic materials and elements. But what does the landscape mean to us today? We are taught in the Western world to believe that the individual is powerful; we build cities in the sky from concrete and put our own egos at the core of our being. We are aware that our bodies are flimsy and fleeting in comparison to the forceful stability of mountains, volcanoes or forests yet how we are, truly, linked to it to the landscape that surrounds us?

In the final shift of the exhibition, we are presented with the late work of Mendieta of the 1980s in which she changed direction and began to create sculptures of wood and precise drawings incised on leaves; concentrating solely on the elements. Also included in this section is paintings and sketches of simplified female forms inspired by cave paintings such as the Venus of Willendorf. This final shift seems to disintegrate the concept of the individual entirely replacing it with material, the elements of wood and leaves, repetition and pattern. In the narrative of art history, therefore, this sentiment is potent as the cult of the unique genius artist is so inherent at its core. We all know the big players of art history and venerate their names like gods, those (mainly masculine) icons who supposedly pushed forward a singular linear progressive vision of art. Mendieta’s absorption opens up a space beyond this narrow definition leaving it free for the collective and the previously marginalised, beyond the ultimate ego-driven goal of modern status. As both a female artist and an ethnic minority, Mendieta is speaking from the borders. Yet, whilst this dialogue could be interpreted in feminist terms, her ultimate goal feels more humanist, linked to the fragility of all women, men and living beings against the power of our planet. Nevertheless, Mendieta appears impossible to translate into words, a transitory trace in which memory and solidity are fragile.

Ana Mendieta at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 22/9/2013.

Totem Grove, 1985

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Breasts are a hot topic at the moment. From the No More Page 3 Campaign to the recent news of a scheme in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire that will offer (well, ‘bribe’ is perhaps a better word) mothers with shopping vouchers provided they breastfeed for at least 6 weeks – and of course, not forgetting the fact that tits are found pretty much everywhere across the media – in newspapers, magazines, advertising and yes, music videos (yawn).

It is not a dramatically new insight to acknowledge the ways in which the female body and its function have been manipulated throughout history – yet sometimes, it is easy to forget the extent to which forces of body fascism continue to materialise in new, innovative forms. I was reminded of this recently when I accidently bought a pair of ‘Waist-Shaper’ tights and wore them to a job interview. Now I’m not going to blame this ridiculous, organ-crushing invention entirely for me not getting the job, but – the looks I got on the train as I tried to subtly lower them (‘tight’ doesn’t really cover it, they more than lived up to their name), the distraction of finding it difficult to breathe whilst reading over my notes, and later actually having to run to a shop to buy a more liberal form of hosiery before finding somewhere to change, and then sprint to the interview – well, basically, I don’t think they helped.

So despite my awareness of the continuously expanding range of irritating, harmful products that support a constant pursuit of an ever more elusive feminine ideal – it is as if we are literally chasing after a practically hairless, practically weightless, eternally young, smiling mirage, except that each time we get closer something new and shiny obstructs us; an everlasting vicious circle, which probably looks a bit like what would happen if you crossed Beckett with Disney? Anyway – I was still startled when I discovered the existence in America of the ‘Hooter Hider’.

If you’re blissfully unaware of this invention, try to imagine what it could be. Most people describe some kind of bizarre nose shield when I ask them what springs to mind from the name, which is a quaint idea in comparison to the real thing: essentially, a large sack that hangs around a mother’s neck, so that she may breastfeed her baby under a sort of makeshift tent; both breast and baby are entirely sheltered from the (presumably horrified, disgusted or leering) gaze of the outside world.


For something that is clearly designed for purposes of being discreet, it is odd that the ‘Hooter Hider’ comes in a variety of loud, garish patterns, and is, well, pretty massive. In their description of its purpose, Bébé au Lait, the company behind the product, claim:

Our award-winning covers simplify nursing in public so that everyone — mom, baby, and present company — can carry on.

Simplify’. Hmm. And ‘carry on’ – carry on what, exactly?  Carry on pretending that ‘hooters’ don’t have a biological function, or that postpartum tits are X-rated?!

After all, nursing is a special time to bond with baby. But sometimes we’d like to stay engaged in our social setting, too. That’s why Hooter Hiders were born.

I agree; women should be able to remain ‘engaged’ in their social setting whilst feeding their children. They should not have to flee, witch-like, into the woods to seek out a cave, or hurriedly burrow into the cubby holes of public toilets to find some kind of sanctuary where they can expose their distastefully leaky breasts, safely unseen by the rest of society.

But the ‘Hooter Hider’ is not a magic invisibility cloak. It draws attention to its own role as mask, and in those glaring colours and visually clamorous patterns it imprints a firm statement: that this particular part of motherhood, or this particular function of the female body, is somehow not appropriate for the public realm. It is a 1950s kitchen in a piece of fabric, with a branded label slapped on the shoulder, which in turn is loaded with problematic connotations – because of course what is so hilarious, yet simultaneously baffling, depressing and ultimately offensive about the ‘Hooter Hider’ is its name. I wonder how long it took Bébé au Lait to come up with it. Perhaps their list of possible product names looked something like this:

–    Rack Stash?
–    Jug Smuggler?
–    Bongo Burier?
–    Bap Trap?
–    Puppy Shelter?

Hmm. Can see why they scrapped that last one; it might have confused people. But then, ‘Hooter Hider’ does not do much to clear up any confusion, does it? It uses a word that transforms a part of a woman’s body into a commodity for gawping consumers – a term associated specifically with ‘Hooters’, an American restaurant chain characterised by big busted waitresses in revealing outfits, the brainchild of (quelle surprise!) six businessmen in the early 1980s – for a product that serves to actually HIDE this part of the female anatomy, because of course, in this context, these particular wopbopaloobops/shirt potatoes/ [insert preferred slang term here] are not conforming to ‘Hooter’ specifications i.e. large but buoyant, perfectly round, golden dumplings, with absolutely no leakages or baby mouths in sight.


So even the language of objectification is used for a product that is specifically designed to hide female breasts performing their biological function. It is as if American society is as baffled at this alternative bosom action as Reece from Malcolm in the Middle was when he discovered that “…milk comes out of those things?!” Astonished, he exclaimed: “WOMEN ARE THE COWS OF PEOPLE!!”  And why wouldn’t he, when there is such a lack of imagery of breastfeeding, or even slightly more realistic, natural bodies in contemporary culture, yet an excessive amount of inflated, plastic cleavage, of breasts as the perfectly round targets for turning a person into a stereotype; a woman into an object.

Image culture eroding the reality of the body is nothing new, of course. Germaine Greer wrote in 1970: ‘Whenever we treat women’s bodies as aesthetic objects without function we deform them and their owners.’ Jean Baudrillard described the process of images constructing a ‘hyper-reality’ in his essay ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ in 1981. In this case, it is a current absence of breastfeeding imagery that has seemingly resulted in the materialisation of the ‘Hooter Hider’- a literal covering up of nature.

It is also significant that the ‘Hooter Hider’ covers not just partial nakedness, but a bodily process of secretion, because it follows a pattern of culturally constructed taboos around other female bodily fluids. Menstruation has historically been concealed, shunned, and disapproved of across cultures- and remains so to a great degree today. Emphasis is placed on the ‘discreet’ nature of ‘sanitary towels’ (even this name, prim and pristine, does not give anything away) on their offensively flowery packaging, in TV advertisements girls fly through the air in tiny shorts, seemingly entirely unaware of even the mere existence of periods, and pads/‘panty liners’ (seriously, does anyone actually call them panties?) themselves are increasingly violently and unnecessarily scented. And now, even lactation is seemingly considered unfit for the café table, the park bench or any communal area – even when it is necessary for the nurturing of a baby. I don’t want to come across all “Will somebody PLEASE think of the children!!” – But also, the baby underneath the enlarged garish sack tent has to suckle away in darkness, underneath an enlarged garish sack tent. And then there’s the fact that the whole thing looks pretty bloody ridiculous.

And it is not just in America that this breastfeeding taboo exists. I have overheard a number of conversations recently here in the UK from both men and women who have said things like “Oh yeah, I hate it when women do that [breastfeed in public]”, and my personal favourite: “They could at least give us some warning.” Sure, hold on – I’ll just get out my megaphone, shall I? “SORRY EVERYONE, just wanted to warn you – I am about to get my tits out, but it’s to feed my baby – that ok? They’re not perfect either, so look away now! Ok, carry on!”

Of course, not all women are mothers. Not all women want or are able to breastfeed, for various reasons – yet significantly, a great pressure to do so remains.

This is not an angry rant at women who are self conscious about breastfeeding in public. Personally, after the extremely painful and probably quite undignified agony of giving birth, I can’t really imagine giving that much of a toss about any passers-by witnessing an ordinary part of human life involving ordinary breasts (in fact, surely this is a perfect opportunity to show off? A “Hey look what I can do!” situation? Look at this! I’m literally FEEDING another human and I don’t even have to get up!) But I can understand why many do feel the need to wrap themselves in layers of fabric, or worse, have to actually move to find themselves a private space in which to feed their child. The ‘Hooter Hider’ is not helpful to a woman’s sense of her own bodily autonomy; it just adds another contrasting and distasteful layer to the pre-existing trifle of pressures on women to breastfeed in the first place. It is deeply paradoxical and unfair to insist that ‘Breast is best’ yet, um, not now ladies, not here! No tits out unless they’re sexual symbols, yeah?

Let’s not regard breastfeeding the way we already regard menstruation – unnecessarily tiptoeing around it with trepidation, afraid of leaks and stains, treating it as an embarrassing taboo or concealing it with sodding flower patterns.

And if anyone wants to design a ‘Hooter Hider Hider’ – preferably an even LARGER piece of fabric with no mention of ‘hooters’ but instead images of women breastfeeding with glee – that would be great.

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