A Love/Hate Relationship with Lace
Above: Mrs. Kintner lifts her veil and slaps Chief Brody in the 1975 classic, Jaws.
When my Masters in critical gender studies degree-holding daughter wants to insult me, she’ll say, “Mom, your so first wave.” Her in-joke effectively cuts me to my core. Whatever the argument was, I’ve lost it. The reference to suffragists of the 19th and 20th centuries calls me out on old ways of thinking. I have to laugh at her clever slam.
After I admit to her being right, I can’t help but deliver a mini-lecture on why I’m late second-wave, early third-wave, and late-comer fourth-wave feminist. I was first to do this or that in the 1970s and 1980s. My explicit artworks about gender, sexuality, and the Roman Catholic Church were protested in the 1990s. The list continues. It is my motherly, feminist duty to tell the story of the past, push forward, and encourage the next wave.
A part of my story as a feminist artist is a love/hate relationship with lace. Yes, lace. I hate it for second-generation reasons. Equality is expressed by what we wore (or didn’t wear). It signified access to roles and leadership. I love it for third-generation reasons. Again, equality is expressed by what we wore (or didn’t wear). It signified sexual politics, expression of identity, and sex-positivity. I also love lace for fourth-wave reasons as a vehicle to speak out against the abuse of power by the privileged. Straddling waves of feminist thought is complicated.
Through the eyes of a second-generation feminist, my mother’s and my former mother-in-law’s generation being a woman meant playing a particular role as passive, soft, compliant, chaste, and subservient to the patriarchy. They wore clothing restricting movement (girdles, bras, dresses, high heels), which symbolized a lack of opportunity and freedom of movement in socio-economic terms. Covering the body in modest and discrete ways were reminders of a woman’s dehumanization as an object to be owned. Frilly, flowery, and pastel-colored fabrics were assigned to women to signify expected comportment.
As a girl, I remember my mother wearing lace veils to church and insisting I wear dresses, patent leather shoes with lace-trimmed socks. It annoyed me. I wanted to play outside, run through the woods, climb trees, and play sports with my sister. As a newly married woman in the early 1990s, I remember my mother-in-law’s sewing room filled with lace, chiffon trim, floral fabric. She made nearly all her clothes. She cooked and served my father-in-law every meal, even though she worked a full-time job. When I gave birth to my daughter, she came to visit. I thought she had arrived to care for my daughter and me after a difficult labor and delivery. Nope. She cooked for my husband and did his laundry (not mine). These attitudes made me furious and, thus, I equate certain materials with gender performance expectations. Lace annoys me. I hate lace.
On the other hand, lace has long been associated with women’s sexuality. During the third-wave, I subscribed to the anti-pornography camp believing it signified the subjugation and objectification. This belief led to an even greater hatred for lace and its association with sex for hire and prostitution. Ironically, my artwork in the late 1980s and 1990s was all about sexual empowerment and owning one’s body.
By the fourth-wave (and thanks to fourth-wavers like my daughter), I’ve come to champion sex-positivity. I have a greater understanding of intersectionality, and I subscribe to its importance. I’m even more focused on calling out abuses of power and privilege. And now, for all the reasons I hated lace, I love lace. Using lace is the perfect vehicle for what I want to say in my latest body of work, Veronica’s Cloths.
I utilize an abundance of lace in my work for all the things I once loathed about lace — it symbolizes so many aspects of inequality and an imbalance of power. Lace appears pretty, soft, and sexy, but lace in my work is a trickster. Lace visually fools the viewer and lures them in closer. Then with piqued curiosity, viewers are forced to lift the veil, uncover ugly truths about sexism and discrimination, and face the full force of anger like a slap in the face. Lace has become a weapon of choice in the fourth-wave battle.
P.S. Thank you Lee Fierro for your role as Mrs. Kintner in the movie, Jaws. When you lifted your veil, slapped Chief Brody, and called him out for not protecting others, you became my hero. He never saw it coming. RIP Lee Fierro, who died of COVID-19 complications in April 2020.
Kathy Johnson Bowles
See more of art: www.kjohnsonbowlesart.com
Originally published at https://kjohnsonbowlesart.com.