Feminine sustenance

The importance of play and enjoyment in art and design cannot be underestimated. I was working on a bracelet two days ago — my second one of the day, because I had inadvertently destroyed my first model by being too eager to finish (I cut the wrong cord…which may be another entry) — when I realized that all of the jewelry models I had created which were unique to me, started out with just sitting down and playing with materials.

Which means…in order to grow a sustainable business, I need to, actually, allow myself time to play. It’s not unimportant, and it’s not childish. It’s how new things come into being.

I have heard people online lament that some customers wish not to have to pay for labor when they can sense that the labor is (or was) enjoyable. However…at least where I’m at, we live in a capitalist society and require money from somewhere to sustain our basic existence. Just because the labor can be fun doesn’t mean it should therefore be free. This especially applies when most of the cost of an item is in compensation for labor.

As I was working, I realized that…I am the agent that puts together all these raw materials (in this case, cord and beads) and makes them into something recognizably useful. Even if the use is aesthetic, a bracelet is not worn without reason. Peoples’ justifications of these reasons vary…but the core drive seems to be to beautify oneself or express oneself. It’s my mind that composes the combinations and configurations of colors; it’s my investment to seek and obtain the materials in the first place; it’s my hands that weave and knot these things into existence. Quite literally, the pieces I make and design would not have existed without me; without my commitment to initiate and follow through on that creation.

Therefore, no; these items are not free. And if I’m to spend my life doing it, I have the right to ask for a living wage so that I can continue to do it without my having also to subsidize others’ buying it. It’s not lucrative — even being a Bench Jeweler is not lucrative, surprisingly — but the feeling of satisfaction I get is well worth it.

I wrote a journal entry (offline) talking about the benefits of being a hobbyist — that I can sell at a lower price to the people I most want to be able to possess my jewelry. That is the ideal. As I was writing this, however, I also realized that maybe I, too, am used to getting things more cheaply than I should be able to get them — because of people being underpaid elsewhere in the supply chain. Or alternately (or perhaps concurrently), because of economies of scale and mass production (which does not necessarily sacrifice quality).

In this country, we went from slavery to Jim Crow to the school-to-prison pipeline…which all appear to be ways, essentially, to enable the extraction of free labor. How much would the price of fresh produce go up, if all farm workers were paid fair, living wages? How much would goods from other countries cost if those countries had similar costs and standards of living as some now possess in the country in which I live?

I don’t know if capitalism on the whole, can even function without workers being underpaid (or unpaid), somewhere (example: mothers). It’s a question I’ve had for a while; then again, we have an embarrassing level of income disparity in this country. Even given that, though: if I get to choose my own asking price (which is not really a “choice”; it is based on the local living wage: I would not necessarily feel safe living many other places), I’d rather choose to be independent than dependent on cash flows from someone else.

There is a lot that is working against women and girls in this country, not to mention gender minorities who happen to come off as women and girls. Still. I have chosen to spend my time, from high school onward, becoming potentially more self-sufficient, rather than choosing to find someone to marry. A lot of that relates to wanting to have relationships based on mutual respect, appreciation, self-respect, and love, rather than economic needs. It helps that I take relatively long periods of time to form social ties, and that those social ties appear to be independent of a drive to reproduce.

That is, I don’t want to live with someone who treats me poorly because I can’t afford to live on my own. I learned very early on that it’s better to be alone than it is to be with someone who abuses you. This especially applies to someone who is with you because they hope to use your womb (clearly against your inclination and consent). There are many reasons I’ve opted to avoid having children. My creation and contribution to the future is in the Arts and Humanities, not childbearing. That’s the way I need it to be.

The major issue I face right now is how to navigate the world as an independent person, and how to integrate the ideas people have had about women, the value of women, and the value of womens’ labor, in the face of a world still largely dominated and controlled by men.

Right now I’m wearing the third most recent bracelet I’ve made: I’ve knotted the slide closures more loosely than usual, and I want to see how the thing wears. If it falls apart, I’ll know not to begin the slides without firmly knotting off the body of the work, again. I’ve actually gotten the idea during the composition of this writing, to add in some size 11/0 beads between the ending of the bracelet and the beginning of the clasp (using Delicas, if need be). This may keep the gap I need to be there, while enabling me to knot tightly. I’m not totally satisfied with this piece; in particular, I should have used a material like bone instead of horn, to border the clasp.

I hadn’t anticipated that the graphic quality of black horn would contrast so powerfully with the pastel body of the rest of the piece. The reason I’m using natural — in this case, animal-sourced — materials for the clasp is that I know they’re more durable than glass, and won’t damage glass. Bone and horn are also relatively much softer and much safer to ream — that is, to enlarge the piercings within, as I’ll likely have to do for most of these beads — than glass or stone. The closures I’ve designed need a larger passage to be able to function properly.

It…is amazing, the look of this piece. To me, it also feels very feminine, but not in a way that would cause me to avoid it (there are different kinds of femininity, some of which I embody; others, I simply can’t). I’ve used a combination of greens and violets which remind me of flowering succulent plants (which, in my mind — along with most plants — are not gendered). This…along with my particular situation as it comes to gender, probably has me thinking along the lines of, “how do they do this?” How do people, that is, stand all the negative attention that comes with being seen as a woman?

Yes, the bracelet is beautiful. Yes, I would like to wear it. But then, what does that mean to other people? Will they think I’m making a statement? What kind of statement?

I am female; I don’t consider myself a woman, at this point. Generally, this means that I have chosen to opt-out of the pattern of either conforming to, or rebelling against, compulsory femininity. Most women I’ve known can’t conceptualize my viewpoints; at least, not without time and extended effort. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have people trying to play games with me as though I am a woman, however, expecting me to respond…in some way which would delight them, at my expense. (I have a problem when they take a gamble on this assumption and lose.) Neither does it mean that “womens'” clothes don’t fit best.

Realistically speaking…to the world, I appear to be a young woman. The thing is, I don’t consent to having that label applied to me, and I’m not that young. It is actually insulting to have men treat one as though one is a fourteen-year-old, when one is nearly forty. I also haven’t quite figured out yet how to explain to others, the idea that I am physiologically similar to many women, but that doesn’t mean that the ideas my appearance may bring to mind, are at all a match with the actual reality of my person.

And, no, I’m not entirely sure where those ideas come from in the first place, though my best guess is that they spring from media stereotypes. Having an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing, and having years of experience in character illustration (though not for money — and not online), I kind of have an idea about just how highly these things are edited.

At one time I was into comics and manga, though that kind of died down (i.e. had to stop) when I realized that there were no representations of anyone who looked like myself in any of them. As for animation, the closest characters to my own image are both villains: Gothel (the witch) in Tangled, and Dr. Olivia Octavius in Into the Spider-Verse. As for why there aren’t any non-crazy characters who look like me, that’s not really an area I’ve cared to follow up on.

It’s not a great thing to imprint on images which a person has no chance at all of ever being able to attain (or which are inherently negative). There is a point of why there are so few representations with so many characters; there is also a point of why characters who appear a certain way are slotted the way they are. Does it have to do with marketing? I mean, seriously.

Yes, I could straighten my hair. The question is why I would do so, when I know it would eventually result in permanent damage to my own body. Yes, I could take testosterone. The question is what I would get out of it, besides being constantly mistaken for another gender I’m not. Is that worth lifelong dependency on outside hormones, which (in my case) would raise my risk of heart-related complications?

People seem to have a difficult time distinguishing fantasy from reality. It doesn’t help when those fantasies are about an actual, living person, or actual, living people. If people could simply know that stereotypes are not reality, we would probably all be better off, and I would be very much relieved. I mean, seriously. At least at this point, that’s all I want.

Published by Haruna

Haruna is a Librarian by training, currently pivoting from Public Services into Technical Services. Their undergraduate major was English -- Creative Writing, and they hold an additional small degree in Art (i.e. Visual Arts). They are now pondering whether a career in Academia is viable or desirable, given the current situation.

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