Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Last Bastion

(© Vagina, oils on linen, by Mona Arizona; aka, MIMI WOLSKE)

Don't you think it's fantastic that if you ask most young female artists today if they feel marginalized by their gender that they are mystified? Was it only 30+ years ago, in the very late 70s, that as a female art student I, and my fellow female peers, faced deep-rooted sexism?

One woman professor, with her doctorate in art at the university, understood the problems we faced because she fought the battle for recognition herself. Fortunately for me, I was one of twelve women students chosen to be part of a select group of women artists the year she began her work-and-discussion group. We represented women artists from various areas she believed showed promise. We were painters, a sculptor, a soft sculptor, a weaver, ceramists, a film maker, a body artist, a photographer, and a jewelry designers. We were young. We were idealists. Some were radical feminists, others were not so radical. We were from middle- and upper-class families; we were white; and we were women looking for and wanting our place in the world of art.

That first year, we learned not just in the studio but on the job...for our first show as a group, we were responsible for the installation. We learned to construct walls and pedestals. We chose the music for the show's opening night, created and printed the advertising, learned how to set the lighting for the best affect on the various forms of art being presented, and planned the refreshments, the media coverage, and the documentation of our group show. We called it the First Annual Women Artists of the American Southwest Show.

Statistics? Well, I read an article about artists and art shows in California in the early years of the seventies that documented only 29 women out of 713 artists participated in group shows in Los Angeles and out of 53 one-person shows for the year of the report, there was only one female artist.

Typical of the times and of women artists around the country, we were exploring outside the bounds of predictability and the boundaries that seemed to be labeled as characteristic of feminist art. One of the photographers and I went to the dry river bed near campus and after she tightened her Hasselblad to the tripod and set the settings the way she determined they should be and rubbed Vaseline around the outer edge of the lens, she disrobed, posed in front of her camera, and I snapped off a roll of film of her, for her, for the show. My painting was of a reclining nude female whose body was one-half skeleton and who held her detached head in her hands but resting just above her genitals. Another painter did a series of three paintings on the subject of rape. There was a surreal film on being a bride.

As a group, we made a punch bowl with nude females gracing and supporting it and two nude women formed the ladle from ceramics. We wanted a nude female to serve the punch, and while it was okay for the female models for painting classes to pose nude, the males wore a jock strap, so imagine how upset we were when the school refused to allow the punch server to be nude. Well, we created nude figures from and in the finger food.

It was during this time I began calling myself Mona Arizona on my erotic (and feminist) paintings. If you know me, you know that name, too. And, if you know the name Mona Arizona, then you know me. I was an art activist from Arizona. As a double-major student, no one stopped me. I was like a lot of female activist students. I think I'm unusual / unique because I'm still me...just older and with attitude. When people first began approaching me about my writing and my painting, I thought, I've been through feminism... racism (as the mother of minority children)... religionism... all the prejudices... I'm still an activist and Ageism is going to be the last bastion.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

short story: Payback Is Hell

Payback Is Hell
©Mimi Wolske, January 2014
All Rights Reserved

"I just checked you in," the airport thicket handler, rubber-stamp holder, and human detector says. "Step over there and talk to that woman."

Airports hardly seem the place to discuss your personal life. Everyone watches as I step out of line and head toward the uniformed woman. It's bitterly cold and the news on the Taxi's radio said something at the Polar Vortex shifting and making parts of North America colder than Mars.

"Ticket and License," the TSA-badged security person orders. Yes, orders. It's not a request...not by the look of disgust on her face for having to deal with me.

I hand her my driver's license and my computerized ticket. She must read at a fourth grade level, I think as I wait impatiently and embarrassed for fifteen minutes while she repeatedly looks from one to the other. Finally, she gazes up at me expectantly, her eyebrows arched into a silent question. I stare back. What does she want from me now?

"What's your name?"

I tell her.

"When were you born?"

I answer that question and get uncomfortable realizing passengers in the waiting area are still watching

"Do you live here?"

"Well, not in the capital, but in Brownsburg, just west of Indy."

"Where are you going and why?"

"Do you really need all of this information? What's the problem? Okay, I'm going to Houston for a conference."

"Do you realize a person using the same name is headed for the same conference in the same city? What will you be doing at the conference?"

I explain I'm part of a round table discussion on nineteenth-century women writers. She looks at my documents and walks away with them. When she returns, she has another female TSA policeman with her. This new policewoman's only words to me are, "Raise your arms above your head."


She feels me up.

Before my eyes shut with humiliation, I catch a glimpse of a male passenger being groped by male TSA policeman. When my lids rise, I see more passengers losing their First Amendment rights.

I'm ordered, again, to follow the contracted policewoman. I still don't know what I've done. No one will tell me.

"Why? What's going on?"

But, there's no answer.

She's taken my purse without my consent. Fear grows as we head toward the out-of-the-way TSA office on an upper floor, down a quiet hall behind a locked door. We've all heard that TSA isn't bashful about violating people's right. I think it's the agency's entire job description—search travelers...probable cause and a warrant are not necessary.

When we enter a private room, she says, "Sit down" and points to chair. Then, still holding my purse and my license and ticket, enters another room.

Crapola. My stomach churns.

I just read about their intrusive search, abusive treatment, their ineptitude, and even a penchant for stealing in an online news article. Be care what you say, I remind myself. They violate first amendment rights. I decide to think twice about asking the latex-gloved woman, who enters from that same door my personal belongings entered, to buy me dinner before she has her way with my genitals. From the look of the bruiser, I decide even asking for lubricant will be a mistake.

Stand straight, do as you're told, forget about your freedom, and keep your comments about her general disdain for human dignity to yourself. Slip on any of those counts, and I know I'll be arrested. I know that because federal propaganda messages echo throughout the airport reminding citizens not to speak out against the blueshirts. Joking about security brings you an immediate arrest.

I still don't know that I have done anything wrong because no one will tell me. She says, "Follow me." It's freezing outside but it's icy death in this semi-clean, unsterile, tiled room she leads us to.

"Remove all clothing above the waist."

It reminds me of the instructions the technicians hand women to read before we get our mammograms. "Why am I here? Why am I being searched?"

"You were trying to pass for a passenger who already checked in."

Low mentality, I remind myself. Tread lightly. "I think the other woman was passing as me. You have my driver's license; that's my photo."

"You have jaundiced eyes."

Jaundiced eyes? I have a slight case of walking pneumonia (I know, I shouldn't be traveling) and I am feeling more and more ill as the quarter hours tick by. Is that a crime to have jaundiced eyes now?

"Jaundiced eyes? What does that mean?"

"Possible terrorist."

I chuckle. "I'm closer to a possible pianist than a terrorist. I don't even own a gun."

She stares at my bared breasts. Asks me to turn around.

"Nothing, right? I mean, I'm too small to hide anything under these fried-egg size breasts." I redress myself above the waist and say, "What does TSA mean?"

Well, besides 'Touch Sensitive Areas' since they fondle you in the name of security. I slide my sweater over my head and pray that my TSA handler's job isn't also her hobby.


Okay; so a sense of humor doesn't work. Fear only heightens the pleasure of their job. So, what do I do now?

Just before she orders me to remove everything below my waist, we hear screaming in the 'waiting room' and then dogs barking. My handler opens the door, unconcerned whether I'm dressed or not. The German shepherds' attention immediately target her and before she can slam the door closed, they charge her.

She screams. The door shuts. And the two dogs are in the frigid room with her... and me.

I gulp a breath of panic. She screams. The guard dogs pounce.

A tangle of three heads, two arms, and ten legs wrestle on the floor. I'm perched on the small counter top watching and praying. But, the dogs don't want me. They want her.

The doors are locked from the inside, so all help is denied entry. I watch as her First Amendment rights are violated and wonder if it's payback for her exploration of those two dogs. I noticed one of them did seem to have jaundiced eyes.

I smile. Looks like payback is hell.