How does a woman who cannot have biological children feel when engaging in a struggle over motherhood tasks? What does a white woman think upholding the claim of a female victim of racist violence? What happens to a healthy woman when she takes on an unhealthy body’s desire?
During weeks, I attended feminist groups’ meetings, assemblies, and gatherings in Brussels and I got to know a small institutional migrant movement. Not many people attend March 8th‘s demonstration. Not many people have access to feminism. I was interested in finding out, thus, where the distance between the feminist movement and Belgian women lay.
In Belgium, abortion is legal. In Argentina, there is transfeminism. In the process, I had to counteract the instinct for comparing territories: feminist movements throughout the world are very different among each other. Let us celebrate and go deep into this fact. In Argentina and in Belgium there are different accomplished rallies and different ways of getting together. Then, and considering the fact that I come from a country where big public demonstrations are the weapon of choice for politics, I realised I needed to account for the validity of another kind and extension of activist expressions as I found in Brussels. Nevertheless, it seemed to me that this distance between the movements and the women from Brussels was marked by individualism and neoliberal structures: on the one hand, women who would not demonstrate, having their own needs already solved; on the other hand, women who would demonstrate without asking themselves about other women’s access to the protest.
I am interested in bodies getting together because they bring about political signifiers, no matter what they are saying. Desire takes a public shape. However, not everyone can protest. Not every body can appear. Bodies need support and cannot be separated from their lives’ infrastructural conditions. Access to public space, to political protest and to participation in feminist movements is a reinvidication in itself. Let us talk about access within feminisms.
I asked some women who could not or did not want to attend the demonstration if there was any petition or desire they wished to be present that day. Some of them excused themselves for not being able to attend, others did not wish to go, others wanted to go but were not able to. With those messages, I made signs that I took to the demonstration.
I was never good enough with handiwork, with doing things with my hands. I am sloppy, impatient, and I cannot cut a straight line. I get hurt and dirty. For some reason, whenever I undertake an art project, I end up getting into the things that are most difficult for me or that I simply do not know how to do. I may do that deliberately. Feminism also finds me doing things I do not know how to do and challenges me all the time.
Sunday 8th was stormy and grey as almost every day in February and March was in Brussels, and also as almost every demonstration day in Buenos Aires was. I got there early and there were not many people. I asked a few women to hold up the soaked cardboard signs with their glitter running down because of the water. Some of them agreed to do it immediately and others gave it a second thought to see if they agreed or not with what was written on them. Then I told them who had said those things to me: a woman in a wheelchair, a woman with a three-weeks-old baby, a sick old lady, a young woman who criticises feminisms, an unemployed Muslim woman, a recently arrived migrant woman.
The messages on the signs are not expected to speak for all the voices that were not embodied in the March 8th’s demonstration, nor are they meant to represent all the gender identities or expressions, sexual orientations, or physical, age, racial, ethnic and social diversities. They are personal desires and petitions that wanted and were able to be present as a result of an alliance between strangers. They trace the eventful path of the people I met during that time.
In some cases, I was able to connect people: the ones who told me their desires with the ones who held them up. In other cases, I was not able to. I wonder where those desires will go after being held up; if the women I connected with one another are still in touch; if the ones who held the signs up were able to embody the other’s desire; if those who shared their desires felt they were not alone at the sight of their sign; if, in the residency, the signs were just thrown away after I left Brussels. I wonder about struggles appropriation, about sharing desires and about our ability to take on other desires. Nothing was solved but everything was set in motion.
In that tension spot, I try to imagine this: how can we dismantle the neoliberal rules that prevail in some feminisms? How can we rehearse different ways of organisation? Can we use art as a tool to put better ways of being together into practice?
One of the things I learnt from feminism is to uphold struggles that are not necessary mine. It is not easy to protest over something that does not affect you directly or that makes you feel vulnerable in a special way. This time, art enabled us to frame an exercise against individualism, to rehearse it to then put it into practice when art is not there as an excuse to speak about ourselves.
This, which is not my desire, is also my desire. There is no desire I do not make my own.
-I always looked after others. Who is going to take care of me with my Alzheimer’s disease?
- I want to work, but childcare is too expensive.
- I can’t walk. I’d like to attend the demonstration.
- My pension is lower than men’s, and that isn’t alright.
- I’d like my husband to team up with me to support our daily life with the children.
- I want to protect the rights my grandmother won.
- Reporting my aggressor isn’t as easy as you say in your feminist songs.
- The fact that my children don’t carry my last name makes me sad.
- Life of women who don’t speak French or Flemish well is hard in Belgium.
- I can’t find a job because I wear a veil.
Text: Belén Charpentier
Photos: Mladen Bundalo