“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
When my mom was young, the only sport her school offered the girls was recreational kickball. When I was young, choosing which sport I wanted to play was a tough decision. Thank you, Title IX. After competing in soccer, track and field, swimming, diving, and gymnastics, I chose to continue competitive gymnastics in college. (Admittedly, that is probably the “girly-ist” sport of any, second only to ice skating, but don’t pretend Simone Biles wasn’t one of the most amazing athletes at last summer’s Olympic games.) That 1972 Amendment allowed the total amount of scholarships for female athletes at my college to be the same as that of the male athletes. Score!
But there was a problem—an epidemic, really. Female athletes at the turn of the twenty-first century were experiencing injury rates many times that of male players of the same sports. The reason: they were being trained in the same manner as male athletes. In his book Warrior Girls (Simon and Schuster, 2008), Michael Sokolove presents compelling evidence that when female athletes are trained with respect to their anatomy—particularly their hip and knee joints—their injury rates drop and years are added to their athletic careers. Women athletes gained equality in terms of being included, but then suffered (and are still suffering) from a definition of that equality which relies on the implied words that follow it: with men.
Being an athlete prepared me for my second career as a ceramist in many ways, and one important way is that it enabled to handle the physical demands. I had the strength I needed to wedge and throw clay, schlep raw materials, brick up doors, place shelves, and split wood the way all those jobs were typically done, that is, geared to the twenty-something male. Now, in my mid-thirties, I’m feeling the first twinges of “Well, there’s a limited number of times I’m gonna do [insert strenuous job] in my life.” Just as the status quo for athletic training needed rethinking for female athletes, the status quo for certain aspects of ceramics, especially kiln building, loading, and firing, needs to be rethought and honed for and by female artists.
The articles in this issue show that women ceramists, from rookies to veterans, are doing just that. Young women have female role models (that’s role models, plural, with an s!) and male role models who empower them to develop techniques appropriate for their bodies, environments, families, kilns, and artwork without fear of being shunned. Importantly, though, ceramics communities exist within much broader, complex cultures and socioeconomic structures where there is still work to be done in creating the kinds of environments that move beyond “equality,” to focus on humanity.
This issue of SP has that goal. Our last issue dedicated to “Women and Clay,” Volume 20, Number 1, December, 1991, also had that goal, as stated by guest editor, Clary Illian:
“Readers must understand that the demand for parity in opportunities, rewards, and even in the right to determine the value system that governs communications, working styles, and aesthetics [. . .] is a chance for all of us—men and women—to question our beliefs and actions and include a broader range of people and ideas in building toward common goals.”
I vow to continue questioning, including, and building, not only in my studio, but also in editing this journal and in being a human in the world. It’s a challenging world, but who is better equipped to take charge of it than women in ceramics?