Who Does She Think She Is?
This past weekend I saw a documentary film called Who Does She Think She Is?. The film profiles five female artists who are also mothers, as well as several commentators including Tiffany Shlain, creator of The Tribe, and Courtney Martin author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters and contributor to Feministing.com.
Directed by Pamela Tanner Boll in association with Wellesley Centers for Women, Who Does She Think She Is? discusses the competing demands of motherhood and art-making and exposes how professional female artists aren't taken seriously in their field (there are some crazily alarming statistics on the number of women whose work get exhibited in major museums vs. the number of women enrolled in MFA programs). The film is really well-crafted, offering an excellent balance of personal testimony and historical context while raising some key questions about sexism and economic inequity in the arts world. I found it very engaging. And yet, a few things troubled me. All of the women featured in the film have (or had) male partners. So, during the Q&A session with Pamela Tanner Boll, I stood up to inquire: had she (the filmmaker) considered interviewing any lesbian mothers who are artists? Had she considered interviewing any single women who had chosen to raise children on their own? Not really. While the director certainly expressed a desire to tell stories that are often invisible, and profile women of diverse heritage -- women in the film had many different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds -- the fullness of female artists' experience in relation to marriage and family structure was not represented.
A second observation: Many of the women featured in the film touch upon how their religious identities impact their art. One woman is the co-pastor of a Black Baptist church, another is Mormon, and a third is Buddhist. A drummer who appears briefly in the film speaks about the impact of Goddess Religion on her love for drumming. While I suspect that some of the women in the film are Jewish (Tiffany Shlain is), Jewish identity is never explicitly discussed. Does it matter? Religious identity isn't positioned as the centerpiece of Who Does She Think She Is?, but a part of me wants to know more about the women whose religious identities are not made known. Did the supposedly Jewish women in the film actively choose not to discuss their Jewishness? Were they not asked questions that prompted how Jewishness is or is not expressed through their art? Was Jewishness simply irrelevant? What, if anything, is there to make of this?