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Posts by rebuller

Motherhood, Expanded

By Rachel Epp Buller

I was a senior in high school when Vice President Dan Quayle delivered his soon-to-be-infamous diatribe against Murphy Brown while on the campaign trail. Quayle was supposed to be addressing the Los Angeles race riots, but along the way he ended up blaming single mothers for a decline in social values and blasting Candice Bergen's fictional TV character for glorifying single motherhood as “just another lifestyle choice.”[1] Although the speech was viewed at the time as a political gaffe, Quayle and then-President Bush capitalized on the media frenzy to politicize the notion of “family values.” They sought to convey to voters that motherhood should be confined to the institution of heterosexual marriage; morally questionable single mothers endangered both the welfare of children and society as a whole. In the years since Quayle's speech, journalists, sociologists, and historians have continued to write about the Murphy Brown incident.[2] Some argue that Quayle's stance has proven prophetic and that single mothers do indeed wreak havoc on the social fabric.[3]

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Craftivists v. Hobby Lobby

by Rachel Epp Buller

Creative stamp arrangements. Cross-stitched fallopian tubes. Knitted uteri. This summer’s social media circulation gave witness to all manner of artsy protests surrounding reproductive rights. Practitioners of this sort often call themselves "craftivists," a portmanteau that makes clear the use of craft for activist ends. ("Lactivism" indicates a similar word blend, regarding activists who mobilize around issues of lactation.) Guerrilla knitting, yarn bombing, yarn storming, and granny graffiti are all terms in the craftivist lingo (some lovely examples of which can be seen here). To get their message out, craftivists often work in public spaces - sometimes in a guerrilla, dead-of-night manner - and their colorful, even fanciful creations can provide a non-threatening point of entry for public discussion of serious issues. In July and August this year, craftivists made sneaky appearances at Hobby Lobby stores around the U.S. to leave art-based messages for the retail giant as well as for their fellow crafters.

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Adventures in the Berlin Archives

By Rachel Epp Buller

As historians, we often work with primary sources – documents about a place or records of a person’s existence. Paging through issues of a journal from a hundred years ago can feel like traveling through time, and reading personal letters now held in an archive offers not only remarkable insights but also feelings of intimacy and privilege. But, what happens when you see something that you wish you hadn’t?

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Censoring the Maternal Body

By Rachel Epp Buller

In the last decade or so, scholars across disciplines have worked to shed light on the complicated ways in which Americans praise the pregnant body while simultaneously rejecting the post-pregnant body. For example, in a recent guest post for Nursing Clio, Carrie Pitzulo traces the history of how the pregnant body has shifted in our societal perceptions, from scandalous and invisible, to highly celebrated, at least in the case of thin, white women and especially in cases of celebrity pregnancies. In Pregnant Pictures, Sandra Matthews and Laura Wexler examine the ways in which we create roles for women (and how women resist those roles) through visual images of pregnancy.

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Faculty Mothers: Continuing the Conversation

By Rachel Epp Buller

Listening ear. Moral support. Advisor. Counselor. Professor. Mother?

I’m in the midst of reading Academic Motherhood: How Faculty Manage Work and Family, by Kelly Ward and Lisa Wolf-Wendel--both of whom are well-published professors of educational leadership.[1] Ward and Wolf-Wendel aren’t the first authors to address this topic; other notable contributions to the conversation include Mama, Ph.D. (and the subsequent Papa, Ph.D.), Parenting and Professing, The Family Track: Keeping Your Faculties While You Mentor, Nurture, Teach, and Serve, and Academic Motherhood in a Post-Second Wave Context.

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Visual Campaigns against AIDS, Then and Now

by Rachel Epp Buller

Once upon a time, AIDS was a focal point for artists in the United States.
My design students and I recently read Maud Lavin’s Clean New World: Culture, Politics, and Graphic Design, in which she discusses the rise of political art and design in the 1980s after the election of Ronald Reagan.[i] The Eighties – the decade when the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and social services were cut dramatically. Lavin asserts that, because the liberal mainstream seemed to disappear almost completely during the years of Reagan popularity, a variety of artist collectives took on the mantle of politics, social action, and public health.

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Breastfeeding 101: Why This Discussion Still Matters

by Rachel Epp Buller

I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles over the weekend and facilitate a panel discussion about breastfeeding. The audience consisted of mothers of infants and toddlers as well as expectant mothers, who came for a “Mom’s Night Out” to hear from a panel of “experts” that included Elaine Stuart (childbirth educator and doula), Dr. Tanya Altmann (LA pediatrician), Corky Harvey (long-time lactation consultant and co-founder of The Pump Station & Nurtury), and Jamie Lynne Grumet (the mom at the center of last year’s controversial TIME magazine story about extended breastfeeding). After hearing some of the audience questions I was reminded once again why these discussions are so important, why lactation consultation is on the rise, and why there is a constant demand for breastfeeding classes and breastfeeding support groups: because breastfeeding is not always the easy relationship that most of us expect it to be, and mothers need this information.

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Barbie’s Dream House?

by Rachel Epp Buller
Well apparently, Barbie's house is not such a dream after all. I’m working in Berlin for two months this summer, and there’s been quite a kerfuffle about the life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse that opened near Alexanderplatz in May. Organizers bill the Dreamhouse as a temporary theme park, but I think that may be overstating it slightly. The 2,500-square meter house is more like an expensive fun-house shopping experience – pay the money, walk through and see life-sized Barbie ensconced in her expansive pink world, bake virtual cupcakes on a touch screen, do some dress-up if you paid for the high-end VIP package, and then end your visit at the toy store.

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Marketing Domesticity

By Rachel Epp Buller
One of the recurring themes in my “Women and Gender in Art History” class this semester has been the historical association of women with the domestic sphere. In the nineteenth century, we looked at examples of European art that addressed this clear cultural separation of spheres, where public = masculine and private = feminine. Of course, this cultural association of women with domesticity persisted throughout much of the twentieth century (think June Cleaver) and was cleverly marketed to women through seemingly endless inventions of domestic appliances and ever-better cleaning products.

By the 1970s, American feminist artists and writers began taking on the gendering of domesticity. Building on Betty Friedan’s arguments in The Feminine Mystique (1963), writers like Pat Mainardi critiqued the cultural assumptions that made cleaning a gendered imperative. In “The Politics of Housework” (1970), Mainardi examined the excuses used by her husband to avoid sharing the burden of household chores:

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Bodies on Display, Then and Now

By Rachel Epp Buller
I witnessed a breakthrough this week, one of those “a-ha” moments that, as a teacher, is so terribly exciting. I’m teaching an undergraduate seminar this spring on Women and Gender in Art History. Since we’re a small school, though, we don’t have an art history major and many of my students come from non-art backgrounds. This means that most of the ideas and artists we’re talking about are brand-new for most of the students.
What was this “a-ha” moment? It was the realization, voiced by one of my students, that the display of women’s bodies that we see happening throughout the history of art is not really so different from the display of women’s bodies in contemporary popular culture. This may seem apparent to many of you readers, and the student in question was surprised herself that she had never made this connection. She is well-read in ideas of the male gaze, and considers herself savvy when it comes to critiquing mass media representations of women.

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