Gender is not something that one is, it is something one does, an act... a "doing" rather than a "being.”
― Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, 1990
If, according to Judith Butler’s seminal 1990 text, gender is a construction, then design—product, industrial, fashion, and graphic design in particular—has always been central to its making. The exhibition I Will What I Want: Women, Design, and Empowerment (at Parsons in April 2017, and traveling to Mexico City’s MUCA Roma in fall) explores the complex and sometimes-contradictory role that design has played in the pursuit of gender expression and equality for those who have uteruses, menstruate, and/or identify as women, from the mid twentieth century, through second wave feminism, to present non-binary intersections.
From the contraceptive pill to the breast pump to building blocks designed expressly to engage young girls, there is a long history of industrially manufactured objects that have attempted to positively shape human experiences, offering control over fertility, ovulation, and menstruation, facilitating school and work participation, and proclaiming self-defined gender expression. However, design’s relationship with the individual and with societies is rarely uncomplicated and so many designs “for her,” even for very young girls, come with the baggage of implicit and explicit expectations about class, race, gender performance, labor, and sexuality.
This Olio begins a dialogue around designs created to emancipate those who menstruate, give birth, and/or identify as women. It asks the listener to contemplate, from their own position, the ways in which these products, garments, and interfaces have, for better and sometimes for worse governed, shaped, and facilitated modern and contemporary experiences.
The Rare Book Room at Strand Bookstore boasts an elegant venue, the walls lined with leather-bound treasures from a book hand printed in 1480 to a limited edition Ulysses signed by Henri Matisse, the illustrator, and by James Joyce.
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