PRINT March 1988


what do women want?

What do men want?

NOBODY ASKS WHAT men want because everyone knows what men want—men want it all. Or maybe no one asks not because men want it all, but because men have it all already, and when women make demands since men have it all, men say What do you women want?, and What‘s wrong with you anyway?

Or one assumes that what men artists enact is not as man (unlike women artists, who are always assumed to be speaking as woman), but for the universal state of what is. Or—another way of putting it—when men ask what do women want, they are actually inverting the demands made by men that women know their place, that they be delicious and available, that they do what they‘re told.

Woman becomes a text that is unreadable because men have made so many conflicting demands:

the familiar/the enigmatic
stay at home/work at two jobs


Simone de Beauvoir looked at the world around her with an unflinching gaze. A look into old age, love, ethics, women‘s status—the list goes on. De Beauvoir revealed the embarrassing, the unspeakable, in her observations of the human condition. Did she speak so frankly without the mediation of her art?

How am I to speak frankly, to state what I consider of moment, to observe and document what is occurring now? I can speak most directly (though often, by necessity, obliquely) through painting or printing, articulating by hand, by brush—rather than by word, by mouth. The transformations of thought become visual notes, the figures hieroglyphs, and the language (when used) borrowed.

The performer‘s body is her actual vehicle. The artifact (artist‘s product) is a symbolic embodiment of the visual artist. Expression may be abstracted, but the body is present even if in disguise.

Painted and printed images of many types are substitutes for my body. So if these works are ignored, I lose identity; since my persona is identified by my art, I am silenced. Whether the art is praised or reviled, once received it enters a public or external discourse. My body, my presence mediated by the mark on the paper, is no longer absent. I speak.

For many years when the work was not out, not acknowledged, I was silenced—lost my tongue, so to speak. Women talk but they do not speak insofar as they are, for the most part, historically silenced. So to speak, I stuck out my tongue (as in the disembodied heads with tongues sticking out that populated my “Artaud” paintings, “War” series, and “Codex Artaud” collages). Defiant gestures, obscene gestures, done in anger. This is not acceptable public behavior.

The stick-out-your tongues are gone. Now there are mostly women actors, subverting, I hope—or ignoring—the notion of the male as prime mover.


In representations of women, I examine difference—to make manifest, to put them to work, to signify how we envision the body. For me as a feminist artist, to depict the female body is to depict ranges of difference. Not to set up an ideal or universal (classical—whole—how can woman be universal if she has a hole?), but particulars, a kind of naming. Ideal types of the past—Greek goddesses, prehistoric or Hittite fertility figures—jostle or intersect, come up against Vietnamese peasants or veiled Arab women, porn queens, etc.—all to be clarified through both their specificity and their refusal of closure.

Woman in process, never a fixed or stable identity, woman as a continuous presence, woman in motion—gesture and movement being the earliest forms of human communication—woman warrior, woman victim. These are female bodies—I use them to speculate on what is possible and to comment upon immediate events and rites of passage—political, sexual, personal. . . .