“Stand By Your Man,” Tammy Wynette’s country ballad about fidelity, might seem like an unlikely candidate as inspiration for a feminist art show. It was, in fact, a song universally derided by the feminist movement, a stance cemented by Hillary Clinton’s remark in a 1990s interview about Gennifer Flowers that she “wasn’t some little woman ‘standing by my man’ like Tammy Wynette.” But embroidery artist Heather Marie Scholl was working on her first installation, a collection of embroidery art that explores themes of domestic violence, when “Stand By Your Man” came on the radio, and she found something else in Wynette’s lyrics. The song perfectly expresses, Scholl told me, “the subtle resignation and gendered expectations that can influence romance… It articulated many of the feelings I was trying for, of searching for affection and companionship but finding people behaving in incomprehensible and hurtful ways.”
Scholl’s installation, which opens this Friday in Greenpoint, is an expression of those themes. It even borrows its title from one of the lyrics of Wynette’s song, Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Woman. One of the samplers on display in the installation is another, more heartbreaking excerpt from the song: “You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times / Doin’ things that you don’t understand.” Scholl, who was trained in fashion design, uses beading and embroidery work prominently in her pieces, the delicate thread filigrees that have long been associated with femininity. “I began thinking about that beautiful outward shell we create and how much women are expected to create it,” Scholl explains. “In the past embroidery was a key element of that. The months and years devoted to garments, and home items, represented the family and man’s social status. Although that expectation has shifted, it’s still there, that women help create the status, the beauty, the comfort for men and the world. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be the creators of beauty and comfort, but one of the gendered expectations that gets distorted to a painful degree.”
Scholl’s work, she says, comes from a personal and a political place. “Feminism is a part of me, so it becomes part of my work,” she explains. Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Woman is aiming to help open up the conversation on the issues she touches on. “What I do hope is that it’s understood as trying to begin talking about the harmful ways men and women learn to interact with each other,” Scholl says. That way, “we can move beyond the initial conversation around domestic violence and sexual assault as the beatings or the strangers and add to the discussion the subtle ways our agency and humanity can be stripped from us when in sexual situations that don’t include communication, care and respect.”
Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Woman opens on Friday at Freeman Space in Greenpoint.
[All photos via Heather Marie Scholl]