In last week’s ICON magazine, I read an article about the collaboration of Maria Grazia Chiuri from Dior with the famous American artist, Judy Chicago. Mrs. Chicago was asked if she had children and her answer was: “No, otherwise I would not have been able to have a career as a female artist”. For a minute, I sat still, then I got terribly furious. Not about Judi Chicago, not about the statement as such – which is true by the way – but about the fact that it is still true today: a female artist who has children, has very limited chances to have commercial success as an artist. We are still seen as the housewives who do some “creative stuff” in addition to the daily house work. You are literally not taken seriously, because next to your caring job at home, you can only spend limited time on your work; in my case it is six hours a day.
In the last weeks however, I have not been able to work even two hours a day. As a result of the Coronavirus and the restrictions placed on German citizens, I had, and still have, two children who must be home-schooled and who need my support and attention. Wherever I look, it is predominantly the women who are managing, caring, and coping with the actual mess: home cooking, home working, home schooling, home office – you name it. It is all on the shoulders of women. In the last weeks, I regularly heard the same story, even if the husband and wife shared the home-time with the kids and created a kind of “shift” model to go to work. When the wife returned, most of the house and caring work was still waiting for her.
There are many articles in the press these days about the damage inflicted on feminism due to the pandemic. Authors around the globe are exposing the regression of the equality for women, because women are forced back into old role models due to the difficult situation families are facing. And yes, it has to do with salary levels; with part time work versus full time jobs; and with the existing imbalance we have been facing for far too long. Throughout the press reports, I observed one common theme: children and women have absolutely no voice. In most groups of government experts, there are, at best, only a few women who participate. Women and children are the ones suffering most; but no one hears them, and no one speaks up for them.
Interestingly, I started work on my latest picture in January and it was triggered by another moment of anger. I took my daughter to the bus and on the street was one of those usual penis graffiti, which we all know and have seen on every wall on this planet. At that moment I thought enough was enough! I decided that it was time to create the artwork I had been thinking about for some time. The main colour was inspired by Megan Rapinoe, the US woman soccer star, who I had come to admire last summer. The title of my picture is “peaches and apple” and it is supposed to create joy.
The press in the last weeks has also documented that the fight for women’s equality during the Coronavirus process has and is gaining momentum as people realize that the struggle for the equality of women is far from over and has been set-up by the pandemic. When I finished my picture a couple of days ago, I rededicated myself to being an artist. Being a mother makes me strong, creative, sensitive, and emotional - all it takes to make really strong art.
I have been using these last weeks to exercise – or let’s say improve – my ability for a modest life. For years I have been thinking what could be the next little thing that I could change on my way to a more sustainable lifestyle. All all those little steps had to do with modesty. One of my early decisions was to downgrade the engines of the cars I was driving, so the horsepower numbers went down and down over the years. I must say that I would prefer to have no car at all, but if you live on the countryside in western Europe and have three kids and a dog, you hardly have a chance to do without. Daily life demands a certain level of mobility, and public transport is lousy. Next step for this or next year is a hybrid or electric car. Travel wise we have switched to only European holidays, with plans for a bigger trip every five years.
The next big thing was food: I totally changed the way we bought, how we used food and how we ate it. With some compromises with the family I was able to decimate meat on our table by 70% - hoping to get to 100% one day. We buy bio, locally, fresh and unpackaged – even if I have to admit that sometimes I forget all my Tupperware that I need to avoid the plastic and paper packaging in the shops. The veggie market is my favourite place, I am taking at least 25 kilos fruits and vegetables from there back home per week. Incredible how much stuff you need when you cook fresh every day. The last weeks even more, because everyone was at home all the time. I have my own compost in the garden where everything than can go, goes. I have stopped binning left over food and my family is now used to have the dishes from the day before as starter on the table the next day. Took me a while this one – but it works.
Huge topic for me was: clothes and shoes. Thinking back what I spent years ago to feel good as a woman seems ridiculous to me now a days. But it was a massive task and a big change for me that took me several years. Today I am almost on zero consumption when it comes to new things. What I like to do however every quarter is make a nice trip with my friend and shop a couple of things in second hand shops. Last year in autumn I had a kind of “fall back attack” and shopped new things like in a drug rush. The day after I felt horrible and then I had to laugh. Hasn’t happen again since then, but you never know. I am perfectly happy with the dresses and shoes I have in my wardrobe – in the first years I helped myself with finding things back in the last corners, rearranging them with other accessories or swapping with friends. After having practiced “fashion modesty” for a while I am now totally relaxed with the few good quality classic pieces I have. I would never give away my black twenty year old Armani dress, it will stay for ever. Less and second hand: this has become my formula.
The last weeks I got better and better at this one easy exercise: ask yourself if you really need this. Due to the look down situation and the fact that as an artist I would not make a cent during that time, I had to think about it anyway. It is simply amazing how much we buy we don’t need and will never need. I can tell because I got rid of a lot of “stuff” in the house that just ate space and was of absolutely no use to anyone, Marie Condo would be proud of me. So the last weeks have brought an enormous progress to me when it comes to conscious consumption. Apart from the equipment for our puppy Ella I haven’t spend anything apart from food.
But all of this is of course not about not spending any money at all. This is about to think carefully and twice what you spend it on. Spending less, local and good quality when it comes to your personal needs, and give the rest to education of the poorest.
It feels like the universe is sending us a message; a strong message. Because we just won’t listen. It seems like the universe is tired of looking at how we have harmed our earth and ourselves. Tired of seeing all the destruction, the hate, the wars and the pain we create. Tired of seeing how we waste resources and kill species, forests and other living spaces. Tired of wars and the violence against the weakest, the children, women, the elderly and refugees. Tired of the selfish and arrogant way we live. Tired of our focus on the next new thing to buy; the next new place to which we must travel; and the next stuff to consume. Tired that we’re not really talking to each other. Tired that we don’t really listen to each other. Tired that we don’t spend enough time with our children and our elderly. Tired of all this “me, me, me”.
In the last years, I have developed a strong personal spirituality, something I did not embrace at all in my former life. Today, part of my daily routine is to get in touch with this bigger thing whatever we may call it - the universe, Gaia, mother earth, or God. This thing that we all belong to, that surrounds us and unites us. To me it is a big energy field that I can feel, that I can connect to whenever I want. I know that I am a part of it; that I belong to it; and that it connects me with every other human being, animal, plant and all living things in this world. I am a part of this big thing; part of the system and I have a huge impact on it positively or negatively. We all have. With this power comes responsibility. To help, to care, to preserve, to safeguard, to love and to worship this bigger thing.
I hope that this Virus that is now creating havoc in our lives and so much death will trigger a massive change in us. That it helps to awaken us and to understand what is really important in life – modesty in material life, but largesse in emotional and intellectual life. That we need to take care of the vulnerable who have nothing and make sure there is enough to satisfy the basic needs of all. That we find solidarity in this big crisis and reach out to care for others.
I hope that we learn to cherish the little things in life - when a child laughs and hugs you and when we can spend time out in nature. I hope we learn to embrace time with our families and friends; when we can take someone in our arms and look them in the eye. It is time to give back to the people we love and the people in need - to cook for them, read to them and caress them. I hope we take this pandemic as a wakeup call, badly needed, and that it will change and transform things for the better.
I met Chido Govera in 2011 in Berlin. She is an African woman who became an orphan at the age of seven and had to take care of her nearly blind grandmother and her little brother. Without protection and care from her family, when an African girl loses her parents, she is, in almost all cases, a victim of hunger and sexual abuse. Chido has dedicated her life to breaking this inevitable destiny and helping other orphans to live a better life. I have been working with Chido for many years now and I am thankful for every girl Chido’s Future of Hope Foundation can support. It has been a long journey, with ups and downs that affect every undertaking that is triggering change. The artwork above reflects the deep relationship I have with Chido. We call ourselves soul sisters which also became the title of this picture. We worked on it together and that’s why one can see imprints from both of our bodies on it.
In 2019, I was invited to present our project to the local Rotary Club in Albstadt, Germany. Exactly one year ago in February, I went to one of their meetings and explained what the Future of Hope Foundation was all about; how it was structured; identified its goals; and discussed how we work. The fact that local supporters like Silvia Blumenschein and her husband Peter Schütz are flying to Zimbabwe regularly to work on site and that the foundation was a project developed by an African woman for African girls, convinced them not only of the necessity but also of the chance of success to support the foundation as well. So a couple of months later, I was informed that the club had decided to support our project with significant funds that would help pay to train many orphans.
Weeks later the phone rang, and the Rotary Club president informed me that they had also decided that the Future of Hope Foundation had been chosen as a recipient of the incoming money from the yearly Albstadt Charity Run that takes place every October. Chido and I were invited to visit the event. On a warm and sunny day, we watched as the runners ran a race that supported good works and then were able to present the goals of the Foundation to a bigger audience. It was especially touching to watch the children who participated in the race so they could help the children in Africa.
And this month, February 2020, I was invited to collect a check for 10.000 EUR for the Future of Hope Foundation as a result of that charity run. Additionally our privately run “Chido Govera Friends Foundation” was able to finance several projects for Chido; the most important one being phase 1 of the construction of her own house and office, up until now only a dream. Overall, 2019 has been the most successful year of my activities for Chido. If you want to know more about our work, visit www.thefutureofhope.org and www.chido-govera-friends.org.
Chido Govera with the president of the Rotary Club Albstadt at the charity run 2019.
Peter Schütz and me with the 10.000 EUR check for the foundation.
When I was living and working in Melbourne years ago, I became a fan of Australian stand-up comedians. Years later, back in Europe, I came across the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby whom I admire for her amazing courage. Ms. Gadsby, during one of her regular stand-up routines, diverged from that routine to state that she no longer wanted to tell jokes about gay people. She talked about all the moments she had been hurt, attacked, discriminated against and offended for being what she is. It was one of the most touching scenes I have ever seen. That was the moment that triggered this painting. I realized it was time to write down my own kind of #metoo CV; to expose what had happened to me beginning in my childhood until today. When I finished my list, I sat and cried. But this acknowledgement of my truth turned out to be a very strong moment. It was a full stop to my past. During the last years, until that moment, I have healed myself. This picture exemplifies the conclusion of my healing journey. I felt so liberated when I finished it.
Of course I never stopped thinking about the why. Why do men do these horrible things to women? Why did those men do it to me? I believe that all of them have been educated, raised and influenced by society to be “tough-only”. I also believe that if someone is limited to live only one of the two traits, soft or tough, the originally positive qualities of that trait become distorted. In this case, the positive qualities of the tough trait change. Power becomes abuse; objectivity becomes judgement; presence becomes absence; authority becomes aggression; creativity becomes blind ambition; will become stubbornness; courage becomes macho affectation; leadership becomes control; wisdom becomes arrogance; protection becomes destruction; and charisma becomes manipulation and pomposity. Does that profile ring a bell? This is the profile boys grow into when they are never allowed to live their soft trait, or even worse punished if they show any sign of the soft trait. The result is what we call the toxic male, because this normally happens only to boys. However, the exact same thing happens if someone – often still little girls – are forced to live only the soft side. They become the toxic female. Patience becomes lethargy; devotion becomes servility; nourishing becomes overbearing; affection becomes jealousy and manipulative; receptivity becomes passivity; intuition becomes paranoia and hysteria; emotions become sentimentality and moodiness; relaxation becomes laziness; sensitivity becomes self-sacrifice; connection with the universe becomes stoicism; loving beauty becomes vanity; and softness becomes weakness.
If a girl is beaten up for speaking up loudly or asking for more and a boy is beaten up for crying or not hitting back when being attacked, one can observe these processes at work. But I feel that times are changing and less and less boys and girls are forced to live only one or the other trait: tough or soft. More and more parents, teachers, and our overall society are on a path to allow both genders to live both traits, which brings out the best in every human being.
Last week, I worked with a team from a company that offers various learning, training and other services to the public health sector. Ninety percent of the workshop’s attendees were women; quite common in this sector. For example, nursing staffs are predominantly female. When analysing the health care sector, it is clear that women make-up the majority of low-paid operational employees. Despite its relevance in today’s society, the health care sector has relegated women to its bottom-tier of wage earners. In passing during the workshop, I made some comments about those facts. At one of the breaks, one of the women participants approached me, coffee in hand, and asked if I was a feminist. I was a bit surprised and laughed, saying that in the first place I was a humanist: I like people, regardless of their gender, colour and sexual orientation. But yes, I was also a feminist in the sense that I believe we need to improve the situation in which women still live today. Given the obvious inequalities that still exist in many societies today, it appears to me that everyone should be a feminist.
On the train ride back home, while I watched the beautiful landscape pass by (a time I cherish while traveling), her question kept clouding my thoughts, and I had to think a bit longer about it. Yes, I am a feminist. I get furious when I think of all the women out there that are murdered, abused, suppressed, insulted, disrespected and overlooked – just because they are women. In the 1960’s, women’s liberation brought some improvement to women, especially in western countries. The #metoo movement took us to another level and again things have improved somewhat. But there is still a long way to go, especially for women in many countries whose situation has remained stagnant.
Yes, I am a feminist. In all the years of reading, studying and learning, I never found the answer to why women face such inequality. It seems to me that there are two fundamental elements of the human personality: the soft and the tough. Some call them the yin and yang; others the female and the male traits which I find very misleading as it implies that the genders are restricted to one of the two principles. The “soft” equals patience, devotion, nourishing, affection, receptivity, intuition, emotions, relaxation, stillness, sensitivity, fluency, connection with the universe, loving beauty and smoothness. The “tough” equals power, clarity, presence, force, authority, will, courage, leadership, wisdom, protection, ferocity, spontaneity, charisma, action and autonomy. Every man and every woman have both traits - the soft and the tough. With sedentism these traits were incorrectly separated - only identifying men with the “tough” and women with the “soft”. This has led us to the diminishment of men and women. Thus women cannot live their “tough” side and men their “soft” side. At the same time the disregard of the soft trait began.
With the dawn of the 20th century, women more and more left the ”soft-only-playground”. Many of them became “tough-only”, suppressing their “soft” side and consequently impacting negatively the equality of women. Alternatively, some men started to search and find their “soft” side which is good. But overall, we still face a heavy underrepresentation and disregard of the soft principle. The symptoms of this lack are not only the suppression of women, but also the destruction of our environment, livelihood, violence and war. We need to balance the soft with the tough in each human being. This equilibrium is necessary to save our planet.
In November 2019 I led a workshop at a university in Konstanza, in the south of Germany. The project leaders called this workshop “Confidence Boost”. Twenty-one female students, many close to graduation, attended the workshop whose goal was to help ready these young women to enter the workforce as professionals. Topics included: Tips for successful job interviews; advise on salary negotiations; and how to handle interruptions during meetings.
The main focus however concentrated on topics which are key to understanding women’s inequality in the workplace. Topics such as “What describes typical behaviors of men and women?”; “What restrictions, based on learned dogma of the roles of women and men, do we impose upon ourselves?”; “How do I understand the relationship between my feminine and masculine sides and balance them?”; “How important is my voice and how can I use it in a better way?”; and “How do I find my calling?”. The workshop is designed to use coaching tools to assist the students in developing their self-confidence, so they are successful during interviews and critical meetings. The concluding section of the workshop was concentrated on topics like nutrition, spirituality, meditation and sexuality.
During the workshop, I pointed out to the participants how much traditional doctrines regarding the stereotypical roles of both men and women are unconsciously (learned from parents, family, friends, and the environment) accepted and embodied. This learned behaviour was visible as my students expressed their frustration and fear as to why they continued to accept this unequal treatment within the home and the workplace. This engrained acceptance of the inequality between the sexes can be seen in the tone and manner of speaking as well as in physical movement. I observed all of this during the training and pointed it out to the young women.
The day was filled with a lot of very personal and moving moments. My openness and ability to share my feelings with the students allowed them to open up and share with me and their fellow students their emotions. The more I am open with the students, the more they themselves open up and share with me and the others. It was a day with much laughing and also some crying. I am grateful for the trust shown to me by the young women and for the time they spent with me.
„Eva Michielin gave us a lot of helpful and actionable hints for entry into our professional life and the daily working life as a woman. Eva’s open and sincere way made it possible for the day to become a day of very personal exchange between the attendees in a safe environment.
This workshop will have a long-term positive influence on my thinking and my behaviour and put a smile on my face. Thanks a lot!
Debora Tassone, Project Manager of the “Confident Boost” at the HTWG Konstanz
With my art as the backdrop, pictured here with the project managers of the workshop.
I painted my first picture in 2013 when I was four months pregnant with my daughter. This pregnancy was particularly poignant as I had endured three miscarriages between this pregnancy and the births of my two sons. It was clear to me that those children who couldn’t or shouldn’t have been born were girls. My inner fear that I wouldn’t be able to protect them caused my miscarriages. Only when I had battled my inner fears to a certain degree, and at the same time had given up on having a third child because of my age, did destiny send me my little girl. This pregnancy was the inspiration for my first picture.
How I came to print my nature photography on canvas, to cover my whole body with clay colours and roll onto that canvas, I don’t know. In any case, it was liberating, an act of total freedom and happiness. The theme of this first picture naturally became transformation; in the sense of metamorphosis; of skinning; of rebirthing; and of letting go and starting all over again. It is a cycle that is true for all our lives – more or less perceptible and perceived. Picture and text in my work always form in parallel; one can’t be without the other. At that time this wasn’t clear to me. I stood in front of the picture and knew there was something missing. I found a piece of velvet in my wardrobe and wrote on it:
Shedding my skin. Year after year. Again and again.
Until my feet grow into the ground.
And my hands into the sky.
Some days later, I understood what was missing on my painting and incorporated this text into my painting.
Bis mir die Füße in den Boden wachsen
und die Hände in den Himmel.