History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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Humor Life

It’s finally here: The perfect strategy for shutting down mansplaining

I’m tired of letting pretentious white dudes define what good art is. 

Men have this habit of mansplaining music, film, and literature to me. They think I’m “smart,” but somehow also assume that I’m not familiar with their canonical old white dudes. They dismiss my taste in things like romantic comedies as being less important. They’re shocked to hear that I like Terrence Malick films as much as I like “10 Things I Hate About You.” I’m tired of men viewing my tastes as less than intellectual just because I prefer art that deals with intimate personal experiences or love. 

Sure, I like French New Wave cinema just as much as your next liberal-arts educated white person. 

But you know what else is good? “Clueless.” “When Harry Met Sally.” “Gilmore Girls.” “Insecure.” Eileen Myles. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Jhumpa Lahiri. Kara Walker. Chris Kraus. 

And more.

[bctt tweet=”Art doesn’t have to be about tortured white men. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Art doesn’t have to be about tortured white men in order to be beautiful or important. Films don’t have to be dramas. Novels don’t have to be 1500 pages long. In fact, they can have value and well-developed female characters at the same time! 

So I’ve developed a new strategy to deal with mansplainers.

 The next time some hipster dude tries to give me a monologue on how great some historical white dude is, I’m going to interrupt him with my own monologue on something I like. 

The next time a man scoffs when I talk about my enduring love for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” I get to scoff when he talks about Franz Kafka. 

Some example conversations:

Dude: “WHAT? You haven’t seen ‘The Sopranos?’ It’s one of the greatest shows in television history.”

Me: “I’m sure it’s good, but I just don’t have time to start a new series when I’ve only watched all six seasons of ‘Gilmore Girls’ three times. I’m obsessed with the way Amy Sherman Palladino was influenced from the classic screwball comedies of the 1940’s. The scripts for every episode were like 150 pages long. Also, it is literally a tragedy that ‘Bunheads’ was canceled.” 

[bctt tweet=”You know what’s better than ‘The Sopranos?’ ‘Gilmore Girls!’ ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Dude: “Oh, you’re Jewish? I just always think of Woody Allen films. Manhattan is –”

Me: “I prefer Nora Ephron’s oeuvre. She was a genius. ‘You’ve Got Mail’ is one of the most underrated pieces of screenwriting from the twentieth century. Also, Woody Allen is a rapist.”

[bctt tweet=”You’ve Got Mail is one of the most underrated pieces of screenwriting.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Dude: “Oh, you you studied creative writing? How interesting! You seem really smart. Have you read ‘Infinite Jest?’”

Me: “No, I haven’t read ‘Infinite Jest.’ But, don’t you think it’s weird that so many famous, canonical authors like David Foster Wallace have committed suicide, and yet we don’t define them by the way they died? Whenever anyone says the name Sylvia Plath, people automatically think ‘crazy’ and ‘stuck her head in an oven,’ but when we talk about Hemingway we think about his masculinity. Have you read ‘The Bell Jar?’”

[bctt tweet=”No, I haven’t read ‘Infinite Jest.’ Have you read ‘The Bell Jar?'” username=”wearethetempest”]

Dude: “I mean, it’s like that quote from ‘On The Road…’”

Me: “Get out of my house.”

Dude: “I’m not in your house.”

Me: “Go away though.”

If every single one of us starts interrupting pretentious white dudes with equally pretentious monologues about nineties teen movies, together we can stop mansplaining. I’m done pretending that my opinions on art and culture aren’t important just because they’re seen as traditionally “feminine.” 

I’m done acting like I give a fuck about your monologue about I just need to give Woody Allen another try. 

Join me, friends.