I came across this piece in the Edmonton Journal today: “Scholar morphs into woman of steel.” I wasn’t looking for it; it just came my way after I noticed a sidebar next to the piece I was looking for: Ohio woman arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after spraying police with breast milk. And then from there, I ended up here, at feministfiguregirl.com. And now, here I am, thinking through the politics of body projects. Conscious iterations and stagings of the body; performances of identity in and through bodily display.
All of which brought me back to Lesa Lockford’s Performing Femininity, a book I stumbled upon during my first year of doctoral study. Lockford’s work introduced to the wonders of autoethnography and performance studies, and I was hooked.
And as I consider Lianne McTavish’s body project – the staging of the self as a female body builder (and more specifically, the staging of a feminist art historian self as body builder), I wonder about how all of this body work shapes notions of identity. McTavish’s body is a constructed shell, carefully shaped through hours, days, and months of training, diet, and tanning cream. Like Orlan’s surgically shaped body, Lianne’s, too, is a work of art that functions as a stage for critique, a site of knowledge that opens up new ways of imaging the world and how we belong – or create our belonging – within it.
Meanwhile, it might be easy to laugh off the antics of Stephanie Robinette, our drunken lactating Ohio-an. And yet. Breastmilk. Termed liquid gold by some lactivists. Analogous to sperm to lactation fetishists. And here, in this one act, the two appear to come together. How many mothers have struggled with milk spraying every which way? How many mothers have been awed by the power of their bodies to produce milk… and overwhelmed by their complete inability to control it? And how many might have pondered, with a quiet smile, the power and potency of directed spraying? As a body project, the controlled milk spray is powerful indeed. This is no private bonding moment between mother and child, nor erotic encounter between partners. This, instead, is a conscious, public act of defiance. And in this I agree with the lactivists: the imagery is pure gold.