Mariel Rolwing Montes: on the Female Image, Rape Culture, and Parts of Life We're Shown
On traditional femininity: Everybody is aware of the cues for what’s considered feminine or masculine. That binary is reinforced constantly, even through subtleties, like product design. I think our generation has done a lot of groundwork for subverting the binary, and although there is a lot more to do, it’s incredibly important because it’s through these cues that patriarchal structures get reinforced. There’s still so much pressure on women and femmes to act or look a certain way - to provide emotional labour, how we present our sexuality, to be intelligent in a non-threatening way, to be sweet. I just want to be a bitch.
On feminism: Feminism has been one of the most important things to me since I was a child growing up with a single mother. The feeling of other women understanding your same experiences, and the solidarity of this overwhelming desire to overcome has always been extremely motivating for me. Women face so many different issues, however, mainstream feminist movement has largely addressed issues that affect white, middle-class, cis gender women. And while I would like to free my nipples as much as the next girl, more people need to be angered by mothers struggling with SNAP assistance, or the missing black girls in D.C., or the trials that trans women face. Intersectional feminism is the most important to me. How can we have a movement of solidarity between women when it’s so exclusionary as it exists now? There’s so much work to be done. But I have hope.
On the female image: Women’s image is scrutinized far more than men’s, clearly. Women are meant to be beautiful. And this “beauty” is based on a thin, European ideal. I have a lot of issues with social media, but one of the benefits I think is that it has turned around the consumers of images to be the producers of images as well. The male gaze becomes turned on its head when women control their own image. Women can celebrate their little pimples, their rolls or stretchmarks, their body hair, all while making it sensual and beautiful- I love it so much.
On objectification: I feel it all the time. Women begin to be objectified from the time they’re really, really young. I remember in middle school the term “butterface” would really piss me off. It meant, “but her face,” as in, having a hot body but an unattractive face. If you’re saying “great tits, but ugly face”, you’re dividing her legs from her stomach and her tits from her face- it becomes literal objectification. And this begins when we’re in fifth grade. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Catcalling generally begins around that time too, and the repetitive nature of being objectified daily becomes really such an exhausting experience.
On rape culture: I remember in high school before we were going to college, in sex-ed we were taught about college rape culture before it finally started to get any media attention. In this class, instead of teaching guys about proper consent methods and instructing them not to rape, the emphasis became for girls not to drink too much, not walk home alone at night, not leave their drink unattended. The repercussions of these teaching methods are felt all the time. Many guys are hesitant to call out other men who they know to have sexually harrassed, assaulted, or even raped women. It’s really sad and hypocritical, because people want to act like this is an issue they take seriously, while they continue to defend men who’ve acted abominably. It’s also racist - there are so many Brock Turner-esque stories, the white guy who gets off on all charges and continues to have a successful life, because his daddy is rich, he’s white, and maybe has good grades, is on a college team, or whatever other x-factor people think disqualifies the fact that they are a rapist. These men would not face such light repercussions if they were anything but white. This problem extends outside of the frat boy phenomenon too. People like to pretend that the gentle artsy boy who plays in a band and has a grasp on Nietzche is incapable of those same actions, but he’s not and it happens all the time. There’s a lot of sexual harrassment and assault that happens at DIY venues even, but they go ignored or even defended because the perpetrator has some artistic or musical capital.
On calming down: It’s so horrible when you’re having a discussion, and by disagreeing with a man and having a strong opinion, guys often say, “calm down”. The trope of the hysterical, emotional woman, or the crazy girlfriend, is so overdone. It’s based on sexist standards, and repeating these phrases perpetuates those ideas.
On life we’re shown: In a sculpture class last year, my friend was doing a project on maternity and childbirth. When looking at some research and source images, we all became so suddenly aware about the lack of circulation of images of an actual newborn, the placenta, and the placenta sac. We see images of violence daily, images of women’s bodies sexualized, all the while we have no idea what childbirth looks like, and women breastfeeding are often censored, it’s such a double standard.
On faking it: I’ve definitely faked an orgasm before, in my late teens, when I was trying to fullfil the performative aspect of how a woman should act. But then, I realized it's really about pleasing the male ego, while women’s pleasure is put second, so after a while, I really stopped giving a shit. I won’t pretend that a man did something that he didn’t, just to make him feel better. It’s really freeing and overall leads to a healthier sex life.
On negative competition between women: I really hate that I have felt that sort of competition. Not for many years, but I feel like we’ve all gone through that, especially in middle school or high school. We are all really pitted against each other, and we’re made to seem that girls are so catty and competitive with one another. Recently, I’ve felt a lot more solidarity. Women just want to support each other, see other women succeed.
On Courtney Love: Courtney Love is one of my life-long idols. I loved her clothes, and her band Hole has always been one of my favourites. There are so many feminist anthems on Live Through This, and it’s so raw. Girls who experienced the same things could get angry and scream along with her. Also, she was so villainized by the media even long before Kurt’s death, because she was loud and outspoken and angry. I love her attitude. She’s also a really intelligent and well-read woman, but her music and talents get so overshadowed by her negative image in the media. It’s not anything new. One of the best performance artists is more famous for the myth that she could have broken up The Beatles than for her groundbreaking pieces.
On future girls: I’m so excited for future generations of women. There are already so many issues being addressed in the mainstream that weren’t when I was young. Younger people are breaking down gender roles and generally have a better grasp on intersectionality than previous generations.
On assault: The way we define sexual assault really needs to be changed. I think for a lot of people in the country, the image conjured up with rape or sexual assault is a man coming out of the shadows in an alley at night, some stranger. While that happens, people are less inclined to recognize that guys with high GPAs, or that are considered cool, or that you share a lot of friends with, could be a sexual assaulter. It also happens so many times at parties, when women and femmes are drunk or vulnerable in some way, and this creates doubt surrounding the perpetrators' guilt. This situation has been played out in so many ways by so many people that I know, I think it started by changing the conversation around it, and how we perceive people who could be sexual assaulter, a lot of assault could be prevented.