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I have been thinking a lot about transgressive women. There are so many ways to be transgressive, and I have my personal stylistic favorites. Much of my thinking has been triggered by reading a friend’s new book, Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History, by Laurel Ulrich. She has highlighted the lives of three women who did not buy the company line—Christine de Pizan (15th century), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (19th century) and Virginia Woolf (20th century.) But her introduction also chronicles many women–and groups of women–who have made her now famous line a slogan (originally taken from one of her scholarly articles and popularized through ad hoc brandishings on T-shirts, bumper stickers and bags.) Some of these groups, like the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, Mississippi, approach being outrageous and out of control as a hobby, all the while living lives that look, on the surface, to be quite conventional.

Laurel points out that, for some women, there is something very seductive about transgressive behavior. That was me, even as a small child. But my predilection is for a more understated subversiveness rather than the excessive, high drama, in your face version. So Madonna’s high visibility transgressiveness is less compelling to me than the simmering iconoclasm of Sinead O’Connor. (When I heard Sinead perform a few weeks ago, it was clear that her fierce “I’ll do it my way, take it or leave it” energy is still very strong.)

Installation by Ana Mendieta

Or the likes of artists like Ana Mendieta and Lee Lozano. Mendieta’s untimely death stopped her extraordinary work in its prime, but Lozano was fierce all the way to the end. She undertook a boycott of the officiously superficial art world by refusing to speak to other women for one month in a conceptual piece that was intended as a way to improve communication with women. It lasted for thirty years.

Untitled, by Lee Lozano

And then of course there is the wonderful quote from poet Alice Notley, originally posted here on October 17th:

I’ve been trying to train myself for 30 or 40 years not to believe anything anyone tells me…To write vital poems, it’s necessary to maintain a state of disobedience against…everything.