Blank Media: Equals

Helen Jones

Helen Jones

Just a few reflections on Helen Jones piece ‘Come Undone’ for the Blank Media exhibition: Equals.

She has hand-embroidered her own design on a white tablecloth which hangs in the middle of a room draped over a line like laundry. At the launch she begins unpicking the floral pattern, small golden threads curling on the floor. When I arrived she was partly behind the cloth and not being able to see her face felt strangely appropriate to viewing her unpicking the work, reflecting on the generations of anonymous women who have been domestic, generations of lost people in a way. Women’s liberation was partly delivered by the washing machine, sewing machines, technology as freedom from the hours spent rinsing clothes. I have no real experience to measure the physical effort of maintaining a household, just random descriptions of pain picked up in novels of Victorian life. The red chapped hands of the laundress, the steam, the exertion. Sewing as one of the genteel accomplishments that women were allowed to ornament themselves, or as work they went blind over.

Having a look round the web for facts to feed my thoughts on this, found this article and found these quotes quite interesting in terms of ‘women’s work’. One of the sexist comments on Marion Bartoil’s Wimbledon win was: ‘you’ve won a plate, now get back in the kitchen.’

Annabel Smith, Britain’s only female beer inspector (2011):

‘In the 18th century most breweries were run by women – making beer was like making bread, and women were good at it. It was when the industrial revolution came that the men took it away from us.’

Zoe Watson, heating and plumbing engineer:

‘Being surrounded by men all day and being in overalls does make me glam up outside of work. I look really boyish on the job with my hair tied back, so I feel I have to pull out all the stops when I go out, to balance it out. My hands suffer for my trade, though; they are ruined. I have awful, manly hands thanks to my job.’

It suggests something to me that Zoe Watson feels the need to compensate for her ‘manly’ job by becoming ultra feminine when she goes out. This feeds into Rebecca Hains’ blog on why Marion Bartoli has been judged on her appearance, not just by hate tweeters but by BBC’s John Inverdale.

‘Bartoli, on the tennis court without makeup, was not performing femininity. She was being athletic: running, sweating, driving her body to function at its peak. She looked strong because she is strong–and because our culture associates strength with masculinity, it’s really hard to appear strong and feminine at the same time.’

Zoe Watson is doing what she can to avoid this appearance of strength, but her ‘awful, manly hands’ let her down.

'Come Undone'

‘Come Undone’

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