The conference on Remembering and Forgetting, held in October of 2007, was itself memorable. A woman spoke on home birth, from DeAnza Community College, and Adriana Yoto presented a stunning slide show on the links between the images of colonial Britain and the marketing campaigns of the Providence Mall (and its sister malls, owned by the same company--General Growth Properties).
She and her husband and several friends created a living space in an "unused interstice" in the mall and supplied it with furniture, electricity, and a bricked up wall with lockable door. Her husband was on NPR THE STORY program last week, and two of my students in the fall 2007 college writing class (who had seen the slide show) also caught the NPR story.
The marketing campaigns of TV often emphasize social integration, while the MALL campaign, directed toward women's "colonial-style" fantasies of ease-full luxury. DEFINING YOU is a campaign for what Olive Schriener, the South African feminist, called in her 1920s book, WOMAN AND LABOR, the propensity of 'women's cultures" to thrive on a kind of parasitism.
Anne McClintock, in IMPERIAL LEATHER, also emphasized how the labor of household maintenance had to be out of sight, and that idleness was the marker by which women of class established their position.
The presentation by Adriana in Mexico City has really interested me--as the forced idleness and dissolution of women in colonial spaces, and even in postcolonial spaces--has been troubling me for some time. To see it reflected so boldly in contemporary American commercial culture is disturbing.
In a B & B in Cape Town, South Africa my "hostess" for a week--an elderly woman in a large house hoping to supplement her investment income, complained of my haircut. You're a sight, she said to me. Let me call my friend to cut you hair. Another elderly lady showed up, several hours later, and had me sit in the dining room, at the table, and proceeded to cut small bits of hair. At each fingerfull, she extended her arm out over the rug and released the hair, which drifted feather like to the floor. When she was done there was hair covering the entire dining room floor, and the domestic helper, watching from the kitchen, simply frowned slightly at the unnecessary labor. I feel sure that the women were not being unkind or sadistic. They were simply so unaccustomed to cleaning, that they were oblivous to what it would take to clean the hair up. To them it was great fun to cut an American's hair—a girlish, chattery bit of entertainment. To the domestic helper, it was two hours of tedious work. The vacuum cleaner had broken several months ago. It was 2004.
It is scenes like this, from cultures in which middle class or dominant group women play out their fantasies of childlike irresponsiblity--that the campaigns of idle unconnected luxury self-indulgence, such as Adriana has examined, grow more troubling.