From the Logic of the Phallus to the Logic of the Breast:
A Journey from Masculine Greed to Feminine Survival…via Guatemala and Siria!
It’s late in the afternoon on a Monday and the team at Turisti per Caso and I are gathered round a computer screen, doing our best to hold back our tears. The emotional trigger is an interview from a video of Syusy’s travels in Guatemala, in 2010. The interviewee is a Guatemalan woman named Victoriana, who, sitting straight in her chair, eyes fixed on the camera, recounts her experience of the brutality of the 1980s, when the Guatemalan civil war was at its most violent. Victoriana recalls how women suffered the most during the decade-long conflict. With men unable to go to work in fear of being killed in the fields where they laboured, families like Victoriana’s had no income, and no money to feed their children. What’s more, during that period more than 100,000 women were kidnapped by soldiers, taken into the woods and raped. The soldiers then murdered them, flayed the skin from their face, cooked it over the fire and ate it.
In the midst of this hell on earth, Victoriana and her friends managed to survive, triumphing over personal agony and extreme poverty to save their children. They did this by making use of an age-old Mayan skill, weaving. Looking to the geneology of Guatemalan women, Victoriana recognised that this craft, practised by the Mayans for centuries, was the best way to unite women in war-torn Guatemala. Initially, she organised for a group them to come together and weave decorations and embellished clothes, earning a small income to support themselves. She was then contacted by AjQuen, a fair trade organisation, who helped Victoriana and her group to sell these products in large quantities to buyers abroad. Victoriana says that AjQuen also helped them restore their confidence and sense of self-worth. For Syusy Blady, this is an example of how while male agression divided the population, causing a lengthy and bloody fight for power, women united and peacefully struggled for survival and self-respect.
Cut to the workshop where Victoriana’s weavers are making stunning, embroidered goods. Syusy is now taking a role behind the camera, as director. She’s signalling the start of the first scene of a short film that recreates the story of Elvia, a young Guatemalan woman, who struggles to sell her weaved goods until she learns about AjQuen. The film follows Elvia as she bids farewell to her family, and takes the long bus ride to the city of Chichicastenanga. There she will try to sell her beautiful woven shawls at the city’s market, so that she can earn enough money to feed her family. The market is bustling with colour, music and dozens of other women, all selling similarly beautiful products made with great skill and from many days of labour. The competition proves too much, and after a full day of advertising her wares to passing buyers, she must return home without having made a single sale. As she gets up to leave, she meets a representative from Fair Trade, who gives her a business card. On the card is the address of a workshop. Created by other women just like Elvia with the support of the Fair Trade organisation, the workshop is the center for the army of peaceful weaver-warriors into which Elvia and her fellow weavers have transformed themselves, just by getting together and getting organised.
Elvia arrives at Chichicastenanga market to sell her wares
“Yes, get organized!”
Syusy calls out the weavers battle cry, as the camera pans back to the astonished face of Elvia, who has just been told that through the Fair Trade organisation, the group could get an order for as many as 4,000 simplified scarves at a time. And so, Elvia succeeds in using an ancient Mayan skill to earn a living for herself and her family.
Twelve thousand kilometres away, women’s strength and solidarity is proved yet again, in a small town on the banks of the Tabqa dam in Syria. When Syusy visited the town in 2010, she met and talked with smiling, laughing women: sisters, mothers and daughters, who cooked, cleaned and cared for the dozens of children that giggled and clung to their brightly-coloured shawls. Looking back at that day, years later, we wonder what these women had to endure when conflict struck Syria. Did they have to flee on foot over the barbed wire border to Turkey, in a desperate attempt to save their children?
While the Arab Spring provoked decades of destruction and terror, and men fought for pride and for victory, women like the ones that welcomed Syusy into their home had no choice but to protect their children at the risk of their own lives. That is why, through an investigation of archeological curiosities and secret symbols, Syusy’s show God Was Born a Woman (Dio è Nata Donna), asks what the world might look like if the logic of the phallus, a logic of violence and greed, of war and destruction, was replaced by a different kind of logic, one that comes from the female body, a body which protects and nurtures.
Syusy takes as an example the global economic crisis of 2008. She shows a video clip of excited men crowding a Wall Street trading floor, their greed pushing the markets up to breaking point. And what happens at breaking point?
Syusy is reminding us of a little lesson in the physiology of the male body. What goes up, must …um…come down.
The camera pans back to the body of a famous dea madre figurine that was workshipped in antiquity, the Venus of Willendorf. From this stylised female body, says Syusy, we can draw inspiration for a new, utopian logic. If we abandon the phallus, we should choose another body part. But which one? Syusy decides on the breast, an organ that gives sustenance and nutrition to the next generation. The breast is productive, it is generous and it is selfless. Where the phallus only acts in the here and now, the breast ensures the reproductive success of the future.
So it is decided! In the midst of economic and social crisis, continuing threats to our eco-system, and worldwide conflict, we must protect and nurture the Earth now more than ever. By opening up our world to this new symbolic, we can break from a seemingly never-ending power struggle and govern our world with the same strength and selflessness that the female body has shown for millenias.
Eleanor Drage is GRACE researcher ESR12. She explores the intersections of race and gender in women’s Utopian/Dystopian science fiction, with a view to uncover new forms of humanism which make space for contemporary queer and transnational subjectivities. Exposure to inventive cultural productions in fictional voyages into possible worlds, allows for the transgression of conventional gender roles and may provide new lenses for the reception and deployment of official European equality discourses.