Empowering Women Through Art – Guest Post

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Note from Valery: Hi! This is another guest post showcasing an amazing woman artist and fellow Denver business owner. Tiffany is an artist and the owner of Paint Me Nickel – make sure to go give her Facebook page some love. Just as a content warning, this post does discuss sexual assault and violence against women, but I think it’s a really important one to share, especially in today’s political climate. 

My name is Tiffany Dee Nickel and I am an artist. I paint mostly women.  My work touches on the concept of insecurities that have encompassed women from very young ages. As a female artist, I believe embodying a change in the way women are viewed as my province. Women need to band together to love ourselves and each other more than we do. We need to embrace our bodies and acknowledge and accept our differences. We have been taught that we are responsible for everything that ever happens to us good our bad. We are constantly judged based on our body types, clothing, makeup, and attitude, simply because we are female. The women in my paintings are faceless and brightly colored. The reason for this is because my work is meant to be representative of not one woman but of millions. The women depicted, represent any woman who has ever felt ashamed, demeaned, insecure, overweight, underweight or less in any way than she really is. We all have worth, we are all beautiful and we all need to be reminded of that. The colors in my paintings represent the truest sense of confidence and acceptance of our many differences. I believe that bright and fun colors express a feeling of love, warmth and confidence and can help brighten up any space. The time to love ourselves, our quirks, our curves and who we are is, now. By embracing our uniqueness we become powerful and by accepting our beauty and differences we can change the narrative.

As females we are constantly judged to the very harshest conditions. We are not only judged by men but we are also judging each-other, based on our attitude, makeup, clothing, weight, hairstyle, the amount of sex we have or don’t have so on and so forth. Today though I am going to address sexual assault and rape and how my experiences has shaped my art into what it is today.

To start I’d like to share a quote from Jack Katz-

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

Then I ask the women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.

Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

― Jackson Katz

I feel exhausted just reading that list. Seriously, it’s long and doing those things all the time is exhausting.

For me, I am married to the most wonderful man. He however, is in the army so I am home alone in a city where I don’t know anyone quite often. I love to run, it’s how I deal with my anxiety, frustration, loneliness and night terrors. However, it really is considered unsafe to run at night because I’m female. I do go running at night but I always have a keychain alarm attached to me. I always have my phone with me. I just bought a new puppy so that I will be able to have a dog with me When is the last time you heard a man talk about going running and get extra items to keep himself safe? I’m not trying to say that I hate men or I don’t think it’s fair. I’m trying to say it’s not something they can ever really understand. The reality is that for every women who has NOT been sexually abused there are THREE who have. I don’t know about you, but it is absolutely appalling that, that is a statistic.

If you have never experienced sexual assault in your life you are truly blessed because I wouldn’t wish it up the person I hate most in the world.

I was raped by a boy I was seeing. I remember after the ordeal I confided in someone I thought could help me. They told me that if I didn’t want sexual advances I shouldn’t have been where I was, doing what I was doing, or wearing what I was wearing (Which by the way was a v-neck t-shirt and jeans). They told me that if I hadn’t worn a shirt that showed a little cleavage and if I hadn’t been at the party I was at, it would have never happened. This person also informed me that I was making poor decisions that would later impact my life. Then, that if I wanted to a better life I needed to safer, because clearly I was with the wrong people if I allowed someone to rape me.

In case you’re wondering, yes I was told, by the person who I thought would help me that I ALLOWED someone to rape me.

As such I never told this story to another person until much much later in life.

How are you supposed to love your body, when it has been treated it as an item for pleasure?

How are you supposed to love yourself as a person, when you have been treated like trash?

How are supposed to sleep at night, when you wake up in a cold sweat reliving every single detail?

How are you supposed to feel safe?

How are you supposed to find peace?

These are the just a few questions that come to mind, there are hundreds of more. When you are sexually abused things are taken away from you that never should be. When someone puts their hands on you in a way that is unwelcome it is the most degrading feeling in the world. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, you are NEVER responsible for sexual abuse. The person who abused you is solely responsible for their actions.

In case you didn’t catch that or glossed over it,  I’ll say it again with more emphasis.

THE PERSON WHO ABUSED YOU IS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.

Every woman knows this, and every human as well. Yet, we are constantly being told things like “if you hadn’t been there”, “if you hadn’t been drinking”, “if you hadn’t worn that dress, shirt, shorts ext.”, “if you hadn’t been walking alone”, “if you hadn’t been out running”, “if you hadn’t (fill in whatever absurd victim blaming item you have ever heard or been told.)” It is repulsive that we would dare blame someone for abuse. It doesn’t matter what she did, no woman wants to be sexually assaulted. It’s not a special club we want to be a part of.

Women do not go out with the intent of

“I hope that man touches my boob when I don’t want him to”

or

“I hope that when I get a little drunk some guy is going to take advantage of my dropped guard to use his physical strength to rape me”

or

“I have to walk home and I don’t have anyone to walk with me, I hope on the way there I get accosted by someone with the intent of assaulting me”

No one asks to be raped. Period.

Most of my life has revolved around this experience, how I can prevent another event like this happening. How can I get a better night sleep. How can I make others understand that stories like mine are everywhere.

A friend of mine who is a strong advocate for women recently posted this on his social media,

“I’ve been thinking about and talking about sexual assault for the last week and I’m friggin’ exhausted by it. Women spend their whole damned lives dealing with this. Worrying about it. Strategizing to avoid it. Consoling friends who experienced it. Experiencing it themselves. Deciding whether or not to disclose that they experienced it. Dealing with the fallout from disclosing it. Dealing with the repression from not disclosing it. Holy shit I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

As a man living through the #MeToo era and watching powerful men have to deal with the consequences of their past bad behavior, my life has gotten more stressful. Did I ever say or do anything that would make a woman feel uncomfortable or harassed? Did my confidence ever seem like aggression? Am I offering enough support to women who deal with their own sexual harassment and assault? Watching our society finally start to take sexual assault seriously ought to be uncomfortable for all men, as even the best of us have been and will continue to be clueless about how our actions are perceived or about how best to respond to the women in our lives.

But you know what’s a hell of a lot more uncomfortable? Being a woman and having to actually live with the harassment and assault, or having to deal with the fear that, if it hasn’t happened yet, it damned sure will. Every woman I know is scared to walk through a parking garage by themselves, run on trails by themselves, or even walk through a crowd. And if you think the women in your life don’t feel that way, you’re wrong.

So I don’t want to hear dudes complaining that they’re worried or scared. The absolute least that we can do is watch our behavior, ask ourselves tough questions about how our actions might be perceived, ask the women in our lives how we can support and believe them, and try our damnedest to live in a way that no stories can ever be told about us. And if and when we screw up and make someone uncomfortable or scared, and someone calls us on it, we have to listen to them, apologize, and change our behavior. Given what women deal with on a daily basis, that’s not asking much.”

– Austin Baird

I believe that there is power in sharing our stories, in advocating for ourselves and helping others understand why we are frightened. We should lead the discussions, we should tell the stories because they are our stories and our stories alone to be told. My hope is that through my artwork I get to tell just a few of these stories. That with each brush stroke I am able to express a feeling of beautify and unity. That with every piece I paint women can feel empowered and confident with the bright colors they are painted in. We are all stunning and have beautiful lines and curves that are completely outstanding and beautiful compared to the harshness of the world around us.

You are beautiful, no matter what this world has thrown at you and I hope that you know the world needs you.