A Younger Woman Responds

Krystie and Sachi togetherMy relationship with “Who Does She Think She Is?” traces back to a lunch meeting between Courtney Martin (my employer), Jennifer Baumgardner, Kerthy Fix (consulting producer) and Pamela Tanner Boll. I was sitting with all of these amazing women in Balthazar on Spring Street in Manhattan, listening to them discuss the logistics of this documentary. It was the very first day of my internship with Courtney as her personal assistant, and I was fascinated by the inner-workings of this film.

I went home the next day with the documentary in my hand, borrowed from Courtney’s apartment filled with interesting literature and multimedia resources. My friend Sachi accompanied me the first time I saw these five beautiful women on the big screen—and by big screen I mean my family television.

I witnessed the struggles and hardships of what it took to be both a mother and an artist, which were unknown to me previous to this experience. As an 18-year-old female I could not directly relate to the film, however it was an educational experience that enlightened me about women of older generations. I recorded my observations and had a quick discussion with Sachi, who had less critiques than she did positive feedback. “I didn’t see as much of Camille as I had hoped—she kind of pops in and out at the beginning and end. But I was really rooting for Janis, her life and her art were amazing.”

I agreed with Sachi that these women’s stories were nothing short of remarkable; I was on their sides the whole time. I acquired much respect for these older women who bared their souls to the viewers by explaining the specifics of their double lives.

In order to be “good mothers,” the stars of “Who Does She Think She Is” allotted a certain amount of time to their artwork a day. Their passions were put on hold to pursue motherhood—which they each triumphed in their own ways.

While I was intrigued by Maye’s, Janis’s, Angela’s, Camille’s, and Mayumi’s stories, I couldn’t help but be partial to one or two characters in particular. I loved watching Angela throughout the documentary and listening to her examine her own home-life and theatrical pursuits: her performances on stage and in her household were both captivating. What was most engaging to me about Angela was her sustained optimism regardless of what was occurring in her life at the time. Between not receiving a coveted role after her call back audition for a Broadway show, to her divorce from her husband, Angela kept a smile on her face for her children and for herself. She did not want to be brought down by anyone, and ended up being the most inspiring in my eyes.

Another of my favorites was Janis. Although she felt the need to keep her artwork hidden from her church that she is actively involved in, I thought she did a fantastic job of incorporating her love for sculpture with her full time job as a mother. She did this by bringing her family to her art shows that displayed a large portion of her work and teaching her own daughters to use a pottery wheel as Janis works on her own pieces. She also utilized her art as a way to alleviate her own stresses, and left all of her unease in her sculptures. She was a tremendous influence on her children, as were all of these mothers featured in the film.

“Who Does She Think She Is” does not only appeal to an older generation of women; young feminists are also attracted to the idea of women (in general) having the ability to work as mothers, and specifically as artists. It is important that we are aware of these different facets of the world that still need to be conquered by other women, and the art world is not an exception. This documentary informed me of the daily adversities these mother-artists experience, and has interested me in a new educational subject.

“Who Does She Think She Is” rocks!

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4 Responses to “A Younger Woman Responds”

  1. I am delighted that you were intrigued by the discussion of the film to take it upon yourself to watch it and to share it with a friend! I love your insightes into the film and also your personal response to the stories. I agree that Angela does not let things bring her down. We can all learn from her–as many times as I’ve told my three sons that failure is part of learning, it is still hard for me—and watching Angela recover from setbacks is truly a reminder that life is large long and rich—unless you find yourself hiding out, licking your wounds at the first slight.

    I am also truly inspired by Janis and her ability to just “do the work.” When I watch her, I am reminded not to fret, not to waste energy in worrying what might or might not be.

    I am glad that this film touched you, both…and hope that the experiences of the women in it, will stay with you as you make your own way to adulthood.

    I know that when I was eighteen years old, I didn’t think I could learn much from my mother or the women in her circle. How harsh was my judgement of their lives and their lives purpose–most of my mother’s contemporaries were stay-at-home- mothers—I wanted more.

    It was not until I had children of my own, that I truly recognized the contributions that my mother and all those other mothers had mad to my life and to those of my friends. It was a web of meals made on time, a quiet place to study, a clean house to bring friends home to, a routine that I could count on, a time to dream and a time to help with the chores. And my mother did all of this while having her own dreams of becoming a writer, an activist. I discounted those dreams of hers –surely if they truly meant something to her, she would have been out there, realizing them! So, I wasn’t a very sympathetic daughter and am so glad to be able to make a film that shows the true courage of women who take on the sometimes thankless task of mothering while also holding onto a piece of their own.

    By the way, my mother, who had not had a paying job the entire time my sisters and brother were growing up….ended up becoming Mayor of our town–Parkersburg, West Virginia!

  2. I am writing in response to the post entitled, “A Younger Woman Responds”. As a similarly-aged (though slightly less young—I am a student at Wesleyan University) woman, I was likewise drawn into support of each of the vibrant women in “Who Does She Think She Is?”, although I come from a rather different context than that of Courtney’s intern.

    Like the author of the post in question, I am acting as an intern of sorts for one of the impressive characters who put together this documentary. In fact, I work for THE head honcho impressive character, Pamela Tanner Boll. After my initial meeting with Pamela, discussing my potential undertakings in relation to the film, I went home, unlabeled DVD in hand, to watch her film.

    This is where my story converges from that of the other young woman’s well-versed blog: I sat down to watch “Who Does She Think She Is?” with my mother.

    My mother, like each of the women in this film, is an artist. She is an opera singer, an occupation she truly loves and needs. Evidentiary to this need is the list of declined opportunities that could have changed the direction of my mother’s life’s path. She discovered her passion for singing in adolescence, and pursued it heavily enough to develop significant skill. She kept it as an extracurricular activity, though, as she majored in English at Harvard, with unspoken plans to become a lawyer. As graduation drew near, however, and the prospect of the rest of her life became a reality, my mother chose to attend graduate school to study voice. She chose fulfilment over the strictly professional career that society, and, to be fair, her mind, told her that she should follow.

    As my mother’s skills improved, she began to travel more and more to perform, and developed quite the career. In the heart of every professional performer there are aspirations to stardom, and my mother was no exception—and, for her, this prospect was growing to be an increasingly viable possibility.

    She muted this aspiration, however, when my older brother and I came along. To pursue the nomadic lifestyle that comes with opera stardom would have led to a severe unbalance between work (which, in the artist’s case, is a form of personal fulfilment), and family life, she maintains. While art is often portrayed as the enriching, gratifying end of this balance, my mother recognized that fulfilment in fact lies on both sides of the equation: leading a life that fosters close, understanding relationships (such as the mother-child relationship) is equally rewarding. That said, she has succeeded beautifully (if I do say so myself) in both raising us, her children, and pursuing her art.

    My young blogging compatriot refers to the artist-mother role as a “double life”. I respectfully contest this label, and view this role as, rather, a whole life. In my mother’s case, as in those of the women in “Who Does She Think She Is?”, the fulfilment that comes from each side of the mother/artist binary is infused into the other. Janis Wunderlich is the most explicit example of such mutual benefit—her experience, both joyous and laborious, as a mother manifests itself visually in her sculpture, while the inner peace she experiences as a result of creating helps her to be a good mother. Each part of her life melds to become a complete and harmonious whole, although the mothering and artistic experiences are apparently separate at surface level.

    The beauty of “Who Does She Think She Is?” is that it allows us, its viewers, to see how multiple factors in the lives of the subjects of the film intertwine and flow into one another, ultimately producing an internal well-being and assuredness that would not be possible without the pursuit of personal passion alongside the role of motherhood.

    I have spent long moments internally debating which role prevails in this film—mother, artist, woman? Ultimately I have decided that none of these supersedes the others. Rather, “person” prevails in my mind as the dominant theme. As my mother has showed me and my brother in raising us as an artist, the mother-artists in the film show us all how to follow our passions and balance them with the much-needed foundations of our lives. The plights, successes, joys and struggles of these formidable women serve as poignant examples to the wider community of how to live wholly—regardless of age, gender or occupation.

  3. Feelings about the documentary Who Does She Think She is?
    My name is Brie Capone, I’m a newly graduated student from AC Reynolds High and this fall I will be attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA and I’m scared as hell. Being an adolescent girl with aspirations and dreams involving more than prince charming and happily ever after at times is overwhelming. I went to see this documentary not really knowing what is was about. I went with my friend and her mother who is a puppeteer here in Asheville and also a great mom. Seeing these strong, beautiful, talented, intelligent women on the screen, living their lives the way they want, not by society’s standard or anyone else’s marker and seeing what they have gone through to achieve their strength and individualism was inspiring. I want to be a musician and an artist and hopefully one day be in a loving relationship and have children. But even as an eighteen year old I still see the undeniable fact that women are made to chose between homelife and their passions. This movie also opened my eyes to how unfair the art world is surrounding the incredibly unbalanced ratio of men to female artists in museums and art galleries . This movie did an incredible job of showing how women being able to live happily and equally is not just an individual or “woman’s issue”, but it is in fact a society’s issue. The movie has deffinitely changed my view of women artists and us as humans. I now feel stronger in my connection with my fellow woman and more apart of the society I exist in. I have also really found a new strength in being an individual and an upcoming artist. I really want to thank everyone involved with the creation of this film because I know for a fact it made me stop and think and realize my value as a citizen of the world and the art community. Also thank you to the women who were in the film I have a newly restored faith in the existence of awesome people. Thank you,Brie Capone

  4. Manon Manavit Says:

    I am also a young girl who was moved by the film. For me, it awakened me to the idea of the Goddess within us, and motivated me to work on myself and my art from this new perspective of being nurtured by the women who came before me. The women featured in the film are great role models.

    Thank you for the creation of this film, and for the unity it creates among women, and artists.

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