#WomanCentered is an independent project by conceptual artist and community organizer, Natasha Marin. Inspired by Women at the Center, a project created with support from the United Nations Foundation Universal Access Project. This series of interviews seeks to tell the inspiring, interconnected stories of women’s reproductive health, rights, and empowerment.
How has having or not having children affected the overall trajectory of your life?
I’ve never wanted to have my own, biological children. When I was twelve-years-old, I was a “mother’s helper” to a woman who lived down the street. She had recently adopted her daughter, Aileen, and she was the kindest, most well behaved youngin’ I’ve ever hung out with to this day. At five-years-old she was lecturing me on the importance of sharing and asking what my favorite snacks were so her mom could teach her how to make them for me the next time I came over. Needless to say, she made it easy to learn the ins and outs of how to be a babysitter. Aileen’s mother, a woman in her mid-forties, left an impression on me that has developed into a firm belief that parenting biological children just isn’t for me. She decided to adopt Aileen when she was ready to give 100% support and guidance. She became a parent on her own terms. And because Aileen’s mom was responsible enough to wait until she was completely up to the task of parenting, she is effectively rearing one of the strongest, smartest, and emotionally intelligent women of the millennial generation. Moreover, I will never become pregnant because I am in the process of getting a tubal ligation, and I’m making a radio documentary about how arduous it is to receive this procedure as a 22-year-old woman. I see myself in the next ten years growing into myself and my career without being hindered by the side-effects of birth control or unplanned pregnancies. My decision to become sterile will allow me to choose when and how I’d like to become a mother if that’s a role I’d like to fulfill later on — there are as many definitions of “mother” as there are “home.” Sterilization will give me the agency I desire over my body and my future. There is no shortage of children in this world, and there are so many ways adults can offer their unconditional love, support, and guidance to the youngin’s.
Do you feel pressure to fulfill an idea of womanhood that may/may not correspond to who you actually are? If so, please describe.
Not anymore. As a teenager, I realized the stereotype for womanhood is straight up subservience. Primary school taught me women were never leaders, only “helpers” or aids in some way — from Molly Pitcher who aided soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth, to Harriet Tubman, responsible for guiding tens of thousands of slaves to escape into freedom. It angered me to see women represented as aids or nurturers rather than leaders or instigators of change. Even within a contemporary context, women’s strengths are most recognized within their capacities to nurture. Music liberated me from the existential crisis that coincided with the beginning of puberty and junior high. It was a miracle that I discovered riot grrrl music among a sea of male-dominated-emo-lovelorn-sadboy-alternative-rock that all of my friends were listening to. I was a tween painfully aware that mainstream media perpetuated the patriarchy and depicted women as good for nothing other than catalyzing heartache that led men to platinum celebrity success. Women on television and in music, literature, and tabloids were the Delilah’s, the temptresses, the sex symbols, and ironically, the whores. Their gender and sexuality were constantly exploited and I refused to allow myself to be a victim of cruel, societal denigration. I started searching for women in politics, art, and media who were viciously pursuing their raison d’être while spitting in the faces of male gatekeepers. Women like Nina Simone, Angela Davis, Jenny Holzer, Frida Kahlo, Xaviera Simmons, Marina Abramović, Octavia Butler, bell hooks, Arwen Nicks, and Sandra Day O’Connor. These women reshaped my understanding of womanhood and ignited the fire in the pit of my soft tummy known as empowerment.
Do you have advice for other women regarding birth control methods that worked well or didn’t work well for you?
Every woman’s body is as wonderfully varied as their visions of their futures. My only advice is this: You have options. Feel it out. Don’t make concessions for a birth control option that will impact the quality of your life. I’ve tried nearly a dozen birth control methods that simply didn’t work for me. Shop for one while you still can with the Affordable Care Act. Preventing pregnancy shouldn’t cost you financially, physically, interpersonally, or emotionally. Don’t let it.
In 2016, openly discussing one’s reproductive choices is still considered taboo, why do you suppose more women aren’t having these conversations?
I hope we get to the point where women are no longer silenced for anything at all. I’m fortunate to live in an incredibly progressive DIY city known for catalyzing change through creative expression and grassroots activism. Seattle’s Amelia Bonow spearheaded a movement known as #ShoutYourAbortion which has created momentous opportunities for women to talk about their experiences choosing to remain childfree. I consider Bonow one of my greatest role models as I work on this documentary about my impending sterilization. When it comes to creative expression, Seattle’s punk scene is wonderfully female-centric right now. From bands like Childbirth putting out a record called “Womens Rights,” to Tacocat’s song “Crimson Wave” which expresses the woe we who bleed experience monthly, to my favorite party anthem by Chastity Belt, “Pussy Weed Beer,” art these days is perpetually encouraging women to talk casually and openly about their bodies and their reproductive choices. Rachel Berk, owner of the incredible shop Otherwild, created a line of clothing with the slogan, “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE.” And I truly believe that. Maybe if we all use “The Secret’s” method of influencing things to happen, we can realize this future sooner than later. Overall, I’d rather not suppose why more women aren’t having these conversations. I think most of us know it’s because society is historically male-dominated and misogynistic. I’d rather focus on creating new avenues for women to speak up, speak out, break the chains, and enact change. I hope my documentary encourages women to have more conversations about the agency they have over their own bodies.
Where are you on the continuum of self-love? On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being Kanye West), how much do you love yourself and how do you reinforce and/or improve this?
I’d say I’m at the apex of self-love these days, but it’s not everyday that I feel this way. I call the paramount of my personal happiness “Beyvana,” because I do my best to channel my inner Beyoncé on the regular. Despite working hard to love, improve, and grow into the woman I hope one day to be, there are just some days where it’s hard to roll out of bed and like myself. I’ll look in the mirror and think, “You need to be better at this, you aren’t working hard enough at that, you’re giving yourself stress acne because you’re not managing your time, diet, or budget well.” On those days, it’s hard to like myself. I try to improve this state of cyclical self-doubt and self-deprecation by remaining mindful of my strengths and rewarding myself for even the smallest of victories — like paying a toll bill on time, remembering to water my plants, or choosing to eat something better for me other than pizza all the time. I’ll schedule an hour into even my busiest of days just to take pause and do something like paint my nails or read a book. It’s important to me that I connect with the small things I enjoy, take good care of myself, and slow the down. It’s usually when I’m operating at 90-miles per hour on hot and empty that my self-love starts to wane and I wake up in the morning feeling hypercritical of myself. That’s when I know it’s time to pop in “I Am… Sasha Fierce” to my CD-player (yea, I still have one of those) and pull myself back into a mindful headspace. That’s where self-love grows.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self some vital information or critical education about your body, your overall wellness, or your reproductive health, what would your advice be?
Don’t laugh when boys make jokes that cut women or any other marginalized group down. Don’t let anyone telling you “no” stop you from believing that you will eventually get to a “yes” if you keep at it — you will encounter a lot of “no’s” from teachers, employers, and doctors who tell you that you’re too young to make permanent decisions about your body. Keep working towards “yes.” You’re going to quit a lot of things but that’s okay. You’re figuring out what you don’t like and that’s just as important as discovering what you do like. Your gut instinct is always the one you want to go with. Don’t cut your own bangs. Question authority, especially of the white male variety. It’s perfectly normal to have sex and it’s going to be very awkward and eventually totally wonderful. Find someone to talk candidly with about sex, and get used to it because it’s critical you get comfortable talking about behaviors that impact your physical, mental, and emotional health. Never trust a guy who wants to slam you when he says, “I had sex recently without a condom but I’m clean, I promise.” Use a condom every time. Having sex with someone isn’t going to make them love you, but having sex with yourself will make you love you even more.