Art and Adventure: A Manifesto for Women and Grrrls

I believe grrrls and women should have adventures. And we should have the opportunity to experience the adventures of other grrrls and women through books, film, music and visual arts.

Too many times we have read books and watched films about a man or boy having an adventure while a woman sits at home and waits for him. In movies like Legends of the Fall, the male protagonist (in this case Tristan, played by Brad Pitt) travels the world having adventures and sex in opium dens while his true love sits at home on hisfront porch and waits for his return.

In books like Paul Coehlo's The Alchemist, the spiritually seeking man (in this case, the protagonist Santiago) goes on an odyssey while his true love, the woman in the desert, stays in the desert unmoving, unchanging until Santiago's return.

Which brings us to the word "odyssey" itself, a word derived from the name of the adventurous Odysseus who went to war and traveled the world for twenty years, while his wife Penelope stayed at home.

And even in contemporary books with female protagonists written by women, the big choice for the young woman often remains as uninteresting as "Should I chose the werewolf or the vampire to be my boyfriend?"


We as women and girls can't just demand more interesting and engaging female characters. We have waited too long already. And there's no guarantee the male dominated film industry or the imploding-as-we-speak publishing or music industries will listen. We have to write the books and -- if necessary -- publish them ourselves. We must write the scripts and storm Hollywood with them and -- if necessary -- make the movies ourselves. We must write the albums and -- if necessary -- record them ourselves. We must paint the paintings and -- if necessary -- show them ourselves.

We will no longer stand for stories that offer no more than the woman who waits on the front porch or in the desert, who plays the auxiliary wife of the man of action. We will no longer compliantly consume such art; we will, at the very least, take notice of the messages such art contains.

Statistics about women in artistic industries are daunting.

Only 17% of producers of major motion pictures are women. Only 10% of screenwriters of major motion pictures are women. Only 4% of directors of major motion pictures are women.

In the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, only 3.5% of the works of art on display are by female artists.

The publishing industry seems anomalous in this regard. Female editors and agents dominate the publishing industry. And most book buyers, book group members, and literary bloggers are women. And yet, to quote Lakshmi Chaudry "the gods of the literary ... remain predominately male -- both as writers and critics."

From 1921-2006, only 31 % of the Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction were awarded to women.

Females easily make up 50% of published fiction writers; and yet in the New York Times article "What is the Best Work of American Fiction of the Past 25 Years?" of the 26 books mentioned, only two were written by women. (Writers of color are radically underrepresented in this article as well).

Does this mean women aren't writing as well as men? Hardly. But it does mean their work does not receive the awards and acclaim more often bestowed upon their male counterparts.

Female fronted rock bands and female hip hop artists are still notable for their gender because rock and hip hop are also still male-dominated art forms.

These statistics and realities are daunting. But we will not spend too much time bitching about them; we will not become paralyzed by our complaints. We will instead notice them, pay attention to them; we will use our anger about them to drive dynamic and positive change. We will make that change ourselves.

We don't ask permission (or at least not for long). We write the stories, the songs, the films. We paint the paintings. We record or publish or film them ourselves if need be. We throw our own art openings. We open our own gallery spaces.

Like Ani Difranco, we start our own record label, Righteous Babe Records, and sell our music out of the trunk of our car until our records and our label take off. And we will go on to write, record and release more than 20 albums on our own label, maintaining our artistic freedom even as we garner attention and acclaim.

Like Kathleen Hannah (former lead singer of Bikini Kill) we start the underground punk rock Riot Grrrl movement even though "punk rock is for and by boys." We express our collective anger and joy loudly, for all the grrrls too afraid to do so themselves.

Like Nicki Minaj, we quit our 9-5 office job -- despite the disappointment it causes our mother -- to work on our lyrics full-time and push our career as a hip hop artist. And we write songs that say:

In this very moment I'm king/In this very moment I slayed Goliath with a sling... I wish that I could have this moment 4 life/4 life, 4 life/'Cause in this moment, I just feel so alive/alive, alive

Like Amanda Hocking, we publish our own books and make them available on our blog until the sheer buying power of our fan base drives the publishing industry to us.

Like Shauna Cross, we become a roller girl and then we write a novel about it called Derby Girl and then we write the screenplay adaptation of the novel, which becomes Whip It, the first movie directed by Drew Barrymore, a female actor brave enough to take the reins and make her own film.

The internet and social networking have brought down the barriers that once existed between art and audience; they have rendered the gatekeepers much less relevant than they have ever been before. And so we create our work and we take responsibility for putting it out into the world so that our audience can find it.

But most of all we keep having adventures ourselves.

We don't ask for permission to be granted by our fathers, our mothers, our lovers, our brothers, our husbands, our wives, our bosses, or friends. Or even from our sisters, who sometimes worry and so might like to have us sequestered from harm.

We go out into the world and live. We run through rain forests at night and swim in oceans and kayak and when we run out of money, we take the ferry from Seattle to Alaska where we wait tables at the Princess Hotel and ride our mountain bikes under the midnight sun. We busk on the streets in Bosnia. We work as cops in Palmer Lake, Colorado. We teach a boy to read or a girl to play the guitar. We give birth to or adopt a child. We take a call on the National Domestic Violence Hotline. We go to physical therapy school. We support the art other women make; we buy extra copies of books and albums we love; we give them to our friends as gifts.

We say, "You are talented."

We say, "You can do it."

We say, "Yes it can be done."

We say this to ourselves. We say this to each other.

And then we use our adventures to fuel our art and we share our art with others, to show them the way, to let them know that they are not alone. And so women and girls can see that with or without permission our art and our lives will flourish. Our art and our lives will not be stifled by the music or publishing or film industries or by gallery owners or well-meaning loved ones.

We are women and girls and we will make our art and have our adventures and we will support each other.

If this manifesto spoke to you, please shared it with a friend.