The Mystery of Womanhood

redesign-feminine_mystique-01The next book in Words Matter series is a feminist classic, a sociological study by Betty Friedan The Feminine Mystique from 1963. The book describes a situation of housewives trapped in their role, with their opportunities limited by what Friedan famously described as “feminine mystique”.

We like working with feminist texts because there is so much iconography to use. Here, we decided to play with what one might imagine as symbols of femininity, particularly of those women constrained to their kitchen and living room. We chose a slightly more complicated but most traditionally feminine technique of embroidery, with the book’s title embroidered on a simple kitchen cloth. This was particularly appropriate in Polish where the equivalent of “cloth” can serve as a disrespectful name for a woman (not a swear word exactly, but definitely offensive). But we feel even without this additional linguistic sense, the very object of a kitchen cloth is sufficiently disregarded to put our point across.

an-il-07As embroidery is not one of our strong suits (or something we would even know how to start) we asked for the help of my mom, who’s been developing her own embroidery technique all her life and agreed to help with the project, transporting our design to an actual cloth. The pink gingham pattern we chose for the background makes the design both casual and girlish. We chose script typography, which can be associated with womanly writing but also with various kitchen- or restaurant-related designs. Finally, we added a simple ornament, which we intended to be between a typical plant ornament and something more, well, anatomical.

Once the embroidery was ready, it turned out it took many attempts to arrange the cloth properly. We wanted the impression of a cloth casually dropped somewhere, without any second thought, so that is looks like the valueless object that it is. Here are three of many more attempts we rejected (on our all-purpose Ikea table):

redesign-feminine_mystique-04Whether we actually dropped the cloth, hoping for a random natural arrangement or tried to arrange the folds ourselves, we weren’t happy with the result because the top part took too much attention. These arrangements were not terrible but still not what we had in mind, so eventually we settled on something much simpler.

redesign-feminine_mystique-03What we like about this cover is that we think we managed to reflect the subversive nature of Friedan’s title, its irony. It is also always exciting to employ a traditional technique in a meaningful way, which was actually one of a few points that we tried to make in Words Matter project.

redesign-feminine_mystique-02

6 comments
  1. rubyburke said:

    Really beautiful, I love the subtle yet direct way you utilised the idea of femininity and how subconsciously we associate pink with feminism! The embroidery is exquisite as well, even for a beginner

  2. great blog i just nominated you for 2 awards check them out on my latest blog

  3. Brilliant! I love the subversiveness of it, even down to the colour choice. I like that you sub-contracted the embroidery work to your mother.

    • Thanks! The subversive potential of lettering was a big part of the theoretical side of the project but we had some difficulty finding covers that would fit this idea. And I think my mom was actually pleased to be asked to help. Some time in the future we also want to show some cushions she will make according to our designs but it’s a very different story:)

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