The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. A lot of the time when we look back at the past we can’t help but feel horror and disgust at the racism, sexism, homophobia and generally horrible opinions we find there, but then sometimes we can find a gem which inspires more delight than despair.
Take this newspaper article from 1933, which was highlighted by @womensart1. It’s a nice, light piece about the wife of master mural painter, Diego Rivera, and how she’s taken up a painting for herself as a bit of a hobby. It fondly describes her sense of humour in painting a colourful mix of random tat in a shop window, the twinkle in her eye as she teasingly refers to her husband as doing “pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist”, how cute it is that she paint miniatures when she herself is “a miniature little person with her long black braids wound demurely about her head”. So far, so sweet.
She teasingly refers to her husband as doing “pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist"
But then you realise that the person in this article is only bloody Frida Kahlo, and the world turns on its head. Can you imagine a world in which Frida Kahlo – Frida Kahlo – is seen as the tiny, sweet wife of a big important mural painter? If you can’t, let me give you a hint: It’s our world. It’s Mexico in 1933. This actually happened.
Now, before you all get angry at me in the Facebook comments for being too sensitive or trying to find misogyny where there isn’t any, I’m not getting angry because this is a sexist newspaper. I’m sure that when this was written, Diego Rivera was incredibly talented and famous, and the fact that his wife also happened to be able to wield a paintbrush was a lovely puff piece for the paper to run. In fact the article (mostly) treats Kahlo with respect and extols her “beautiful and skilful” painting style. It’s amusing to look back with hindsight and see how someone with such influence was described so dismissively, but I don’t think this article is sexist at all.
What I do think it is is hopeful. It provides hope for all of the athletes who win Olympic medals but are referred to by their husband’s profession, for all the top lawyers who are referenced by who their husband is even when the story is nothing to do with them and for all the women who are referred to by their ex-partner in their obituary even when they are important, impressive women in their own right. If even Frida Kahlo – the artistic genius that is Frida Kahlo - can be described as the “Wife of a Master Mural Painter” in a “foolish little ruffled apron” but go on to have the legacy she has had, then god dammit there is hope for us all.