**click portrait to enlarge**
(oil on canvas, 30X30, 2010)
"Self-portrait as the Renaissance Wench"
Women… Burned as witches, sold into slavery, forced to join monasteries, pushed to use their feminine charms to amount to something… Women… Perpetual victims?
Growing up nobody had ever told me that women used to get the short end of the stick for the better part of the human civilization. I was, however, lectured ('prepared' as she would call it) by my grandma on how tough it is to be a woman because of who women are physically and emotionally. She'd tell me that as women we have to bear children, worry about our young surviving into adulthood and beyond, keep our spouses in line, and plaque our eyebrows.
On the other hand, the formal education in the Soviet schools was hardly informative about women unless they were steelworkers or partisans during the World War II. In classes we were mostly taught about the haves and have-nots and any gender inequality issues were rarely mentioned. It was explained to us that historically if you weren't a wealthy nobleman your chances of moving up in life from your socio-economic position were slim to none regardless of your gender. As a consequence, my understanding of the roles women had played in the past was shaped by what I had to discover for myself.
I remember learning about Cleopatra, a mighty female pharaoh of the Egyptians who was Julius Caesar's as well as Mark Anthony's lover; I remember reading a biography of George Sand, a famous writer who wore men's clothes and had numerous affairs scandalizing her contemporaries in the 19th century France; and of course as a Ukrainian I knew all about Roxolana, a poor Ukrainian girl sold as a slave to a harem who managed to become an official wife of the sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and had an unprecedented (for a woman) influence on the politics of the Ottoman empire. There were many other women who fascinated me. I was inspired by Joan of Arc, a peasant girl who led an army. I was proud that my people bore Anna Yaroslavna, a Ukrainian princess who became the first queen of France to serve as the country's regent. Anna was also literate, a rarity in the 11th century Europe even among monarchs. I was mystified by Lybid, a Viking woman who according to the Ukrainian legend was one of the founders of the city I grew up in.
Some of the aforementioned women were of the noble birth, others came from humble origins, but all of them were truly remarkable. …and that's exactly the kind of woman I wanted to become growing up. I'm glad that when I was a little girl nobody told me that if I were to become someone special it'd have to be despite the difficulties I would encounter due to my gender. I discovered that later for myself… Regardless, I was able to move on thanks to my deep-rooted belief that difficulties built character and are an unavoidable part of life. I consider myself lucky because since I was little I knew to concentrate on what I could achieve not as a woman, but as a human.
"One of the reasons I don't see eye to eye with Women's Lib is that women have it all on a plate if only they knew it. They don't have to be pretty either."
"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being."
"Sex-appeal is the keynote of our whole civilization."