The President of the United States is an alleged sex offender who brags about sexually assaulting and harassing women. Our “first lady” is a former high fashion model—alluring and invisible. The first daughter posed for provocative photos on her father’s lap as a child; as an adult, she stands on stage with his arm around her waist and laughs when he tells interviewers that he would have sex with her.
Unfortunately, this reversion to objectifying stereotypes of femininity in the political sphere is not only a U.S. phenomenon. In Brazil, President Michel Temer’s wife, Marcela—43 years his junior—was described by Veja magazine as “bela, recatada e do lar”—beautiful, demure and domestic. Temer, in a 2016 coup, overturned the nation’s first woman president, Dilma Rousseff, herself a guerrilla fighter against the military dictatorship who was jailed and submitted to unspeakable torture techniques specifically designed for women.
The coverage inspired a wave of women to post photos of themselves on social media engaged in activities including guzzling hard alcohol from an upturned bottle and lifting weights with their buff biceps captioned with the same three words.
As the backlash against progress grows around the world, WOMEN ON THE MOVE (WOM) has decided to jump-start a backlash of their own. At a time when governments are increasingly impervious, if not hostile, toward the advancement of women and the fight against domestic violence and sexual abuse, WOM will use grassroots art-based activism to mobilize resistance—literally—by converting a 20-foot truck and plastering its three sides with images and videos for a tour of the country blasting the sexism of the Trump administration and building community among feminists.
WOM, which S.A. Bachman co-founded with Iranian-born activist Neda Moridpour and UK-based journalist Ione Wells, is a cross-cultural, intergenerational initiative which conceives of art-making not in terms of mediums but, rather, social transactions. The WOM truck will traverse the streets and highways of Cleveland, London, Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C. before pausing and creating “pop-up” events in grocery store parking lots, junior and high schools and urban parks, where they will facilitate “Consent Workshops” and discussion groups including “Writing a Letter to My Assaulter,” “Engaging Men,” “How to Stop Victim-Blaming” and “Enjoying Sex after Sexual Assault.” Volunteers will involve passersby in conversation and offer up free artist-designed posters. WOM will go on the road in June. The New York City portion of their tour is already fully funded. They’re currently accepting donations to fund the other stops.
As an educator of 35 years grounded in an understanding of the limitations of the classroom, Bachman’s goal “is to use the city as a site where the capacity for personal expression, critical thinking and self-critique are expanded in the process of interventionist art.” Growing up in Iran—where activism poses a risk for activists and their families and friends—taught Moridpour that if she wanted to generate substantive change, her tactics needed to center on educating individually or in very small groups. Using art as a catalyst, she is always strategic and sensitive to the safety of every woman to whom she provides guidance. Wells is a digital activist—founder of the #NOTGUILTY campaign and presenter of the popular TED Talk How We Talk About Sexual Assault Online.
“Over time, my creative process changed from an art-making based primarily on aesthetics to one based primarily in dialectics,” Bachman told Ms. “It has evolved from a concern with notions of truth and perception to an exploration and critique of female roles within society and how gender is constructed.”
Bachman is inspired by Henry Giroux’s observation that we need to regain an appreciation for alternatives by combining “a language of critique with a language of possibility.” A self-designated “slut for language,” Bachman’s friends tease her that she prints everything instead of writing in cursive because she has an extreme desire to be clearly understood. Combatting so-called “locker room talk” throughout her work, Bachman relies upon a painstaking deployment of text, “centering voice as pivotal for defining and redefining womens’ importance while examining how women and men are constrained by patriarchy.”
When women cross the lines that conspire to divide them, they articulate a belief that social change is possible. Educational activism like that in action in WOM’s work is at the core of that transformation.