Artist's Statement

Melissa Ann Pinney

Patriarchy is the Air We Breathe makes visible the oppression that pervades the lives of women and girls, as well as the ways women transcend that oppression to become the subjects of their own lives. My own girlhood and that of my daughter, Emma, informs this 30 year exploration of emerging female identity. Most of the images in this series have never been seen; more familiar images gain new power as the awareness of sexism and harrassment snowballs through the realms of entertainment, religion, politics, education and art.

“The Little Miss Coppertone Contest” alludes to the ways our culture sexualizes girls as young as four years old; “The Real, Live Barbie at Target” articulates the contradictions inherent in our collective fantasy of blond, blue-eyed dolls— quite a struggle to embody for any girl, but especially one of color. Best friends “Mingus & Maria” stand forthrightly in their velvet party dresses, not teetering in the requisite heels, but confident in gleaming combat boots.

I grew up Catholic, with five brothers and a domineering father who didn’t expect much of his daughters beyond being pretty. Early on I learned that one had to fight to be heard and seen in our house. I wanted to do everything the boys could do— better. In these images I see vestiges of the religious and cultural norms of my Catholic girlhood alongside the expanding opportunities that feminism and Title IX made possible for my daughter’s generation.

The estatic group of soccer girls pulling each other up while balancing on the rock in “Team Evanston” suggests that imaginative play, friendship and sports create a path of transcendence through the perils of patriarchal culture.