Carly Swenson, Visual Artist

bloodwork: when there are nine (artist interpretation)

When there are nine. • 22in x 30in • Mixed media (Menstrual blood/India ink/Graphite) • Carly Swenson • 2020

I remember the very first time I heard Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s quote about when she was asked at what point will there be enough women on the supreme court. I read her response of, “When there are nine.” And, internally, I thought, “Nine? Oh, that feels like you are pushing it.”

Then, I kept reading her explanation, “But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” And I realized–oh, holy shit. She’s absolutely right. Why should nine women on the supreme court seem strange or absurd? We’ve had nine men, and there are plenty of women just as qualified.

That was my own internalized misogyny, and I hadn’t even realized it. This is what makes it so insidious. We are each raised with implied standards and expectations put on us by our families, schools, religion, entertainment, regulations–everything. My point is we all have unconscious bias. We all have underlying misconceptions. We all have things we need to actively unlearn, in an effort to be better more compassionate humans.


When there are nine. (Detail image) • 22in x 30in • Mixed media (Menstrual blood/India ink/Graphite) • Carly Swenson • 2020
When there are nine. (Detail image) • 22in x 30in • Mixed media (Menstrual blood/India ink/Graphite) • Carly Swenson • 2020

These are the Ruth Bader Ginsberg quotes in the order they were used in this piece:

“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”

“You felt, in class, as if all eyes were on you and that if you didn’t perform well, you would be failing, not only for yourself, but for all women.”

“Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn’t have a name for it.”

“In the course of a marriage, one accommodates the other”

“Marty was so secure in himself that he never regarded me as any kind of threat. He was my biggest booster.”

“I read every federal case that had to do with women’s equality or the lack thereof and every law review article. Now that seems like it was quite an undertaking but in fact, it was easily manageable because there was so little.”

“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

“I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

“When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out.”

“Feminism is the notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents and not be held back by man made barriers.”

“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”

“Marty was an unusual man. In fact, he was the first boy I knew who cared that I had a brain.”

“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”

“Our strategy was the soul of simplicity. It was to go after the stereotypes that were written into law and to show that many could be disadvantaged by the stereotype, as well as women. We wanted people to be judged by what they do, by the functions they perform, and not by gender.”

“I think our system is being polluted by money.”

“Places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.”

“A gender line…helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”

“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

“I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at. My favorite example is the symphony orchestra. When I was growing up, there were no women in orchestras. Auditioners thought they could tell the difference between a woman playing and a man. Some intelligent person devised a simple solution: Drop a curtain between the auditioners and the people trying out. And, lo and behold, women began to get jobs in symphony orchestras.”

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”

 “Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger or envy.”

“We’re here not as one-at-a-time curiosities. We are here to stay, and in all our diversity.”

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

“I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”

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