Set in the 50’s, the framed print I found in a trash pile outside my apartment depicted a surfer in swim shorts holding a ridiculously gigantic surfboard, with two women in bikinis standing beside him like obedient Eves. I showed my gay male friend who exclaimed, “I can’t wait to see what you do with that!!” But the painting sat in my studio for more than a year, staring at me and taking up precious space. It was already so absurd that it was hard to know what to do with it! When Trump was elected I looked at it again, thinking I needed to put him in there… but the ideas weren’t coming. Then the Harvey Weinstein story broke. Every day another actress told her story of how the producer had horribly abused her by blackmailing her. She either shut up and did what he wanted or she lost her career. “This guy is such a huge hideously ugly dick monster!” I thought to myself. Weinstein is only one of millions that have gone unpunished and have been enabled by the Patriarchy in their abuse of women for centuries. The difference now is that an army of high-profile sexual abusers are finally being brought to justice thanks to women ignited by the presidential election of a misogynist pig and the promotion of the #MeToo movement.
People have responded to the scandal asking, “Why didn’t the victims say something earlier?” Why would women think they would find relief from a Patriarchal system that consistently exonerates abusers and chastises female victims? Who would these women tell? The men in power above them? What if they lose their jobs as a result? What kind of risk can they take with children to care for? And the list of reasons to stay quiet piles up. In fact, only 310 out of 1000 sexual assaults in the U.S. are reported. This is inextricably linked to the appalling fact that only six out of 1000 rapists will be incarcerated and 33 out of 1000 sexual abusers will go to jail. The numbers of unreported sexual crimes rise worldwide.
I often repurpose beings from ancient myths in my work, using them to talk about contemporary issues by reimagining them in the current climate. There could be millions of dickheads attached to this Hydra, a serpentine water monster in Greek and Roman mythology. Trump, Weinstein, and OJ are symbols of the power men have in society to get away with sexual abuse. Since women have been taught for centuries to take the abuse and clean up afterwards, the female figures in this piece are sadly all too familiar.
Stand By Your Dickhead is a painting for the women who voted for Trump. For the people who enabled Weinstein’s systematic abuse of hundreds of women. But it is also for Nicole Simpson, whose murdering ex-husband was acquitted, and for the thousands of women who posted their sexual abuse stories with #METOO.
We must all continue to sever dickheads one by one, and commit to raising non-violent, socially sensitive human beings.
Niki Singleton is a Canadian drawer, painter, and found material sculptor based in Brooklyn.