For many women, the balance between career and home can be difficult to find. But what happens if you’re told growing up you have to put your family first? One artist is using her work to explore the gender messages she grew up with and help raise a generation of confident girls.
In this episode we hear from artist Kylie Millward about her journey navigating her career and the gender expectations she grew up with. We also hear from Susan Madsen of the Utah Women and Leadership Project about how traditional gender roles can affect women long term.
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KYLIE MILLWARD: You know, when I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of empowering messages about my gender. I thought I'm going to be an artist, but I'll probably end up being a stay at home mom instead.
ANDREA SMARDON: Welcome to More Than Half, a podcast that uncovers challenges facing Utah women and why it takes all of us to overcome them. I’m Andrea Smardon. Today, we’re talking about traditional gender roles and one woman’s journey to rebel against them. We’re going to start with a story by artist Kylie Millward called Girl’s Can’t Ride the Giant Wild Boar. It’s about a girl named Polly.
READER: Most girls Polly’s age liked pony and dolphins but Polly liked to play in the mud.
KYLIE: Polly is this little girl who has this goal to be the first one to ride a giant wild boar. And everybody that she meets along the way, and all of her friends and family tell her that it's impossible.
READER: “A stinky little girl with silly dreams in her head can't ride the giant wild boar.”
“That's not true,” Polly said. “I know I can do this.”
KYLIE: You know, she just kept going. And then once she meets Wallace, the giant wild boar, she's really upfront with him and asks like, I'm going to be the first one to ride you basically.
READER: “Well, too bad,” Wallace hollered. “I stink and nobody has ever gotten close to me.”
KYLIE: And then they have this moment where, you know, he's like, you want to ride on my back? Aren't I too stinky? And she's like, no, aren't I too stinky? And he's like, no.
READER: “You smell like mud,” Polly replied. “It's my favorite thing to play in.”
KYLIE: And so that sort of brings them together. And so not only does Polly achieve her dream, but she has this extra benefit of becoming friends with this wild boar.
ANDREA: Girls Can’t Ride the Giant Wild Boar is the first children’s book that Kylie has written, but she’s been drawing as far back as she can remember.
KYLIE: I think like the first time I realized that this was something I really loved was when my first grade teacher asked me to like redraw this map for her lesson.
ANDREA: Her teacher laminated it and showed it to the class.
KYLIE: It was like such a proud moment.. I think that was kind of like the turning point for me.
ANDREA: Today, Kylie's art is colorful and playful and filled with humor. Some of her favorite tools are crayons and colored pencils. Her illustrations have a cartoon like quality. She likes to scribble and color outside the lines.
KYLIE: It's just something that I find to be almost like therapeutic, but also I really like the aesthetic of scribbles and it reminds me of kids' work.
ANDREA: Kylie teaches art to young kids and loves seeing the creativity that comes out in their artwork.
KYLIE: The best ones were these scary monster drawings that were just so quirky and out there.
ANDREA: She takes inspiration from them.
KYLIE: I think maybe it's because the world seems more interesting and sort of magical through their eyes. And I try to tap into that when I'm making work.
ANDREA: But the road to becoming an artist hasn’t been easy for Kylie.
KYLIE: You know, I thought I'm going to be an artist when I grow up. Um, but I'll probably end up being a stay at home mom instead, because that's what was sort of being told to me.
ANDREA: Growing up, Kylie was a lot like Polly.
KYLIE: I climb trees and I always had like a knee scuff. And I was that kid that played in the mud and wore like my brother's hand-me-down clothes.
ANDREA: And her parents were generally supportive. When she told her dad she wanted to do pull-ups, he made an elaborate pull-up gym in their backyard. And while her mom wanted to give Kylie cute hairdos, she let Kylie wear a ponytail and baseball cap. But not everyone in her life was so supportive.
KYLIE: Every Sunday at church I was being bombarded with these messages about my role, a female in my self-worth.
ANDREA: And she started to notice that her brothers were treated differently. She wonders if her boyishness growing up was a way to feel more included.
KYLIE: Not that like, I didn't ever get to do anything. But I felt like, oh, if I act more like a boy or do boy things, then I can like, you know, join the Boy Scouts or go camping with my dad.
ANDREA: Kylie says she felt like many of the adults in her life were telling her the only real path was for her to become a housewife and mother.
KYLIE: But then when I got older, um, maybe middle school, um, there were some really strong opinion people that told me that I should be like totally independent and, you know, not have a family. And, that was really confusing.
ANDREA: She wanted the option to have both a career and a family. Or at least to have the choice. But instead, she felt like she was just stuck doing the dishes.
KYLIE: When I was a kid, not to like throw my brother under the bus, but he would get away with like, just taking out the trash, which, which takes like, you know, two minutes and then I'm like stuck with these dishes for 30 minutes and I’m like aaah. And I hate dishes. They're so gross.
ANDREA: Dish duty may not seem like that big of a deal, but studies show that these little things can actually have a large impact on the trajectory of a woman’s life. We spoke with Susan Madsen of the Utah Woman and Leadership Project to learn about the ways internalized gender roles affect women down the line.
SUSAN MADSEN: One of the things that is so, um, clear, and what has been written about for the last two decades is that really, when it comes down to the way girls and boys are raised, they're socialized very differently. And you see that every place around the world, you see that in the United States, you see that in the state of Utah.
ANDREA: Susan says that studies show boys are often given chores that are done outside, such as taking out the trash. While girls are given inside tasks that are more often associated with homemaking, like dishes.
ANDREA: Researchers have often found a correlation between religious societies and traditional gender roles.
SUSAN: And you see this play out in religious societies particularly because women are looked at even more as nurturing and giving and I should just do this out of the goodness of my heart because that’s the role of women.
ANDREA: Studies have shown that when women are exposed to traditional gender roles at a young age, it can affect their confidence and limit their career path.
Susan says those things affect women as they think about getting jobs and advancing their careers.
SUSAN: You see this, this real struggle with confidence or this, this, uh, wrestle with what am I supposed to do to fit in what I call this box of what you think a good mother does
ANDREA: Susan says those things affect women as they think about getting jobs and advancing their careers.
SUSAN: Those messages can have lasting consequences. In fact, Dr. Julie Hanks has done some interesting research through the last couple of years on what's called aspirational shame. So aspirational shame really looks at not just working outside the home, but aspiring to do more, particularly outside the home.
ANDREA: Dr. Hanks is a psychologist with practices in Salt Lake and Davis County. In her writings about aspirational shame, she says grew up with contradictory messages. Dr Hanks aspirations for a career left her at odds with her beliefs around taking care of a family. She worried that any career goals she had would make it impossible for her to also be a good mother.
SUSAN: So there's this internal wrestle and this internal real look at even individual worth and what should I do or what could I do. And is it selfish for me to want to go down the path of, of having a career?
ANDREA: For Kylie, the internal wrestle is real.
KYLIE: I totally relate to that concept of aspirational shame because I feel pretty selfish for wanting to pursue my artistic career.
KYLIE: I worry about disappointing my family and myself. But I have to remind myself that this is something that I’ve worked for my entire life and really, really want.
ANDREA:In 2018, Kylie started a graduate program in Fine Arts at the University of Utah. But, she felt like her work lacked purpose. She was being asked over and over what she wanted to say with her art and she didn't have the answers, so they told her to dig deep. She started doing research into her genealogy.
KYLIE: There's a lot of polygamy on a lot of sides. It was just crazy to me just thinking about like what these women went through. And it was driving me nuts that I couldn't find any information about them other than like their name and their death date.
ANDREA: She says at the time her work was mostly black and white. She was drawing faceless women turned away from the viewer.
KYLIE: It was just like really kind of dark and sad. And that in turn made me feel powerless. It was almost like I was just like depicting the issues and perpetually reinforcing their situation.
ANDREA: She felt trapped.
KYLIE: Like I'd hit a wall. And I was like, well, that's that?
ANDREA: She realized something needed to change.
KYLIE: I guess I started kind of addressing my own individual progression. Like I came from this, uh, mindset that I was supposed to be this type of woman, um, that fits into this little box and washes dishes all day. but then I realized that I had gone from that to now. I feel like I can do whatever I want and I’m in grad school, which is something I never thought I’d be able to do. So I guess I wanted to show that in my work, that progression.
ANDREA: And so she started drawing images of women rebelling against the expectations of domesticity she felt were forced on her as a girl. She created a series of 24 illustrated prints called Domestic Remiss.
ANDREA: In the piece, Kylie plays with the idea of a housewife who sabotages her chores. The housewife lets the pot boil over. She throws her hairdryer in a sink. The vacuum goes out the window. The final image shows the woman with bags packed, leaving as the house implodes on itself.
KYLIE: Her kitchen is being flooded. Her house is about to catch fire. And then we see that her quote unquote neglect is really just a creative form of sabotage that enables her to escape these domestic duties.
ANDREA: Kylie made another piece called The Vanishing Woman Reappeared. It’s a handmade book about a woman who starts to lose herself in her housework.
KYLIE: Her world in the beginning of the book is almost entirely monochromatic. Um, and her physical experience, sorry, appearance starts to vanish. But then her world becomes more colorful and vibrant and more exciting, uh, when she starts making choices that enable her to accomplish her dreams that she sort of muted before.
ANDREA: The cover was printed on a tea towel and she dedicated it to her mother.
Kylie recently showed the pieces along with others at an exhibition she called Scribbling Outside of the Margins. She says the title touches on a couple of points.
KYLIE: It's a statement about feeling free to be yourself, that it's okay to go outside of the margins and scribble a little bit and get a little messy. it's also about, you know, gender stereotypes and how you simply don't have to conform to them. And I think it's kind of a rebellious statement too.
ANDREA: Kylie sees the work she’s done as a kind of therapy. But despite all her growth, Kylie still grapples with the messages she got growing up.
KYLIE: I still feel like I need to fit into this category of like being a feminine and I definitely apologize way too much. And I questioned my self worth, like probably on a daily basis. You know, the whole gender expectation package.
ANDREA: Even with these struggles, she says that her confidence is higher now than it’s ever been. She credits the support she received in her life
KYLIE: My parents always let me know that my art was great and like everything that I created was amazing. And I think that that really affected me. Because if I hadn't been exposed to this idea that I can accomplish big things like despite my gender, I don't think I'd have the confidence to make art at all.
ANDREA: Through her art, she's hoping to provide similar positive narratives that show women and girls they don't have to fit into a specific mold of what it means to be a woman. It's really what inspired her to write Girls Can't Ride the Giant Wild Boar.
KYLIE: I wanted to make this story about a young girl who had this impossible dream, which I thought mine was, and would use her power to achieve it.
ANDREA: And Polly's power is her confidence.
KYLIE: Confidence is her rebellion. Like all of these people and animals are telling her like, you can't do this. And she's just rebelling by being like, you're ridiculous. You don't know you're talking about, I can do these things.
ANDREA: Kylie hopes to build that same rebellious confidence in the kids she works with.
KYLIE: I think the messages that I grew up with, um, are going to be prevalent and some things still haven't changed.
KYLIE: And I think that if kids are exposed to positive messages early on, that will empower them through adulthood.
ANDREA: It's one of the reasons children are the target audience for her work.
KYLIE: This is like such a cheesy thing to say, but I think the world would be a better place if kids were bombarded with positive messages. I want girls in Utah to feel like they can do anything that they want. I don't want them to feel like they have to be told what to do or wait for instructions. I want them to just do it.
ANDREA: And as she says, at the end of The Vanishing woman reappeared- allow yourself to seek, choose, create, enjoy, and dream.
ANDREA: To learn more about Girls Can’t Ride the Wild Boar and Kylie’s work, visit PBS Utah.org/morethanhalf. You can also find a link to the Utah Women and Leadership Project.
This is a PBS Utah production. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and please rate and review. Research, interviews and production conducted by Alicia Rice and Ashley Swansong. Audio mixing by Will Montoya.
Join us next week as we look at the child care crisis facing Utah families and the work being done to make child care more accessible and affordable.
ANNA ROBBINS: And so while I was looking for a job that would work with childcare hours, I was missing out on pay. And then I would finally get into a childcare and it was like, okay, now I've got to scramble to pay for everything.
ANDREA: I'm Andrea Smardon, and I hope you'll join us next time on More Than Half.