A 1789 Painting of Grieving Women Offers Unusual Comfort as Roe Falls.
By: Chenwei Ren
The overturn of Roe vs. Wade will have extremely personal and terrifyingly physical repercussions. Women are accustomed to having their feelings dismissed, made fun of, or used against them as a sign of weakness. However, as the year was set in 1789, the painting suggests feelings of a woman's own pride.
“The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of His Sons,” was an 18th-century painting of women overcoming her emotion. The painting, created to glorify sacrifice on the eve of the French Revolution, shows one of the first Roman consuls sitting in the shadows as his officers bring in the bodies of his two sons, whom he had executed for alleged treason. The heroic Brutus is on the left, while the grieving women on the right represent the dangers of letting emotions rule your actions.
The women in the painting made giving one's body over to anger, shock, and grief look not weak, but brave, and many contemporary women have found validation in their warrior-like approach to emotion. They appeared to claim their bodies as their own through the act of feeling.
The painting conveys a story through the human body. The story is told through Brutus's tensed brows and bunched-up toes as he struggles to maintain a tolerable numbness. The servant in the corner's chiseled biceps hint that grief is a weight she has lifted before.
We continue to be afraid of emotion despite a culture that values vulnerability and self-care so highly. We cringe at tears, tread carefully around grief, and use humor to soften the blows to our frail composure. Unironic emotion should never be displayed because it is weak at best and grotesque at worst.
If we were to learn from this painting, where emotion has taken the place of stoicism and given prominence, we might honor those who interrupt routine tasks in the wake of trauma and injustice rather than those who simply carry on as usual. We might discover that the hierarchy that prioritizes reason is flawed.
Instead of viewing emotions with doubt or shame as rights are restricted in a post-Roe world, we might embrace them with head-lifting, spine-straightening pride. In those fierce reactions, there is a reminder: Your body, which feels so fully, is yours.