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Women's Ink

This Thursday, March 6th, Bodies of Subversion author Margot Mifflin and INKED contributor Marissa Kakoulas are hosting a panel discussion with the leading ladies of tattooing. Roxx, Virginia Elwood, and Stephanie Tamez will be speaking with the writers in an event hosted by PowerHouse Books called Women’s Ink: Tattooing in the New Millennium. Of the questions Kakoulas has include: Do women tattooers still feel any form of discrimination from colleagues and clients? How do they feel about their representation in the media? How do they see their role as businesswomen as well as artists? It will be great stuff. We asked our own questions to Mifflin.

What are you hoping to come of the discussion?

We want people to get a sense of what some high profile women artists have to say about their work, their role in the industry, and some specific applications tattoos have for women, now that for the first time in history, more women in this country are tattooed than men.

Why do you think there are more female tattooers than, say, 20 years ago?

It's because women like Vyvyn Lazonga in Seattle and Mary Jane Haake in Portland jumped in in the '70s and '80s, claimed it for themselves, mastered it as both artists and businesswomen, and became role models for a new generation of women who started in the '90s, like Stephanie Tamez and Roxx, who are doing the same for younger women today. It's also because so many more women want to get tattooed, which is partly for the same reason men do: we live in a global culture where so much is shared, and we live in a digital culture where almost anything can be copied and redistributed—except a tattoo, which makes us unique. Because women have a different sense of the body and fashion than men, they’ve expanded the possibilities of the art.

Do you feel like there is an extra stigma attached to tattooed women by the outside world?

Yes. The stigma is diminishing a little, but men are not judged sexually by their tattoos the way women are. If you go to any comment thread following a tattoo article in the mainstream media, you'll see people saying it makes women look loose and trashy. They may say it makes men look trashy, but there's no sexual judgment. And the question of how tattoos will look when the wearer gets old seems to be disproportionately directed at women.

How did you get interested in tattooing?

I came to it through writing about both fine art and pop culture in the '90s. I was attracted to it as an art form that's available to anyone, and (because I was writing about female subcultures) because it was a subversive art. And I soon discovered it was a lot more subversive for women than for men.

What do tattoos mean to you?

I'm interested in tattooing as a neglected visual art that merits critical attention just like design, fashion, or fine art. It's a technically difficult practice with a rich history that extends back millennia through a variety of cultures, and it's something you see every day, yet there's very little formal analysis or evaluation of it in the mainstream media, even though it's been undergoing a renaissance for the past 40 years. I'm not tattooed, so I don't write about it as an advocate. I'm interested in it as a critic who's excited about its aesthetic possibilities, and as a feminist who's fascinated by the way it segues with a whole network of women's body issues, both positive and negative. The main one is choice: I'm happy to see women using it to express themselves physically in a way they can dictate, after centuries of being taught to be ashamed of their bodies and pressured to contain them, to control them, or to correct them.