A diverse group of 10 Vermont women gathered over the weekend to create an edgy get-out-the-vote campaign urging participation in the upcoming election.
Unhappy with the direction of the country, the women of varied shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds bared it all for an intimate, empowering photo session in Burlington, said organizer Dawn Robertson.
“How can we inspire women to vote after the Kavanaugh confirmation, the #MeToo movement and Trump?” said Robertson, a Harvard Law-educated attorney who writes about sexuality and relationships. “It’s a culmination of all those factors.”
Robertson was inspired by Massachusetts photographer Anja Schütz, who shot similar nude photos of women in the lead-up to the 2016 election, around the time the infamous “grab 'em by the pussy” Donald Trump tape was released. Both photo projects play off Trump’s crass comments. Robertson's, which she dubbed “Grab Them by the Ballot,” features women of color, a pregnant woman, a transgender woman and a woman with disabilities.
The models held well-placed ballots and photographer John Schreiner digitally added slogans across their chests to intertwine politics and female sexuality. Z, a 28-year-old trans woman who asked to be identified only by her first initial, said she participated in part to protest President Trump’s continued assault on the trans community, including a proposed federal policy that would define gender based on the genitals with which a person is born.
“I want to bring awareness to the existence of trans people and the variety in our bodies,” said Z. “To show I exist, this is me, I’m here, I’m a woman, I’m transgender. With everything that’s going on, I just think it’s really important to be visible.”
Gina Carrera felt the same way. She’s a Latina and mother to a daughter with a disability and has felt marginalized by the political climate.
“I don’t often have a voice lately and to use my body as my voice, I think, is a very powerful thing,” said Carrera, an artist and disability advocate from Essex. “If we don’t vote and use our votes to make changes, then I don’t think anything is going to change in the near future.”
At first, some of the models were a bit unsettled about posing for a male photographer. But the women sat and told their stories and talked before undressing and moving about the room for a variety of shots. Susan Lipkin, 65, recounted how she had been abducted by a stranger and raped at knifepoint many years before. It was the first time she described that life-altering trauma to a group of strangers.
“Being around women who were also making themselves vulnerable by being naked was some degree of comfort,” said Lipkin, who lives in Rutland.
Participants described the gathering as a powerful, intense and emotional experience.
“There was nothing remotely sexual about it,” said Z. “It was like, we’re just here to do this thing for a purpose. We were all existing together.”
It took most of Sunday to complete. Schreiner said he spent 11 hours at the shoot at Railyard Apothecary. He photographed the women in a group, then took individual photos of each holding something that represented them, such as a musicalinstrument or a work of art. Z held a butterfly because “it works with my personal identity on a lot of levels.”
Courtney Blasius suffered a debilitating head injury in 2007 and wanted to represent those with disabilities. She brought along a walker as her prop — even though, after years of rehabilitation, she no longer uses it.
“It was a lot of fun,” Blasius said. “Everyone was very positive and inclusive and it was really great to be a part of the group.”
Lipkin said she went into a funk recently after hearing one of Bill Cosby’s victims describe being drugged and raped. She hopes that by recounting her own experience, she will help other women feel they haven't been forgotten, as she has for several decades.
“This thing that has happened to me has never been acknowledged,” she said. “People always say, ‘Don’t be a victim, let it go, it’s in the past.’ No, it’s in the cellular memory of my body.”
The photoshoot gave Lipkin a sense of strength in numbers. She described the experience as intense and empowering.
“We’re all just humans — a pregnant woman, a black woman, older women, thirty-somethings, chubby women, skinny women, a transgender woman,” Lipkin said. “Why should we humans, because we’re women, be treated any differently than a man?”