When I graduated from college I became obsessed with gift giving. I had this idea that giving art would take the pressure off my art practice, and in a way it did. I was able to make something outside of the institution, but it got weird. I took it too far. I went through a stage where I was telling people what gifts I wanted. I started giving too much all the time. Rather than negotiate house chores, I would do all of them. It began to make people uncomfortable, that was palpable, and I started to feel that I was valued less as a person. People like to work for their social interactions, I learned, they don’t want approval right away.
In the midst of this gift giving era, I had a friend who worked for a high-profile art gallery. She was one of the lucky ones, having the job that the rest of us dreamed about. She was miserable. She wanted a promotion. I had an idea, at the time, that if I gave her flowers she would be perceived as being more valuable and would get a promotion. She had also been talking a lot about the lack of women’s representation in galleries, so I thought that it would be very funny to sneak a piece in. So I ordered flowers, anonymously, from one of those internet companies advertising in the margins of my browser. I wrote the most flattering thing I could think of, something along the lines of, “you are my greatest distraction and my biggest fear.” If anyone ever said that to me, especially anonymously, it would be a dream come true. The greatest gifts, they say, are the ones that we want for ourselves.
What happened after the flowers was a cascade of events that are not my story to tell. What I will tell you is that another woman at the gallery had her husband send her the same flowers. I will also tell you that my friend never guessed that I would be the one who would send her the flowers. When I told her she was surprised but grateful that it happened.
We are no longer friends, sadly, for other reasons. I almost never told this story. I thought that by redacting her name, I could finally tell what really happened: it wouldn’t be about her. After a friendship ends, you almost wonder if anything during that friendship ever really happened, if it was real. I am not surprised that it's over -what is that parable about the man who had everything, gave it all away, had nothing, and then ceased to exist? Was that a true story? What if the moon becomes so heavy, it falls to Earth?
I decided to bite my cheek. What happened is more important than any dissolution of any relationship. It is important to me because of the assumption I had made at the onset of this piece:
I assumed that when you give a woman flowers it increases her value. I assumed that when you give a woman a diamond it increases her value. I assumed that when you buy a woman dinner, tell her that she’s beautiful, pay $50,000 for a wedding, it increases her value. We have commodified women by giving them objects to reflect how much they are worth to us. It is so deeply ingrained that I did not even think about it. It took me years to realize how weird it was that I thought that flowers could beget a job promotion.
I never questioned my assumption, when ordering the flowers, that when you give a woman flowers it increases her value.