Women Examine Their Relationships With Death, Challenge Westernized Perceptions
No too long ago, Latin American countries celebrated Dia de los Muertos, honoring the fallen victims of political turmoil, impoverishment, and violence within their communities. While in Mexico, Haiti, and Panama, the concept of death is rifled with complexity, mystery, and a deeper understanding of its interconnection with social structures, the Western perspective of death lags considerably behind. Young women, who are leading what is now termed a "death-positive" movement by Western sources, are here to change that.
Alternative mortician Caitlin Doughty, who founded The Order of the Good Death, recently collaborated with Sarah Troop to create the Death Salon, an event dedicated to fostering conversations, creating art, and fostering the idea that death is more so an inevitable part of life, and tingled with political institutions.
"The series' success was further proof that humans are curious about death, and she formed a collective of professionals, academics, and artists to challenge and redefine culture's broken relationship with mortality," explains Troop to Dazed. "The Order's mission was to make open and realistic discussions of death part of popular culture."
Death in non-Western ancient cultures is associated with feminine forces, as opposed to the masculine. In various African, Indigenous, and Asian cultures, death as a supernatural force often appears as a fearsome goddess (Kali, Oya, Mictlantecuhtli), capable of transformation, destruction, and keepers of the afterlife. Outside of the traditional Western viewpoint, death is a transcendental cycle of life, and those who pass on often become ancestors.
"While the modern stereotypical image of a funeral director is male, end-of-life care was traditionally seen as “feminine work”. Women played a pivotal role in caring for the dead until it became seen as a business, and male “professionals” took over," says journalist Paisley Gilmour of Dazed. While men are taking over the business end-of-life care, it's still seen as women's labor to take care of relatives and aid in the grieving process for families, particularly for women of color and femmes.
What does a death-positive movement mean for Black, Latinx, and queer women who are routinely and violently targeted by the state and in their communities? "Our initial goal was to create a space of exploration by examining the relationship between women and death, by sharing ideas and work of others – particularly women and non-binary folks – who are actively working with and studying death," Sarah says. "It was not only important to us to amplify the voices of those actively creating the future of death, but also address the issues many women are facing who are confronted with the reality of 'bad deaths' such as femicide, victims of police brutality, reproductive rights and so much more."
Read more over at Dazed.