- Two companion pieces, a video documentary and written analysis, provide the
text for this exploration of how women's life stories and the mother-daughter narrative
are preserved through the transmission of inherited objects. The video documentary
reveals the lives of six diverse women who each discuss the politics of receiving and
passing on family heirlooms, and inevitably share the stories their artifacts represent,
recalling details of their own lives and of their female ancestors. The written analysis,
focused in the three key areas of Stories, Objects and Inheritance, is inclusive of
research in reminiscence, oral history, storytelling by women of color, the mother-daughter
bond, consumer behavior and exchange, ethnography, anthropology of gift-giving,
and personal narrative by and about women. This project is informed from a
feminist worldview, drawing on socialist feminism's connection of capitalism and
material access to patriarchal domination of women.
The research reflects the power of the stories. Women's personal narratives
mirror the realities of their daily lives and exhibit a rich diversity of experience and
culture. Further, as women's reminiscence and storytelling become and active part of
a more inclusive historical archive, women of color's narrative and interpretive voices
are also validated. The power of objects is revealed as they are passed through
generational channel, gaining invaluable status and acting as an emblem of the
spiritual nature of a kin group. Finally, the power of inheriting an inalienable
possession is divulged, not just for one woman but also for her entire family system.
When a woman inherits an object, she embodies a symbolic status ascribed to her
simply by being a woman: keeper of the kin, guardian of the artifact, and guide in
preserving and passing on the rituals and stories of women who came before.
Inalienable possessions are bundled with personal biographies. Holding the artifact
and ensuring the "rules" of transmission (such as passing it along gender lines or
passing it on during a particular celebration or life transition) becomes more critical
than preventing the object from breaking or landing in the wrong hands. Inheritance of
an object is one sacred step in the family journey.
The stories recounted by six women in this research are not the stories of all
women, but speak to the politics and privileges of holding inalienable possessions that
have been present for women for generations. Their stories and the supporting
research move this niche of women's experiences from cupboards, basements, cedar
chests and journals to the archives of a truer American history.