Pop. A Gorilla burst my bubble.
I think I honestly thought feminism was obsolete, but the Guerilla Girls just burst my bubble.
The “Weenie Count” was the pin. In 1989 te Guerilla girls did a count of male and female artists in the Modern Section of the MET, as well as male and female Nudes. Results? Less than 5% women artists in the modern collection of the MET, but 85% female nudes.. Really? I thought, well, but that was still the 80’s, of course it must be better now.
They did it the count again in 2005. It was WORSE, but now with a higher percentage of male nudes (Could this be because people are less homophobic and more male gay artists and curators are Out?).
How can this be? I honestly had no idea it was this bad.
I think I actually thought that sexism as a norm, as a general all-encompassing societal force was a thing of the past. I grew up in a bubble. While both parents had PhDs, my mother was the high-flier career-wise (and as a college president still is) . Her mother was an anthropologist and biologist studying genetics, and her grandmothers (Victorian ladies!) both had Masters degrees. My father (despite his PhD) was a stay-at home dad for at least a while. So I grew up assuming that the Feminist battle was more or less over… even if I knew some people were still jerks, just as I knew that some people were still racists (I had my racism bubble burst in middle school).
My map of feminism really dropped off at the 80’s. I went to a girls school for a while, taught by feminist English and History teachers from 7th to 12th grade, took History of Religions courses in college that had sections on Feminist and Womanist theology, and Early Church History with a heavy dose of female mystics and movers. I have generally examined historical feminist movements with interest, as well as the way women individually dealt with sexism and circumstances. I love reading up on historical women who pushed the boundaries and achieved great things despite the sexism (just lately I was looking at Victorian ones, such as Ada Lovelace, arguably the first programmer). I also admired my mother and other women of her generation for pushing through the sexist barriers they did.
But after the 1980’s, feminism somehow lost me.
I ran into too many “feminists” who seemed to be trying to restrict who I was more than the “sexists”. The Pink Suit bothered me- it seemed a symbol of becoming an alternate male (and a twisted idea of male at that), not being free and equal. I came to think of more contemporary feminists as extreme, outdated and often annoying in a way that give women who are simply being equal to men or advocating equality and freedom of lifestyle choice a bad name. I’ve often gotten into arguments over methods, and views. I’ve even been harassed by some for wanting to marry and have a child and had to say over and over again- “no, I’m not brainwashed (I grew up with strong women thanks!), I know my options, I want this and yes I am will still be an individual and a human being, not a slave for being a wife and mother.” I found it hypocritical that some “feminists” will dismiss a women as person as easily as the men they are attacking for being a mother- let alone a stay-at home mom! It alienated me from the entire topic, post 80’s. I suppose like many radical minorities that carry the name of a larger group, such people were not representative but just loud, and were giving everyone else a bad name.
My reaction was to stop thinking of feminism as a current thing, and to look on people today who loudly identified as “feminists” with some suspicion. I also somehow thought the real battle was over. Somehow my mind glossed over the fact that women still made less pay than men for equal work, and that it was just two years ago that the equal pay act was signed (thank you Obama!). Of course I had my share of men who expected me to be weaker, stupider, etc because I was a girl and I learned to spot and trounce early to be treated as an equal.
As a bouncer during my art school days I would regularly have to best whatever new guy came in simply to do my job properly without constant condescension and interference. I had to beat one boss at arm-wrestling just to get the job in the first place. I’ve had to step in hard at times to be heard in conversation in a group of men and do some verbal/intellectual trouncing before they would stop talking over me in conversation as if I couldn’t comprehend the topic.
I did see it, but despite everything around me I missed it. I attributed it to individual behavior, not a societal plague. Somehow I thought society as a whole had moved past this. I was blind to it. I was in a bubble.
The Weenie Count burst my bubble and I am grateful for it. It succeeded particularly because it was an objective number, not a subjective idea that might be overstated. Believe me, I’ll be paying more attention to the role of women, and the role of women in art now.
So am I a feminist? I believe in women’s equality and right to equal treatment, and in a freedom to chose one’s lifestyle, but until running into the Guerilla Girls I would not have called myself a Feminist. Now I’m not sure if I will- there is too much baggage in that term. I do know I will pursue the recognition of those rights with some serious fire under me.
I have to say it’s a bitter pill. I already had a taste for the difficulties any artist struggling for recognition and shows has… but to find out that it is going to be that much harder because of my gender? It makes my blood boil.
I have a theory. Next post.