Feminism as a word, a mindset and a culture is once again considered to be cool. The term, originating in 1837, was first coined by Charles Fourier a French philosopher and is said to have been first used in the United States in 1910. Since then, the word has expanded and contracted in popularity. Several years ago, young artists abhorred the term and didn’t want to be associated with it. Yet more recently time appears to have come full circle again, bringing both feminism and gender politics back into the forefront. From the recent Future Feminism at The Hole to the many new (global) terminologies emerging to define sexual identity, it is obvious that until women find themselves on equal footing with their male counterparts, the feminist movement will not be silenced.
On the occasion of my recently published article in New York Magazine SEEN titled 26 Female Artists on Lynda Benglis and the Art World’s Gender Problems, one of my inquiries was not only on the Benglis’ advertisement, but the concept of feminism. The word feminist was on Time magazine’s list of ‘Which Word Should Be Banned in 2015?‘ published November 12th, before they issued an apology on November 15th, just three days later. One of the female artists who I reached out to is photographer and New York University Steinhardt Clinical Associate Professor, Nancy Barton. She found the inquiry to be so enticing that she posed the same question to her students in the classroom setting, with intention for publication;
“Do you consider yourself a feminist? If yes, how has the term helped or hurt your career?”
Now obviously, students cannot yet give a clear estimation on how a particular defining word might affect future careers, however, they can share their personal, identifying relationship to the term. While I initially opened the dialogue to only women artists, the NYU class is of mixed gender. These responses are below.
Sooyoon Chung: Wo(men). We don’t have to be the minority.
Nate S. Freeman: Lately my relationship with my personal body has changed. I view it now more as a means of transportation rather than an identity. and so, why does gender and gender difference matter and cause inequalities? We are all the same: our minds are entrapped in physical forms that we have no control over.
Marney Miller: I consider myself a feminist however also a realist. People get this notion that being a feminist means women should be treated 100% the same all of the time, and I would argue that those people don’t have a grasp on the world. Mentally and in the work force, yes all people should be the same. However, ask a woman to lift 100 lbs, or have the typical height a man does.
Lilli Biltucci: I absolutely consider myself a feminist. I can’t imagine being a woman and not being one. I believe that I will inevitably be hurt by my gender in my future career, and up to this point both inside and outside academics I have felt inhibited. It’s hard to ignore the looming effects when I sit in a freshman classroom with 40 or so women and 4 or so men and know that the art scene is still ruled by men. but I’m not discouraged by this, it only motivates me to surround myself with hardworking women to work alongside as we move into professional careers.
As for unifying male and female presence, I’m not opposed to singling out women art and upholding it to greater exposure, but that may be my inclination as a girl to have an affinity for women’s artwork. but unity is crucial for equality, and the answer lies in a time far before any curator will consider a woman’s work to be juried into a museum or gallery. It begins when she is just formulating her artistic talent and practice, at a young age, and this is when immediately she must be encouraged, supported, and pushed by her parents, teachers, and other motivators towards creativity and experimentation. This opposition can stunt, narrow or end a woman’s career easily, and to reverse this ingrained inferiority that woman have learned is a battle.
Bambou Gili: In response to Feminism, I feel that it has shaped who I am in correlation to how I think, how I act and how I translate that into my art. I find it utterly shocking when I meet someone, man and woman alike, who does not consider themselves feminists. I find it shocking because most don’t even know the definition of feminism and refer to it as an insult rather than something one should be proud of. The definition I refer to is that man and women should and deserve to be treated as equals in every possible way. Many, which I have been made witness to, believe that a feminist is a woman who hates men and thinks that women are superior. I have even known women who refer themselves as feminists without really knowing what the definition of the word really is, but use the identification as a means of hating men openly–which is just as useless and destructive as men who shame women and treat them as lesser. Being a feminist should in no way change any perception of the individual or how people should perceive me, but it does play a large part in my character as well as in my art, as well as this large debate involving to be or not to be a feminist.
Jackie Kong: Yes I consider myself a feminist. I believe it is crucial for me as a growing artist to identify myself with feminism because its a concept that is central to my identity and my values. I think that in the next 10 years feminism will be a much more accepted idea than it was in the past. I see the world is changing it’s perspective on feminism but it’s still got a very long way to go. Women are not the only group of people who need feminism. Everyone living in this world needs feminism. Also, when artists are trying to explore feminism in their work, is it more important to show an ideal version of what a woman’s world should be, or highlight the negative aspects of how the world is treating women? I can’t stop thinking about this divide.
Ha Young Chun: Women is the former; men is the latter.
Rowan Robertson-Smith: As a woman I feel that no matter what artwork you make, many people will just slap the “feminist” label on it. Obviously feminism is a huge issue in society today and especially in the art world, with inequality among the genders in pay and gallery opportunities. However the feminist label can be rather limiting to women who are not specifically trying to address feminism.
Audrey Anna Gascho: I do consider myself a feminist, and I’ve often thought about how that might impact my future career as an artist. I have a feeling that this generation beholds a provocative wave of confident, young female artists set out to challenge the long-existing male dominance in the art world. Personally, I hope to seize the opportunity and explore feminism in addition to socially rooted gender issues in my work. I have a relatively fearless mentality about creating works that scrutinize feminist issues, and maybe that’s just because I’m a student amidst the throes of experimentation, but feminism in the art world excites me!
Ji Sun Kim: I think feminism is radical notion that couldn’t be small part of our society. Between male and female, there are physical differences and due to that, some discriminations exist.I think inequalities are inescapable because there is distinct difference that something men can do but women can`t. Same as this sometimes there are things that women can do but not men.
Ha Young Chun: I’m not a feminist. Being born nearly at the end of 20th century and living in 21st century, I was never really pressured being a woman, especially because I have a working mother, who seems to be as equal as man.
Nah Eun Park: I don’t think I’m feminist; however feminism is all around me even I can see it at art. I see some interesting feminism art in today class. Examples were interesting and fascinating but in today’s society women and men are almost equally treated.
Yizhe(Jacob) Jing: I really feel that everyone can be artist, as long as he/she has the braveness to speak out and to show him/herself. Fight. Fight. Fight.
Isabel Fife: I absolutely consider myself a feminist. I am worried, however, that the term has taken on a definite social stereotype in the past few years. The “good feminist” seems to now mean someone who challenges the patriarchy while remaining thin, beautiful and put together, a woman who raises children without sacrificing her career and remains a sex symbol while maintaining her dignity. I do not feel comfortable with the feminist “norm” that seems to exclude women who don’t fit into this specific role. Feminism should mean embracing what it is to be a woman – whatever that may mean to you.
Elexa J. Jefferson: I have found that even if one doesn’t specifically state that he/she is a feminist or making feminism-focused work people will still label a woman artist that way. So it may be that just claiming to be a woman or displaying a “feminine touch” marks you as a feminist. I’m not sure yet if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it does make the viewer experience the work through a lens.
Rachel Li: Although it is really important to make people realize women’s art by emphasizing sex, I think it is only when women artists don’t emphasize sexual concepts in their art that much can people be convinced that women can make equally powerful and profound artwork as men and thus be taken seriously.
So Young Park: I think I am a feminist. As an Asian, my grandparents are exclusively reliable and dependent on male. Because I grew up in such environment, I was extremely stressed as well as felt the need of being independent and tried to show I can also do anything like my younger brother can: or even more, I could do things that my brother cannot do it. Therefore, I tried to do or study harder away from home to succeed as an artist and a young woman.
Naomi Piperno: Just speaking about feminism and art, I think art has a great contribution to the feminist movement. Art, for most purposes is to make a political statement; making a strong argument on what it means to be a woman, and how we are a society which underestimates it. Art enables us to represent our thoughts and push the feminist movement to where it needs to be.
Monica Albornoz: Why is feminist work mostly about how woman differentiate from men? [The focus seems to be] the woman with a penis, the woman dressed as a man, the woman with masculine facial features, the woman, the woman. The ideal of woman interrupted by what belongs in the ideal of men. Why is it so difficult to see the other way? Why not the man who has been interrupted by the woman? Perhaps [the answer] is that we haven’t seen as many pieces of art about men with a vagina or men with [feminine] boobs as I have about the eeriness of women adopting the male genitalia.
Seungjae Yoon – first impression of Shirin Neshat: Well first, I am not a woman. I am a man. I consider to myself not as a feminist. But that doesn’t mean that I am against other feminists. I am came from very uptight conservative society but I am still open-minded to the liberal people. Because I am pursuing for architect or producer, this thing is kind of irrelevant to my career unfortunately. But somehow when I looked at the painting by Shirin Neshat, I was shocked. It was a portrait of trans-gender; a man with female breast and whole male genital part was shown. I am a protestant and something like this is somewhat makes me rejecting this kind of thing. I know that she is a feminist artist but I think she crossed way out of line in terms of ethical, religious or even general social issue.
I have no right to say which art work is right or wrong. But if I would make suggestion, I wouldn’t necessarily to show combined male and female genitals, breast or any kind of inappropriate things related to make a feminism art piece. I think for the next time, not that I am totally sure that this would happen, the artists should consider how to make an art piece that depicts from both perspectives of male and female, to prevent from one-sided art piece and everyone could agree at the same time.
Barton herself responded with: I have always been a feminist because I have always been a troublemaker. Maybe things would have been easier if I had been more subtle. But maybe they would have been less fun.
From The Hole website:
These 5 artists (Antony, Kembra Pfahler, Johanna, Bianca & Sierra Casady) have developed a series of vivid tenets for FUTURE FEMINISM during 3 years of intensive retreats. Collectively, they represent a frontier feminist point of view. FUTURE FEMINISM is a call to arms to reorganize ourselves as a species and affirm archetypally feminine values.
Future Feminism was on view at The Hole from September 11 – 27, 2014.