or, why having a vagina isn't really all that bad.
Art is not a free autonomous activity of a super-endowed individual, "influenced" by previous artists and more vaguely and superficially by "social forces" but rather occurs in a social situation, is an integral element of social structure, and is mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions.
The main problem with feminism is that it doesn't acknowledge that everyone is equally fucked, especially in this day and age. Call modern society the Machine, or Fat City, or the Establishment, whatever, it's an equal-opportunity crusher, and dwelling on one specific aspect of one's disadvantage merely generates unhappiness.
In my important opinion, the largest issue within feminism today isn't whether women are being properly "represented", or whether women are being "offended" by painting the locker rooms pink, or whether saying "woman" is bad and "womyn" is good. The most important issue is the persistant proliferation of sexual violence against women, or rather the events and issues that surround a woman protesting sexual violence done to her.
But that's not the main thrust of this rant. I am concerned here and now with the oh-so-important discussion of feminist art criticism.
Firstly, there is the issue of art vs. craft. Apparently, because "high art" has mainly been the purview of men, and "handicrafts" has been the domain of women, there is conscious, intentional oppression of women within the realm of art. But let's think about this for a moment.
All cultures divide tasks by gender. It's just the way it is. In its most basic form, hunter-gatherer societies, the men go hunt and the women gather. This sets up a pattern: the men do things that require a great deal of concentration, that should not be interrupted, often away from the home and often needing a great deal of effort. Consider traditional men's occupations: farming, herding, hunting, woodworking, metalworking, etc. Women, on the other hand, stayed home and took care of everything else. Shocking, I know, but that's how it happened. They had to do a great variety of labor-intensive but necessary tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, tending to children and animals, and managing the family's finances. So the women have crafts that are utilitarian--because who has time for purely frivolous pursuits--and can be interrupted or done while multitasking. Quilt-making is the prime example: quilts, while still quite decorative, are still functional and even essential. Quilts can be done collaboratively, and often serve significant social functions.
So what's the pattern here? Women didn't do "high art" because they bloody well didn't have time
. Art is basically frivolous, it's messy, it requires one's full attention, and needs a high amount of specific knowledge, practice, and skill. In essence, it's a manly thing to do. For a woman to succeed at art, she basically had to be independantly wealthy, an uncommon thing for most of history.
Only in the 20th century have we seen an upsurge in women participating in art, basically because of a breakdown in traditional gender roles and the acknowledgement that women have the right* to do whatever they want. But
the major sticking point for feminists is that women artists are still operating within a man's world. I say so? Women CEOs are operating within a man's world too, and I haven't seen anyone question the entire institution of corporate patriarchy. Yes, there have been accusations of discrimination, as with everywhere else, but no one seems to question that women basically have to act like men to succeed in the corporate world. That is the basic feminist objection to the art "Establishment".
The second major theme within feminism is that men and women experience and perceive reality differently. This is apparently tremendously exciting and ground-shaking, but any pop psychologist could have told me that and I still would go on my merry way. The problem with focusing on this particular difference is that other differences fall by the wayside. Everyone
experiences reality differently, because everyone is different. Sure, gender is the most basic difference between human beings, but it isn't the only thing. Personality, that driving force behind the creation of art, is affected by any number of variables, from sexuality to income to parentage to brain chemistry to religious upbringing ad infinitum. Stating that men and women artists do things differently is like saying that Caravaggio and Michelangelo have different styles--if that’s the only thing you say, there’s no real point in saying it.
Unfortunately, the issue of gender is still chaotic and sticky. Since the dissolving of traditional gender roles, the difference between men and women suddenly become that much harder to deal with, since there are no longer structured methods of interaction. In some ways, this is good, but in a society that is attempting to homogenize everyone into a doughy middle-class, difference of any sort is as painfully obvious as a pimple on the end of everyone's nose. Suddenly, being different and alluding to difference becomes a tricky, delicate subject, or in the case of art, something that can be relished and exploited.
Sadly, contemporary art is still suffering from avant-garde extremism. Instead of just making art, it must be right on the bleeding edge of whatever ideology you buy into. Really, really unfortunately feminists tend to take "bleeding edge" literally and you have women playing with their own menstrual fluids.
I'm not saying that feminism is entirely bad. It's made huge strides over the last hundred years. Feminism is why I can sit here now saying whatever I want about random shit. But
it is an ideology that is not particularly suited for application everywhere, and frankly needs an update. The only time I have really been oppressed, ironically, is when feminists have told me that I am. It needs to stop talking in terms of "us and them" and get into a more progressive, proactive, and practical
Thank you for your time. This work was inspire by The Feminist Critique of Art History
by Thalia Gouma-Peterson and Patricia Mathews. I recommend not reading it.
*This should be distinguished from "can". Legally, women can do whatever they want, but they still must operate within societal restrictions.