ART & FEMINISM: WTF is Feminism?

I have a bias for art made by females, I mean, I am one. There is no doubt in my mind that female artist’s make some of the most breathtaking and astonishing art within the industry. Growing up and viewing art, I mostly saw it through a males lens. I also often saw women portrayed through a man’s eyes, this is often called the male gaze. I enjoy exploring the concepts that female artist’s have to offer and want to discuss. I like to see their individual point of view through their creations. As I have developed my taste in art and my own personal journey with art has progressed I have become more familiar with this idea of art and feminism.

In circa 2017, also known as 97 years after women were given the right to vote, Merriam-Webster Dictionary declared that feminism was ‘Word of the Year’. This was mostly due to events such as the Women’s March on Washington and the #MeToo movement. People were flooding the internet to learn what feminism meant. What is this thing that is causing women to become so “ticked off”, so “hostile”, so…. “Infuriated”. In popular culture, television shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel and GLOW were released and gave different ideas of what female oppression is and the gender disparities women have faced even in a utopian world. For me, it was the first time I saw on a global level this idea that feminism wasn’t dead.

Just a side note: As of 2020, when I type this out, PayScale.com has reported that within America there is still a 19c pay difference in uncontrolled gender pay (for industries such as arts, but I also want to highlight that women of colour and cultural diversity have it even harder). 

The concept of feminism is powerful, spirituous and assertive. For those who aren’t familiar, feminism means “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and “organised activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”. It certainly hasn’t had a good wrap. I think a lot of people get turned off by the idea of feminism because they don’t completely understand the amazing work which has been made due to feminism.

Over the years there have been different waves of feminism. This is where it all gets a bit fuzzy and heated. Depending on what timeline you follow we are currently at the third or fourth wave. I am going to break down the waves for a brief modern history lesson so we are on the same page:

First Wave (1848 to 1920)

This is the first political movement in which women are fighting for the right to vote. They would march, lecture, protest, face arrest, be ridiculed as they fought for the right to vote. This was happening as slavery was being abolished and the idea of equality and human rights was being questioned. Women of colour like Sojourner Truth, Maria Stewart and Frances E.W. Harper were major players but ultimately it was only for white women.

In the turn of the century, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the US. The clinic later became Planned Parenthood. This brought up the question of reproductive rights. In 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. However it was still hard for women of colour to vote.

Second Wave (1963 to 1980s)

Women wanted to be viewed differently by the world. We are not these baby making, oven baking and child caring machines for male pleasure. We do have more to offer and World War II gave us the opportunity to prove that! Once society settled back in, it was business as usual. Then a feminist writer by the name of Betty Friedan sparked the second wave.

In 1963, she released a book titled ‘The Feminine Mystique’ which rails against “the problem that has no name”, the systemic sexism that teaches women that their place was in the home and if they were unhappy as housewives, it was because they were broken. She believed that the problem was with society and not the women. There were other feminist writers before her, such as Simone de Beauvoir who wrote ‘The Second Sex’. Friedan’s book sold 3 million copies and women were angry again. It was revolutionary in it’s reach because it gave them permission to be angry.

Again, women were fighting for their equality in regards to the right to use birth control, education, reproductive freedom and outlawing the gender pay gap. Women were allowed to get a credit card under their own name and apply for mortgages, something that was extremely difficult for a woman who wasn’t married. They were raising awareness surrounding sexual and domestic violence, shelters were made to help women flee their abusers. Forced sterilisation of people of colour and people with disabilities was another systemic problem which was to be changed.

There was no mass bra burning – I know, disappointing. However they did protest a Miss America pageant and threw away objects that they considered to be symbols of women’s objectification such as bras and nude magazines.

The Reagan administration and his shew of conservatism ideals managed to successfully make the second wave of feminists a laughing stock. They were seen as hairy legged hippie women who only cared about petty things instead of real issues. The idea of no man would ever want a feminist came to fruition. To most young men the word feminist meant “lesbian” or “man hater”. The second wave lost momentum and continues to stigmatise how feminism is perceived. 

Third Wave (1991 to ????)

The confusion surrounding an end date for this wave of feminism is cloudy and often misunderstood. Elizabeth Evans, a feminist scholar, believes that “in some respect [it is] its defining feature”. The third wave began with Anita Hill who testified before the Supreme Court that nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her at work. Her testimony brought upon it a can of worms where multiple women came forward with similar sexual harassment claims. Sadly, he still became a part of the Supreme Court.

The third wave was about a new generation coming forward and discussing their experiences with sexual harassment and working to increase the number of women in power. Women also made sure to give rights to refugees and keep the momentum going for pro-choice. Terms such as “intersectionality” were coined and the difference between gender and sex were discussed as being important. Through this trans rights were embraced and intersectional feminism became a major foundation for change.

Some people argue that the fourth wave is online and that the internet is what charges that force. I don’t believe so. I think we are still in the third wave which maybe has merged with the fourth but the two cannot be separated. We are still fighting oppressive tendencies such as sexual and domestic violence. We are also in some respects transgressing back with laws regarding abortion being made to make it harder to seek help. So the fight hasn’t necessarily stopped, the third wave fight has only just begun.

It is undoubtable, a lot has changed since the first wave – the women have changed, the thought has changed and the world has changed (drastically). I am proud to think that as we progress forward as feminists we are more sex-positive, trans-inclusive, body-positive and queer-friendly. I don’t believe that this necessarily means that there is a generational war between feminists. I think that feminism at its core is about being inclusive and promoting equality. Anyone (woman or man) who is demeaning to someone because of their race, cultural background, sexuality, gender-preference or any other characteristic that makes them, them, they are the problem and should not call themselves feminists. I honestly don’t even want to highlight the women who consider themselves feminists but have been contradictory with their alignment.

Of course, the movement itself is always going to be filled with radicals and extremists, women who are progressive and liberal. This is fun with freedom of thought, you are allowed to think those things. That is what makes us human. There are going to be people who don’t agree with what I said in regards to who I consider a feminist and that’s alright to me. I just won’t ever agree with exclusion and I think there is no argument that can support feminism and exclusion being two of the same.

One Reply to “ART & FEMINISM: WTF is Feminism?”

  1. Madelaine Buttini | Australian Collage Artist

    […] my last blog, Art & Feminism: WTF is Feminism, I went over the different waves of feminism, I questioned if there is a fourth wave and what I […]

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