Monday, August 2, 2010
Do Women Artists Need a Leg Up?
Please excuse the tiny print (I tried everything to get this bigger, but when I zoom in and enlarge, the dang thing reverts to its tiny version), but doesn't this postcard say it all? I know so many women who fall straight into this category. Mainly the ones I know are mothers who have spent the last 20 years raising their children and keeping their husbands from falling apart. The kids fly the coop and they can't figure out why they no longer know what it is they once woke up in the morning with a passion to do. Was it painting? Was it designing a house? Was it physics? Was it knitting a hat? Was it taking photographs? They've had to work freelance jobs or be an adjunct (in order to be there when the bus drops off the kids, in order to be around when preschool goes on break during random weeks in February and June), so now it's impossible to be taken seriously as a possible tenure-track hire. They are branded. OR, they do crawl out of this miserable hole of inertia, or this miserable hole of branded-ness, begin to make art, or begin to have a solid teaching position with a real future, and then realize that whatever they create will be marginalized as "feminine." What is feminine art? Art about child-rearing. Art about doing laundry. Art about anything domestic. Art that isn't about Greek statues, Odysseus, or war.
On the other hand, I know that there are all kinds of exceptions--house husbands, Mr. Moms, male freelancers, male adjuncts (millions of them), males who feel like hey, give me a break, I'm in the same boat you're in, miss. And men who, God bless 'em, are writing about taking care of kids, male poets like Tom Hunley and Peter Waldor. AND I know that most of these statements could apply to men, especially the ones about tenure, 4 freelance jobs, and men who don't smoke cigars.
And hey, Heather McHugh's a genius, and we all know it. And so's Linda Bierds, and so's Lucia Perillo. That's just three off the top of my head, a MacArthur triumvirate right here in a 60-mile radius of Seattle. (Women get awarded MacArthur fellowships quite often, in fact, though I do not have the percentages. They also win Guggenheims, get tenure, and kick serious butt in the the arts in general, and definitely in the literary arts.)
It's not all as cut and dry as the Guerilla Girls break it down, but still something catches in my brain when I read this list. Women are grossly misrepresented in magazines such as The New Yorker, Three Penny Review, The Atlantic Monthly and quite a few other "venerable" journals. Why? Is it that women tend to write about frivolous things (i.e., mothering) and therefore their work is not taken seriously? Is there a vital need for organizations such as VIDA, or do women artists no longer need a leg up to make it in this cut-throat business of "making special"?
I'm not sure. What do you think?
What I want to believe is this: in the past, women were very much marginalized. Basically, they were not allowed to write or paint or do fucking much of anything at all except needlepoint or quilting. The folk arts. Today that marginalization is lessening. The powers that be are beginning to "get" that good writing is good writing, whether it's about power tools and Greek statues, or diapers and strollers.
We have made progress. What gender you are matters less. But still, I often hear examples to the contrary. One never does know, does one, why certain magazines publish more male writers--significantly more male writers--than female writers. Is it because men write better? Or is because the dominant paradigm is more accepting of their themes, styles, and chosen subject matter? You tell me.