Forgetting The F Word: Part Two of Two

by Art Fag City on October 12, 2006 Events

The following article is the second post of a two part series that discusses the panel Forgetting the F Word, which was moderated by Renée Vara and included speakers Maura Reilly, Curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Danielle Mysliwiec, artist and activist, and myself. A podcast documenting the discussion can be heard here. Read part one of two here.

The question no one got around to answering at Forgetting the F Word is how do art professionals make feminism work? Sadly, in this environment covert feminism seems to be amongst the most effective methods of “activism”. In other words, a curator with a feminist agenda no longer puts together entirely female panels because it is understood that associating yourself with the militant bitch movement doesn't curry public favor, but they will curate a large number of women into projects that may not have anything to do with feminism per say. Women's voices get heard, and they aren't attached to the negative aspects that so many associate with the feminist movement.

I want to be clear that I'm not saying this is the best method of working I am simply observing that it is a practical solution to a climate that for the most part, isn't interested in supporting the mobilization of women. Certainly, it is the one I would most closely align myself with. I am interested in seeing an integration of male and female activities and think it's a problem that those who identify as feminists tend to be relegated to the “women's issues” table, as though this is the only thing they have expertise in.

With that said, the Internet has proven time and time again that it is a highly effective medium for activists, because it is such a democratizing medium. If you have even a nominal amount of design skills, the costs of putting together a site are virtually nothing, and many believe that content is its own distribution mechanism. I generally buy into this doctrine, except for one small detail: there are not an equal number of high profile men and women publishing on the Internet. This suggests that the medium can not in fact, erase deeply engrained social biases.

The issue of course is never cut and dry. I made the mistake last year of claiming that there were very few women art bloggers, and Modern Kicks wisely corrected me on this, observing that compared to other fields, art professionals tend to fair better over all. However, my blogroll, (which has fairly consistently stayed at 37% women — not the best percentage in the world), does not represent the percentage of male to female links that go out within posts. Links within posts quite obviously mean a lot more than those that appear in a sidebar that only gets perused occasionally (a point MK mentioned as well.) I don’t have the time to figure out these numbers, but as someone who pays very close attention to who is getting linked to and who isn’t I can tell you that the stats will not look good.

Who knows why women don’t get linked to as much as men – I suspect we’re back to the issue of “deeply engrained social biases”, since there are plenty of intelligent women publishing in the arts, but the point that the medium is not as democratic people make it out to be doesn’t wholly explain why we have not seen it tapped effectively by feminists. The Guerrilla Girl's are an excellent example of this issue, as is illustrated by the last great Internet work they did in”¦1995. This may have seemed innovative at the time, but the fact that their site looks like a relic from the .com boom, makes them ineffectual as activists on the web.The site is not dynamic, and by this I mean there is nothing on the site that would allow a newsreader to alert a user when new content became available, and there is little to indicate that this is going to change any time soon.

As Cyberfeminists the Guerrilla Girls fail miserably. Of course this is not unique to them, as cyberfeminism as a whole seems to be a term that has faded away with the economic viability of the 90's bad girl. As I mentioned at Forgetting the F Word one of the interesting changes over last ten years that should be observed, is that academics and feminists like the Guerrilla Girls were amongst the first to embrace the Internet, but are now turning out to be the least innovative users of the bunch. It's hard to know what effect this is having on feminism, but a lack of widely available scholarship on the subject is never positive.

The good news is that there has been some activist activity recently on the web as seen by the Anonymous Female Artist, Broadsheet and Brainstormers. Function:Feminism is an excellent database of cyberfeminist work, which is part of a larger effort by the Feminist Art Project, at Rutgers University, and of course, the fact that the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art exists is incredibly important since it is the only institute of its kind in the country. What we have yet to see is work that truly mobilizes a mainstream audience on this issue. The medium of the Internet can be incredibly powerful, and to my mind feminists need to work at becoming little more viral if they really want to fuck shit up. I would think that it's only a matter of time before someone really picks up this challenge and runs with it — certainly the seeds are there.

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