Erasure of women from the arts
Jess McCabe // 13 October 2009
Bidisha has a good piece over on Comment is Free today about the way that work by male artists is overvalued and work by women artists is undervalued. Yet the support staff are usually all or almost all women. The full post is worth reading, but this bit was particularly apt I thought:
I have been a critic for 16 years, across all arts disciplines and all media. It is simply not true that there are not enough women artists, commentators, writers and critics to achieve parity in arts events, whether they are poetry festivals or radio programmes. I used to present a radio show in which, a number of times, there were six male guests and no women, “just by accident”. The majority of times there was one woman. We discussed virtually no works created by women artists, writers or thinkers. Not once were there all women guests, “just by accident”.
It fills me with ice cold rage. Men and women both like to worship men, for some reason; women even, perversely, love to promote men who themselves hate women (hello, Roth’n’Updike fans. How’s it going?). Both sexes unquestioningly perpetuate the boys’ club through the invites issued to men, the opportunities, associations, deals and chances offered. The talks, readings, colloquia, special trips, lectures and guest spots are organised by women for the benefit of men’s careers. For the men, the glory, status, visibility, influence and enshrinement in history. For the women, the expected but unacknowledged work.
I’ve spent the last six weeks making documentaries that involved interviewing several prominent male artists. Their teams of assistants, PRs and administrators were always all female, efficient, intelligent and erudite – in galleries that almost never show women artists’ work. The men themselves rarely bothered even to look me in the eye when I was interviewing them. These men did not respect women, and enacted that disrespect blatantly in every encounter with women. They never, ever name-checked women writers, artistic, politicians or thinkers as influences. Yet we women helped their careers.
This problem isn’t just confined to the world of art and literature of course; I see the same thing at press conferences and other work events. It’s unusual to see more than one woman on stage, if that, and almost all PR and admin jobs are done by women.