Photography and Feminism – Research Points

Research Point

OK, so I’m not necessarily happy about doing this section of work on the Feminist Movement, note not female artists, as I think it is delving into politics not art and I’ve made my point of view very plain in a couple of emails to my tutor and here,  on the Flickr Group page, and now it’s time to settle down and make as good a presentation as I can on this subject.

Patriarchy has been the cultural model employed by a great number of societies around the world, and quite a number still do.  However, for the purposes of this discussion we’re really talking about Western European philosophy on Feminism which has always been there since time immemorial, it’s just been suppressed very effectively for most of its life.

So what is Feminism?  According to Wikipedia it’s “Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.”  So it’s really a form of political movement where the aim is to gain equality in all areas of society and maintaining that gain.  This is no less the case in art where women have historically had to make work that was either non-gender specific or perhaps even male orientated to even get it seen, but alas no voice.  We’re asked to look at the movement from its earliest incarnation with the advent of Women’s Suffrage in the late 1800’s to today’s movement where the advocates include many influential men as well as the women they’re trying to promote.

The first instance of a feminist movement that we’re asked to look at is from 1867 with the National Women’s Society for Women’s Suffrage in the USA, which most probably gained its foothold from men’s dominance due to the massive loss of life suffered by the nation during the Civil War when approximately 600,000 men lost their lives, not to mention the thousands who would have come back from the war, maimed, injured and sick and relied upon their female relatives for their continued existence.  I’ve no doubt that women, now in charge of many households and the main bread-winner for the family, found this new power much to their liking and exercised their growing confidence by forming  the society.  This movement gained momentum and finally achieved voting rights for women in 1920 in the USA and its British counterpart achieved partial rights in 1918, but it wasn’t until 1928 that all women were finally entitled to vote.

So called Second Wave feminist activity started in the early 1960’s in the USA which arose from the re-domestication of women after the liberty they’d achieved during WWII when they worked within the economy in all areas of the workplace whilst the men were away fighting.  There was a natural resentment at having been forced to retire to their previous position of domestic support to the household and although women were beginning to make headway in the professions, media, sports and the most male dominated of areas, the military, there were still issues about family, sexuality,  divorce and other things that frustrated large groups of women and led to activists campaigning for true equality.

Third Wave feminist activity, which is regarded as starting at the end of the 1980’s beginning 1990’s and is considered to be the form today, came in as a move to acknowledge that women were of many ethnicities, cultural background, socio-economic strata and religions. This was seen as against some of what the second wave had fought for, but was in the main against the one size fits all idea of women’s identity as expressed by middle and upper-class American white women.  The third wave wants to see a shift in the media portrayal of women, the language used to define them and particularly the stereotypes that men try to fit onto them.

There are many aspects of the art world that are unfair, not just to women but minority and ethnic groups as well, and much of the unfairness is repeated across these groups, so although the Feminist Movement may well remove one obstacle in their path, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the same obstacle is removed for the other groups at the same time.

My personal view of the worst of this discrimination toward the female of the species is the male trait of depicting women in the nude.  I know that nude paintings are very much a fine art, but when one considers why they were created, as titillation for the artists sponsor, the fact that the vast majority of nudes displayed in galleries and museums by an extraordinary margin are female, clearly exemplifies the contempt that the predominantly male artistic institutions hold toward them.

Women artists now strive to have their view of the world depicted and hung where the general public can view their work;  art that reflects their lives, experiences and hopes, without male editorial interfering.


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